With its majestic mountains, superb skiing, high altitude resorts, picturesque Alpine villages and plenty of great mountain restaurants, Switzerland is an ideal destination for skiers. Amongst the many regions, Valais in particular is a winter fairytale.
A winter paradise between heaven and earth! Welcome to Valais, the land of 45 majestic 4000-metre peaks and 300 days of sun a year. Switzerland’s highest-altitude ski regions are located here: out of a total of over 2800 kilometres of pistes, virtually all are over 1500 metres above sea level. Some pistes even exceed the 3000-metre mark, which means snow cover is guaranteed. Even at the height of summer you can still have fun in the snow on our glaciers. You won’t get that anywhere else in Switzerland. From charming mountain villages to internationally renowned resorts, Valais destinations offer winter sports activities galore.
With skiing, snowboarding, hiking, snowshoe trekking and cross-country skiing on offer, Valais has something for everyone, whether you’re a beginner or a superstar. And let's not forget the gourmets – Valais’s sunny climate produces a unique intensity of taste. Fabulous wines, marvellous fruit and exquisite meat and cheese specialities are some of the region’s specialities. Take a deep breath of pure mountain air, leave your tracks in the sparkling white powder snow and enjoy delicious traditional dishes in the first-class restaurants on or right by the slopes. Prepare to be enthralled by the unique Valais winter! visitvalais.ch
Saas-Fee Free Republic of Holidays
Saas-Fee is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful mountain villages in the world. Tucked into the head of the Saas valley and nestled at the foot of the dramatic 4,545 metre-high Dom, the ancient farming village looks defiantly up to the Allalin glacier that spills down towards it.
In addition to the Dom, a further thirteen peaks of 4,000m and over tower above Saas-Fee on both sides of the valley, making it the only place in the world where you can glimpse so many 4000ers at once. The majestic peaks dwarf Saas-Fee's tranquil, car-free streets, which are flanked by centuries-old timber chalets and cowsheds that now house inviting restaurants, hotels and shops. The very picture of winter magic and romance, it's no wonder that the iconic 1980s music video 'Last Christmas' by Wham! was filmed here.
The lofty altitude of Saas-Fee (1,800m) and its neighbouring villages, Saas-Balen, Saas-Almagell and Saas-Grund, not only makes for exceptional views but delivers a snow guarantee from November through April and summer skiing on the Allalin glacier from July to October. The Saas-Fee ski area is unrivalled in featuring 150km of ski slopes located predominantly between 2,500m and 3,500m above sea level, topping out at 3,600m. At this altitude, snow is not merely abundant but is cold, chalky and grippy - ideal for perfecting your carving technique. Advanced skiers can climb some of the surrounding 4,000m peaks with local guides to be rewarded with 2,000 vertical metre off-piste descents.
The captivating combination of the Saas valley's dramatic Alpine location and picturesque villages was recognised by British visitors some 170 years ago. These pioneering alpinists first visited Saas-Fee in the 1840s, accompanied by local clergyman Johann Josef Imseng. Credited with being the first person in Switzerland to make and use skis, Imseng is quite the local celebrity and you can marvel at photographs of him and his tweed-clad British companions in the compelling Saas Museum.
As tourism flourished in the Saas valley, the Allalin glacier provided the subsistence farmers of Saas-Fee with a way to supplement their income: they harvested ice to deliver to hotels in the valleys below. For decades, the arduous journey was undertaken by foot, with the road to Saas-Fee only being built in 1951. Showing remarkable foresight, the locals elected to keep their village car-free and, while hotels and restaurants provide electric taxis to whizz guests around, people still prefer to stroll along the peaceful alleyways. Look out for the 'Stadel' that dot the village: these 300 year-old wooden storehouses are outdoor fridges that reflect Saas-Fee's rural roots - farmers kept their crops safe from animals by perching them above the ground on large stones.
Where Bond Met Blofeld
The Saas villages cherish their history yet they embrace modern technology where it matters: the Saas-Fee ski area benefits from a network of new, high-speed lifts including the Metro Alpin, an underground funicular which is both the world's highest funicular and highest subway. This slick lift whisks guests directly from Saas-Fee to the world's highest revolving restaurant, the 3500m-high Mittelallalin, where you can enjoy ever-changing 360 degree views of the Alps over lunch. James Bond fans will quickly recognise the restaurant, which featured as Piz Gloria, the headquarters of 007's nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld, in 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service.' The Metro Alpin also brings you to the Allalin Ice Pavilion, where you can follow a tunnel into the heart of the glacier to learn some of its secrets.
