Saas-Fee Resort Review, The perfect Swiss Town

February 8, 2011 in Resorts, Reviews, Switzerland

The perfect Swiss ‘chocolate box’ town, this resort is a favourite, especially in summer.

On the slopes Rating

Snow reliability ❄❄❄❄❄ Parks ❄❄❄ Off-piste ❄❄❄

Off the slopes

Après ski ❄❄❄❄ Nightlife ❄❄❄❄ Eating out ❄❄❄❄ Resort charm ❄❄❄❄❄

The Resort

The village of Saas-Fee does not feel, as many do, like a functional resort built purely to support the winter sports; it is a magical place that you can easily fall in love with. The unique atmosphere is traditional and romantic, and the entire town is surrounded by 13 imposing, 4000m peaks, including the highest mountain in Switzerland, the Dom (4545m above sea level).The traffic-free town and the chalet-style buildings contribute to the relaxing pace of this charming glacier village, and it manages to provide a varied and rich nightlife. In the winter the village can be very cold; conditions are best for autumn or spring skiing when there is plenty of sun and snow. Saas-Fee is also the perfect resort for summer skiing on the glacier.

The Mountains

Height: 1800–3600m

Ability Rating

Expert ❄❄❄ Intermediate ❄❄❄❄ Beginner ❄❄❄❄❄ maintained in the summer.

Saas-Fee - Getting about

Take two Alpin Express cable cars to Felskinn at 3000m. From here you can either enjoy some long, sweeping red runs back to town or take the highest underground funicular in the world, the Metro Alpin to the Mittelallalin glacier (3500m). When visibility is good you can apparently see the lights of Milan. It will take you around 40 minutes to reach the top.

Winter

There are 100km of marked pistes in Saas- Fee in the winter, most designed for the beginner/intermediate skier or boarder. The 32 runs comprise 13 blue trails, 14 red and 5 black. Saas-Fee has a great reputation for maintaining the runs in tiptop condition, allowing the intermediate riders a great base from which to push themselves to the next level. The unprepared mogul piste under the Längfluh chairlift puts those knees to the test.

Summer

The glacier provides 20km of ski slopes for summer skiing, geared to high-standard riding. It is best to get out early, as the glacier closes some time between 12pm (in high summer) and 2pm. The runs are pretty good, but if you’re not doing slalom training or hitting the park, you may end up twiddling your thumbs. If you are hitting the park, you will not be disappointed. Get used to the T-bars and draglifts; chairlifts are difficult to manoeuvre and so are not practical with the moving glacier.

The Park

There is a park in the winter, but it is far better now. It is one of the first resorts to put real money in to develop the park and skier/boardercross. It is, therefore, renowned for hosting many of the major competitions such as the Rip Curl Challenge and the World Cup Half Pipe events. Professionals often train here in the summer, and ski and board manufacturers are regularly spotted testing their products.

The park is changed regularly but always consists of a super half pipe, 3 big kickers ranging from 6m to 12m gaps and a huge range of rails. There are plenty of table-top jumps for learning and practising new tricks, before stepping it up to the bigger ones. The atmosphere in the park is superb; a DJ often plays at the bottom and photographers and cameramen are frequently spotted filming for the latest movies.

Off-piste and backcountry

It is wise to be cautious when exploring the off-piste around a glacier due to the crevasses and concealed dangers. However, this does not mean that there aren’t any off- piste opportunities to be had. There are 3 pistes that are marked as yellow or off-piste runs, but there are a few more. The absence of glacier on the Plattjen makes it a great place to find fresh tracks through the trees. The trees also shelter the snow, so it stays in good condition all day. Be warned though: this area can be quite challenging!

‘A great place to find fresh tracks through the trees’

The Maste 4 is another good place to keep you out of the way of crevasse dangers. It is a relatively easy powder run – a perfect place for cruising. From the top of the Alpin Express you can find the Morenia, great if you like the steeps, and it’s hardly ever touched. It is very important only to attempt this after a good snowfall and, even then, it must be done early in the morning. The Hannig, at the other side of town to the Alpin Express (used for hill-walking and sledging), is a great place for an early morning hike. There is a lift from the bottom of the resort, but they won’t let you on with your board or skis so it is a bit of a trek. If you fancy a backcountry adventure, set off early from Brittania Hutte and enjoy the legendary, 1.5-hour freeride down to Saas-Almagell. This is pretty challenging, especially at the beginning, and is only recommended with a guide.

