Travel To Swiss Ski Resorts

Travel To Swiss Ski Resorts

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     Switzerland Rail Map
  • Swiss Railways Map

The best known of the countries spanning the Alps, Switzerland in the centre of western Europe & shares borders with Germany to the north, Austria to the east, France to the west & Italy to the south. The two Swiss cantons of Valais (Wallis) & Graubuenden (Grisons) span the entire mountainous southern half of the country, providing an amazing diversity of ski & snowboard destinations, all linked by the equally amazing Swiss rail system. Swiss Alps ski resort diversity is ably assisted by the mixing of language & cultures that make up the jigsaw that is Switzerland.

Travel to Swiss Ski Resorts

Getting to any ski resort in Switzerland is easy via either of the major international airports at Geneva (GVA) & Zurich (ZCH). Unlike the smaller airports of Basel (BSL) & Bern (BRN) (which can be useful for visitors from European or UK flight origins), the larger Geneva & Zurich airports accept flights from across the globe.

From all the airports, the best railway system in the world provides direct access to ski resorts throughout Switzerland (see rail section below).

Flights to Switzerland

Switzerland is blessed with two of Europe’s best international airports – Geneva (GVA) & Zurich (ZCH). Between both of them, access to the majority of Swiss ski resorts is quite straight forward vi road or rail. It may come as a surprise that the next best airport for skiing in the Swiss Alps is in Italy! On the outskirts of Milan, the Milan Malpensa International Airport (MXP) is used often by the Powderhounds as the gateway airport for resorts in the Swiss cantons of Valais, Uri & Graubünden.

Search for great flight deals to Geneva, Zurich or Milan Malpensa airports here.

Geneva airport provides the flight gateway for all the ski resorts in the cantons of Valais (Aletsch Arena, Crans Montana, Grimentz Zinal, Portes du Soleil, Saas Fee, Verbier & Zermatt), Vaud (Leysin, Villars Gryon), & Bern (Grindelwald-Wengen, Gstaad, Jungfrau, Murren-Schilthorn). Additionally, Geneva is a key airport for many of the major French ski resorts (like Chamonix & the Tarentaise valley).

Zurich airport is best for getting to ski resorts in Obwalden (Engelberg), Uri (Andermatt), Bern (Grindelwald-Wengen, Gstaad, Jungfrau, Murren-Schilthorn) & most importantly Graubünden (a.k.a. Grisons)(Arosa, Brigels, Davos-Klosters, Laax, Lenzerheide, Savognin & St Moritz). Zurich airport also provides access to the very snowy Vorarlberg resorts in western Austria (like Damuels et al).

Milan Malpensa comes into play in the Swiss ski realm due the superb rail links from Milano Centrale to places like Brig (for the canton Valais & Uri resorts) & via Tirano to St Moritz. Road journeys Milan Malpensa are equally efficient to some Swiss locations, with the added benefit that car rental is cheaper in Italy!

Train Travel in Switzerland

For anyone travelling in Switzerland, it would be a skiing crime not to use the best railway system in the world to get around. Aside from the eye-popping scenery from the train, many Swiss ski resorts (most really) are reachable directly by train from the airport. Travel in Switzerland by train is comfortable, reliable, safe & often cost effective, particularly for small groups or simple return journeys. Getting around by Swiss Rail is also a great way to POW (Protect Our Winters), making it recommended mode of travel in Switzerland.

Search & book train tickets in Switzerland here.

All the airports have train stations attached to them making connections into the countryside easy. Trains all the way through to Brig run direct from Geneva airport. Most trains from Zurich airport to the ski resorts require a change at Zurich central station, but several run direct to ski areas. Similarly, from Milan Malpensa, trains to Switzerland are from Milano Centrale station, reached from the airport on the Malpensa Express train.

Through the valleys of the Upper Rhone & Rhine Rivers in cantons Valais (Wallis) & Grisons (Graubuenden), the Matterhorn-Gotthard line & the Rhaetian railway link a huge number of ski resorts across the mountainous south via the transport hubs of Brig & Chur. Numerous well-known Swiss ski resorts have their own train stations within walking distances of the ski lifts. Places like Zermatt, Arosa, Andermatt Sedrun, Davos Klosters, Disentis & St Moritz are great locations to visit by train. The Glacier Express links the entire journey from Zermatt to St Moritz, providing the ultimate front row seat for seeing the best of Switzerland from the comfort of a restaurant table! A quintessential Swiss ski holiday experience. Between Brig & Andermatt is the awesome family ski resort of Aletsch Arena which now has the equal best access to ski lifts by rail in the world. Two base areas (Betten & Fiesch) have ski lifts integrated into the train station for seamless transfers up to the mountain. Kronplatz in Italy possibly ‘still takes the chocolates’ as numero uno, just because the ski lift (gondola) gates are only 5m directly across from the train exit with no stairs or elevators involved!