In addition to virtually year-round snow-sure skiing, Saas-Fee offers scenic winter hiking routes, snowshoeing adventures, cross-country ski trails, snow-tubing, a children's fun park and the Feeblitz toboggan run, a twisting, looping ride that's nearly 1km long (and is particularly thrilling when illuminated at night). Got a good head for heights? Bring it with you to the Alpin Gorge, where you can cross the dramatic gorge that slices between Saas-Fee and Saas-Grund using swaying rope bridges and fixed-rope crossings. Just try to look relaxed for the Instagram images your friends will take of you in stuntman action #inLOVEwithSWITZERLAND.
Val d'Anniviers The Freerider's Valley Z
Every freerider dreams of finding their very own secret powder kingdom, a place of undiscovered bowls, pristine colouirs and untouched glades. For those willing to share such a snowy kingdom with just a few fellow powder fans, they can stop dreaming and discover the Val d'Anniviers.
Back in the 1990s, the American freeride magazine Powder published an article about a ski area with such fabled off-piste terrain, authentic Alpine culture and mystique, that the author refused to name it, calling it simply Valley X. After a short while, the secret was exposed and La Grave, France was thrust into the freeride limelight. A few years later, another mythical freeride area featured in the magazine, this time named Valley Y (and subsequently revealed to be Alagna, Italy). Powder hasn't yet run a piece on Valley Z but if it does, we think it would be the Val d'Anniviers.
Caught in Time
The slender Anniviers valley snakes up from the Valais capital, Sion, calling on eleven villages before reaching Zinal at its head. Encircled by the "Imperial Crown", five peaks towering above 4,000 metres including the Matterhorn, and boasting 220km of ski pistes across three ski areas, the valley remains relatively unknown. Passing through the sleepy Anniviers villages, it's as though time has paused: wooden “raccards” (granaries) stand in Alpine pastures, barely changed in 600 years, and cow fighting remains a highlight of the social calendar.
Linked to Zinal by cablecar, Grimentz is one of the valley’s largest communities although, with 385 permanent residents, “large” is relative. Here, amongst cobbled alleys so narrow that the chalet eaves nearly touch above them, lies the 16th-century Maison Bourgeoisiale (public hall), where the unique tradition of Vin du Glacier is upheld. Ever since 1886, when a larch wine barrel was made in honour of the local Bishop, a small amount of each annual vintage of local white wine has been blended in the same barrel. The result is an extraordinary tipple, droplets of which might be centuries old.
You might well wish for a drop of Vin du Glacier to steady your nerves while facing some of the more challenging freeride routes in the diverse Val d'Anniviers ski area, like the 40-45 degree couloirs in the Col des Obrintzes. The couloirs are located in the St Luc-Chandolin ski area and provide the stage for a the battle of the world's top freeriders to qualify for the annual Freeride World Tour. For those looking for something slightly less taxing, there is plenty of more gentle off-piste terrain, much of it peppered with trees and scattered with powder pillows. In the Grimentz-Zinal area meanwhile, you'll find open powder bowls leading down to the spectacular Moiry lake and dam, and the dedicated Sorebois freeride zone, which is only opened once avalanche risk is minimised.
The best way to explore the Val d'Anniviers off-piste is by joining a Freeride Week organised by the local tourist office. These weeks package up five nights' accommodation with four days of guided freeskiing and ski touring (for various skill levels) as well as training in mountain safety and avalanche awareness. The last involves tuition and hands-on experience gained at the Mammut Avalanche Training Centre on the pistes above Zinal, where guides teach budding freeriders to use their avalanche transceiver in simulated situations.
For a real freeriding treat, call a helicopter to whisk you from Grimentz up to the 3,796m summit of Pigne d’Arolla. From here, you can enjoy 1,800 vertical metres of untouched descent through a glacial wonderland, where you're more likely to spot chamois than people. That said, if you visit Val d’Anniviers in January, when it’s quiet even by local standards, you'll enjoy a similar experience in resort. Until Powder magazine publishes that story about Valley Z that is…
Aletsch Arena - Making Children's Dreams Come True
Winter holidays spent with family are magical: bundling up your little ones in their down ski suits, watching them master their first ski turns, laughing together over bread dropped in the fondue and evenings spent playing games by the fire.
There is a secret to creating the perfect family winter holiday - you have to pick the best resort for you and your children. This might sound obvious but it's all too easy to overlook elements that are crucial to your children's ski experience by plumping for resorts already familiar to you. Where you might once have sought out challenging terrain and rocking après-ski, your focus now is on safe, tranquil resorts with plenty of attractions off the slopes as well as on them. Scooping first place in the “Peace and Relaxation” category of the Best Ski Resort Awards 2016 is just one indication that Aletsch Arena is where you need to bring your family for a fun, invigorating winter holiday.
In addition to being in the world's top ten Best Ski Resorts 2016, Aletsch Arena is one of a select number of Swiss destinations to have been recognised as a "Families Welcome" resort, having met exacting standards for family-friendly infrastructure, activities, services and hospitality. It far exceeds expectations for its location, encompassing the quaint villages of Riederalp, Bettmeralp and Fiescheralp, dotted along a pristine Alpine plateau, as well as the picturesque valley towns of Mörel, Laax, Fiesch and Fieschertal.
