Skiing is different in every country and region. The snow conditions vary as much as the people and mountain ranges. Growing up in small town Canada, I had no idea what I was missing by riding the T-bar every weekend. The further I got from my hometown the better it got. The Rockies and Appalachians are amazing but I’ve never had such a good combination of winter skiing factors as in Switzerland. I have been lucky enough to live in the Alps and get the full Swiss winter skiing experience, so I want to share why I think this is the best place to ski – that I have been yet!
Europe is small in comparison to skiing in North America. I used to drive 1-2 hours to a tiny hill every weekend. Here in Switzerland, any direction you go and you will be in the middle of the alps in less time. There is also public transportation to each village (even high up in the mountains) so you don’t need a car. Switzerland is so well organized that there are even designated spaces on the trains for ski equipment! They really make weekend ski trips easy and accessible.
I used to wear as many layers as possible skiing in Quebec. We would put on as many shirts and sweaters as possible before it was difficult to move to bear the cold in Cananda. In Switzerland I wear ONE sweater and a light outer shell for water and wind resistance. That’s it! And when I stop for a break, I can sit outside in the sun with my jacket open and my sunglasses on. Wow! Anytime I stopped for a break in Canada it was to warm up with hot chocolate indoors. Now I can order drinks without freezing and enjoy the mountain views. In general it is much more mild in the Swiss Alps and has many more sunny days since you are often above the clouds.
3. Off Piste
Most ski resorts in Switzerland have a significant portion above the treeline. This means that to go off piste, you don’t have to hike for half an hour and ski through the trees. You can stay lower in the trees if you want, but you can just as easily take a turn down into fluffy powder and pop back on the piste a few minutes later. The chair lifts take you to as much off piste as on piste. Being above the treeline and on the crest of the mountains just means you have a lot more access to go anywhere you like. As long as your going down, you will meet the track again.
2. Ski Culture
This is the most important one and I think it comes with having a season’s pass. Which most people in Switzerland do, because they are so close to the mountains (see point no. 1). The Swiss ski to enjoy the leisure time and socialize as well as the sport. Rather than maximize every ski day they have, only stopping for a quick bite or a hot chocolate as I am used to, they take long lunches and beer breaks throughout the day. It is not only the people that support this but the infrastructure. There are bars and restaurants in every corner of the mountain. Just when you thought you were lost, you hear some traditional music and see a chalet ready ans waiting for you in the midele of no where. Instead of skiing up and down all day, to come back down to the village to have a break, you can leisurely stay in the mountains criss-crossing resorts while eating and drinking. This is my kind of skiing!
1. Apres Ski
Of course apres ski happens everywhere, and I have heard its chaos in Austria, which I still have to experience. But the way it works in Europe is just a little more fun. First of all, you begindrinking while skiing in the afternoon on the mountain, no need to wait until you go back down to your village. Secondly, the Swiss have a great selection of warm alcoholic drinks that its no wonder winter is so much fun.
So if you are a skier and haven’t yet been to Switzerland, definitely give it a go. Even if your not a skier, Switzerland is still great in the winter with lots of activities. The Swiss are just outdoor people all year round and have routes, trails and villages throughout the Alps to enjoy it properly. Coming from North America, I thought it would be a lot more expensive since I am used to large commercial resorts. Yet it is not nearly as expensive as your would think for what you get with these amazing aspects. With the proximity, ski culture and perfect conditions you also get a feel for traditional Swiss life by staying in the mountain villages. Modern amenities make your stay comfortable and the rest of these factors make your skiing easy and fun. So definitely visit Switzerland for a ski during the winter if you are looking for the best of its kind.