The Golden Pass train, another Swiss rail icon, leaves from Montreux, taking one to wonderful Gstaad. Near Montreux, the gargantuan Portes du Soleil ski area can be reached directly by train to Champéry via Aigle. The station at Aigle is a true ski train hub. As well as Champéry, trains new & old rattle up the main street & into the mountains to Leysin, Villars & Les Diablerets.

Further along the valley at Martigny, the Mont Blanc Express (a truly touch-in-cheek name) heads to the Chamonix ski resorts, plus a sneaky little Swiss one (Les Marécottes). Alternatively, from Martigny one can also trundle along on the St Bernard Express to Verbier – why wouldn’t you? A little further still & sunny Crans Montana can be reached via the funicular near the train station at Sierre (Siders).

If those ski resorts are not enough of a spur to explore Switzerland by train, then how about approaching the impressive Jungfrau ski region by train via Interlaken. Train journeys across the world don’t come more legendary than the ride from Interlaken up the Lauterbrunnen valley to Wengen, the Jungfrau & over to Grindelwald below the Eiger.

Still not convinced? How about taking the train to dramatic Engelberg via gorgeous Lucerne? A delicious combination that stacks up against just about any global travel experience.

See the Swiss Rail Network Map here.

Private Transfers

The Powderhounds recommend taking the train & bus throughout Switzerland. However, if you cannot abide public transport, are in a larger group of 3+ people or just have the cash to splash, the quickest way to some Swiss ski resorts from the airports can be a private transfer. A useful method to decrease the cost of a private transfer is to take a train to a major nearby railway station & be met by the provider for transfer direct to your accommodation. Private transfers can be particularly time efficient & cost effective for groups of 3 people or more. Note that some ski resorts cannot be reached by car/private transfer & a train journey is mandatory i.e. Zermatt.

Search & book your private transfer private transfer here.

Bus Transport in Switzerland

Whilst not as legendary as the Swiss Rail network, the buses in Switzerland are nothing short of incredible. The expansive bus route network links perfectly with the train system, allowing cheap, efficient journeys to ski resorts.

The nationwide ‘PostBus’ is complimented by local bus companies & between them it is possible to get just about anywhere in the country. Timetables can be complex but are posted at all stops & online (search timetables here). Most buses have the route & next stops displayed on screens in the bus. Ask the driver if unsure about anything. Bus tickets can be purchased from the driver or online.

Longer bus routes to ski resorts tend to have underfloor luggage storage & exterior ski racks making travel with luggage easier. Even local buses have space on board for bulky luggage.

Driving in Switzerland

Driving to the Swiss ski resorts is a useful option & recommended if in a group of 3 or more people doing a private road trip/ski safari to a variety of locations. Whilst most resorts can be easily reached by public transport, a car provides the ultimate in time efficiency.

Road driving conditions vary markedly across Switzerland. Motorways and thoroughfares through the valleys are as good as anywhere in Europe. Where driving to ski resort village or base involves high passes & mountain roads, be prepared for challenging conditions. For example, most of the approaches to St Moritz are over high passes & should not be driven during blizzards. Be aware of oncoming traffic particularly buses & trucks on windy mountain roads. Snow tyres are not mandatory in Switzerland but should be fitted if driving in the mountains. Snow chains may be required in some locations.

As with much of Europe, fuel prices are high, but distances relatively short, limiting petrol/diesel use. Most ski areas in Switzerland are only 1.5 to 2hr drive from either Geneva or Zurich.

Road tolls don’t exist in Switzerland, however any car, motorbike or trailer using the motorways will need a Swiss motorway vignette. The vignette has a one-off cost of 40CHF (€37)(2019 price) and lasts the calendar year. Rentals cars from Switzerland will already have vignette, but any other cars entering the country will need to buy one. The motorway vignette can be purchased at most border crossings, petrol stations, post offices, by phone (+800 1002 0030) and online. Some road tunnels at international borders have tolls, notably the Grand St Bernard Pass tunnel between Switzerland & the Valle d’Aosta. The price is close to extortion!

Due to winter road closures or a year-round lack of access(!), vehicles must be placed onto trains in several locations throughout Switzerland. The major ones include between Andermatt & Sedrun over Oberalp Pass & from Kandersteg to Goppenstein – a major route under the mountains between the north & south of the country. Placing cars onto a train is a great experience & nothing to be concerned about. Loading & unloading is seamless & efficient.

Car Rental & Hire

All the major airports & cities have car hire available. In terms of convenience, the best rental locations in Switzerland are the airports, but if proximity to the action is important the regional cities of Brig & Chur make useful alternatives. Availability can be an issue during high season during Christmas/New Year and through February.

If renting cars in Switzerland, all vehicles should come with winter tyres (but may not, so check!), however other locations (like Germany & Italy) may not automatically come with this option. Check prior to confirming any rental, as winter tyres are essential to safe travel throughout the country.

Search & book car rentals here.

Note, when renting a car in Switzerland (i.e. Zurich airport), read the fine print carefully as some providers charge exorbitant security deposits of up to CHF6000.

If in Doubt

If in doubt about how to get around Switzerland, contact Powderhounds for info on the best option!