Set within the first UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in the Alps, the three mountain villages are entirely car free, accessed only by ski lift, guaranteeing peace and quiet as well as a safe environment for little ones. Furthermore, virtually all the hotels, chalets and apartments in the villages are ski-in/ski-out, making for effortless access to the Arena's 104km of pistes (cunningly avoiding any tearful ski carrying tantrums). Of these, over a third are beginner friendly and nearly half suitable for intermediates, making this an idyllic place for children and adults alike. And that's by no means all: there are four dedicated kid's areas, four fun parks, a snowpark and a half pipe. For budding Bode Millers, there's even a competitive high-speed course on Fiescheralp and a timed giant slalom course on Bettmeralp - download race times, photographs and video of your descent for ultimate Facebragging rights.
By no means “limited” to snowsure downhill skiing terrain and freestyle parks, Aletsch Arena is also home to kilometres of scenic cross-country ski, snowshoeing and winter walking trails. As you explore these trails, soak up mesmerising views of the Aletsch Glacier and some of Switzerland's most iconic peaks, including the Matterhorn and Jungfraujoch. Join the locals tobogganing on the gentle Blätz piste or really push the sledge out with a fondue in the cosy mountain restaurant atop Fiescheralp before donning head torches and being guided down the 13km-long sledging trail to the pretty town of Lax.
Land of Primeval Glaciers & Forests
Arguably the most remarkable thing about Aletsch Arena is the glacier that gives the area its name. Made up of 27 billion tones of ice, descending some 2,500 vertical metres into the Massa Gorge and snaking 23km behind the Arena villages, the Great Aletsch Glacier is Europe's longest glacier. Partly flanked by the Aletsch Forest, home to Switzerland's oldest trees, with some proven to be 900 years old, children are genuinely enthused while learning about geography during guided glacier walks, visits to the new Glacier World Bettmerhorn multimedia exhibition and special children's events held at the Pro Natura Center Aletschin. And, while they're busy swotting up on geology, you can appreciate the magnificence of the Aletsch glacier by floating above it on a tandem paragliding jump.
Lying at the very heart of the extensive 4 Vallées ski area, Nendaz combines direct access to Switzerland’s largest ski area with a tranquil, authentic mountain experience.
Spanning the high-Alpine villages of Nendaz, Verbier, Thyon and La Tsoumaz, the 4 Vallées ski area offers skiers and riders of all levels a seemingly endless choice of trails, parks and off-piste terrain. Choose to explore this winter bounty from Nendaz and you will find yourself immersed in Alpine beauty, in an authentic Valais mountain village awash with old timber granaries and barns.
Freetracks & Woodparks
Located at the centre of the 4 Vallées, between Verbier and Thyon, Nendaz is arguably the best place from which to explore its sprawling slopes and off-piste terrain. From here you can lap up the virtually untouched local slopes through the morning, drop in on a neighbouring resort for lunch, catch a few chairlifts to explore the other valleys in the afternoon, and be back in Nendaz for après-ski.
In addition to the 4 Valley’s signature runs, there are seven “Freetracks” for advanced skiers and riders to enjoy. These secured yet ungroomed freeride routes include the relatively gentle 1.1km-long Plan du Fou and the 3.8km-long Mt Gelé route, which drops nearly 1,000 vertical metres with gradients of up to 42 degrees. It’s small wonder that the world’s best freeriders gather here each year for the Nendaz Freeride competition, battling it out for Freeride World Qualifying points.
Arguably the most famous peak in the 4 Vallées is Mont-Fort, the highest point in the ski area at 3,330m. Affording sweeping views of the Alps, Mont-Fort is reached easily from Nendaz by cable car although the notorious black piste that bumps its way down from the peak to the Col des Gentianes requires more effort... Mont-Fort also delivers some of the Switzerland’s most iconic off-piste descents: experienced backcountry skiers consider the “backside” of the mountain as one of the finest routes in the Alps.
If cruising along wide, sun-drenched pistes is more your thing, you’ll thrive on Nendaz’s local slopes. You can also save the expense of a full 4 Vallées lift pass by purchasing a local Printse area lift ticket, which gives unlimited access to the 220km of pistes, seven mountain restaurants and 50 lifts that link Nendaz with neighbouring Veysonnaz and Thyon/Les Collons. This impressive local ski area, and Nendaz’s welcoming hotels and varied children’s programmes, are just part of why the resort has been awarded the ‘Family Destination’ seal of approval. The dedicated beginners areas at Siviez and Tracouet make learning to ski a pleasure: set on the shores of a frozen lake, Tracouet is a suntrap boasting a moving carpet, beginner’s lift and snow tubing course as well as an atmospheric bar. Mastering the basics doesn’t take long and the kids quickly gravitate to the Woodpark, a terrain park with wooden kickers, rails and boxes suitable for those new to the fun of freestyle.
Life beyond skiing
After a long day’s skiing, it’s hard to beat soaking sore legs in a hot tub and easing aches in the sauna. Nendaz offers a unique Ski & Spa Pass, combining a one-day adult lift pass with access to the Spa des Bisses in the luxurious Nendaz 4 Vallées & Spa resort for just CHF79 (saving nearly a third on the full price). Spanning 2,200m2, the impressive spa boasts indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs, various saunas, ice and salt grottos, steam rooms and a flotation tank as well as treatment rooms for restorative massages.
Indeed, Nendaz offers a wealth of activities away from the ski slopes for all the family. There are 40km of snowshoe trails, best explored with a guide to point out local wildlife and history; 100km of winter hiking trails; cross-country ski trails; and a sledging run on Tortin. But perhaps the most memorable adventure (other than learning how to play the Alphorn) is a Full Moon Mountain Party. From January to March, guests can sign up for these parties, which include a gondola ride up to Tracouet (at 2,200m) for an apéritif with altitude, dinner with entertainment at the Tracouet restaurant and the option to ski down or take the lift back down, all the while admiring the mountains illuminated by the full moon.
Skiing, perhaps more than any other sport, gets under your skin. From those first tentative moments on the nursery slope to that exhilarating rush as you conquer your first blue or red slope, you're hooked. Chose the Valaisan resort of Thyon for your first turns, or for your children's early ski moments, and you'll be starting the habit of a lifetime.
You might not have heard of Thyon yet but, if you're eager to learn or improve your skiing, have a young family or simply crave intermediate slopes all to yourself, you need to read on. The eastern gateway to one of the largest ski areas in the Alps, Verbier's 4 Valleys, and located just thirty minutes' drive from Sion airport, Thyon is the little-known solution to all your ski dreams.
Three Times As Much Choice
The resort of Thyon comprises three villages, each at different altitudes. Set at 1600m, Les Masses offers a fairly sleepy Valaisan village experience. Next up, at 1800m, Les Collons is larger and livelier, comprising several hotels, restaurants, bars and shops housed in modern chalets. Properties here are rarely located more than three minutes' stroll from the pistes. At the top, perched 2000m up, Thyon is a car-free smattering of contemporary apartment blocks, all delivering ski-in/ski-out convenience with shops and restaurants at ground level.
Thyon's local ski slopes, which include a dedicated Slow Zone and network of gentle blue and red pistes, are easily accessed from each of the three villages. Children delight in learning the basics of skiing and snowboarding in the sunny Snow Village, under the watchful eye of Snowli the Ski School mascot (and qualified instructors). Confident intermediates can master their carving skills on the invariably quiet pistes, building up to the black runs off Etherolla, while advanced skiers will find untracked powder on the freeriding itinerary off l’Eteygeon. Furthermore, Thyon’s slopes are part of the sprawling 412km of pistes in the 4 Valleys ski area, opening up jaw-dropping amounts of terrain for intermediate and advanced skiers. If you're not up to exploring quite so far afield, simply buy a beginner's lift pass for the nursery slopes or a Sector Printze pass for access to Thyon's slopes and those of neighbouring Nendaz and Veysonnaz.
Park rats almost certainly will have heard of Thyon: the resort's impressive Central Park pioneered terrain parks in the Alps and still draws professionals (and amateurs) from across the world with its half pipe, rails, jumps and kickers. Add a BBQ, deck chairs and pumping sound system and it becomes hard to drag yourself back to the slopes...
Seeking more of a thrill? Try your hand at ski-touring, dog-sledding or Telemark skiing. Or, if you feel the need to get a different angle on the breathtaking views of the Matterhorn, you could take to the skies: paragliding or taking a scenic flight over the mountains might just start another habit of a lifetime.
Swiss International Air Lines offers more than 180 weekly flights from the UK and Ireland to Switzerland, plus they transport your set of ski or snowboard equipment for free in addition to the standard baggage allowance. New this winter: Additional SWISS flights from London Heathrow to Sion flights during February’18. SWISS.COMSwiss ski resorts are easily reached thanks to the excellent transport network, making it the ultimate destination for flexible ski travel. The Swiss Transfer Ticket covers travel from any Swiss airport to the chosen holiday destination – and back again at the end of the stay. And even better, children under 16 travel free of charge when accompanied by an adult holding a Swiss Transfer Ticket. MySwitzerland.com/rail
Find out more in our 2017/2018 Valais Brochure
- About us
- First Visit
- Switzerland Partnership
- Virtual tour & live webcam
- Our Instructors
- What to Wear