Lift passes

Check the latest prices at www.saas-fee.ch

Instruction

Eskimos Snowboard School

This is a well-known school with courses that range from basic to freestyle/carving. 0041 (0)27 957 49 04 www.eskimos.ch

Saas-Fee Ski and Snowboard School

This school comes highly recommended by locals – not that there is a huge amount of choice. All instructors speak a variety of languages.

0041 (0)27 957 23 48 www.skischule-saas-fee.ch

British Freeski Camps

These run for 3 or 4 weeks in the summer every year, and are organised by Warren Smith. You can sign up for the whole time or any 1 week. On the camp, you have the choice of hitting the park, perfecting the skier cross course or improving your technical skills. The top professional skiers in Britain gather together for these camps, some coaching (Andy Bennett, Dave Young, Pat Sharples, Paddy Graham and James Woods) and others training, so it’s a great place to introduce yourself to the British ski scene. 0044 (0)1525 374757 www.britishfreeskicamps.com

Popcorn shop

www.popcorn.ch For buying or renting snowboards or freestyle skis we highly recommend this shop/bar, located right in the centre of town near the clock tower. They always have the latest equipment and clothing and are also happy to offer their expert advice.

Other activities

Always ask if there is a discount with a guest card, obtainable from your hotel or apartment landlord.

Winter and summer Bobsleigh: The Feeblitz Bobsleigh is a 900m long toboggan run – great fun for all the family. It can be adapted to suit the adrenaline junkie – although not ‘officially’ recommended, it has been known for riders not to apply the brakes and keep their eyes closed. We didn’t tell you to do it though. Ice grotto: Visit the Allain Ice Pavilion – the biggest ice grotto in the world. It can be accessed from the Metro Alpin top station hall at 3500m above sea level. Mountain climbing: The mountain climbing schools offer a number of activities for keen climbers, or those who fancy giving it a go. Rock and ice climbing, canyoning, glacier trekking and mountaineering are available for both beginners and advanced climbers. For a James Bond-type activity, the ‘Alpine Gorge’ is an opportunity to be seized. This is a mountain descent from Saas-Fee to Saas- Grund, where you make your way down with the aid of a guide, fixed steel ropes, ladders, 3 Tyroliennes and a suspension bridge. A final option is to conquer 1 of the 3 Via Ferratas (secured climbing routes). The Mittaghorn is fairly easy and good for families, the Jägihorn is pretty difficult and should be undertaken with a guide and the Via Ferrata del Lago is recommended as a 2-day tour.

For further information contact Saas-Fee Guides Climbing School (0041 (0)27 957 44 64 www.saasfeeguides.ch) or Active Dreams (0041 (0)78 825 82 73, www.weissmies.ch). Tennis and badminton: There are 2 indoor tennis courts and 4 indoor badminton courts available.

Wellness centre: If you’re looking for a good way to while away a bad weather day look no further than the Bielen Wellness Centre (0041 (0)27 957 24 75, www.super-dome. ch). There is a 25m swimming pool, as well as a sauna, solarium, whirlpool, steam bath, solar sun bathing, fitness room, table tennis

and table football. The 5-star Hotel Ferienart contains the Paradisa wellness centre (0041 (0)27 958 19 16, www.ferienart.ch) where non-residents can pay for a day’s spa pack- age. We’d love to tell you what it was like but we couldn’t afford it.

Summer only Adventure forest: You can swing from tree to tree using rope swings and zip wires and walk across hanging bridges. Crazy golf: A fantastic way to pass an hour or so! Not a course to be sniffed at, it really is quite difficult and should be taken very seriously. Golf: A 9-hole alpine golf course can be found just behind the Kalbermatten sports field. Hiking: There’s loads of hiking to be had in and around Saas-Fee. Contact the tourist office for all the details. Mountain biking: Bikers will be in their element in the summer, as there are around 70km of trails. The marked trails suit a range of abilities. Contact the tourist office for a detailed mountain bike map. Sports: The Kalbermatten sports ground offers football, basketball, volleyball, a mini skate ramp for skateboarding and in-line skating and tennis courts. Pit-Pat (a weird combination of snooker and crazy golf) is located nearby, at the Hotel Waldesruh.

Winter only Heliskiing and snow touring: These are definitely worth checking out later on in the season. Contact Active Dreams (see Mountain climbing for details). Husky tours: These run several times a week and can be booked at the tourist office. Ice skating: The natural ice rink is open 8am–10pm from mid-December to the end of February. Sledge run: A 5km sledge run can be found at Hannig. On Tuesdays and Thursdays (6–9pm) you can sledge at night. There is also an 11km run in the nearby town of Saas-Grund. Snow shoe trekking: This is organised daily. Contact the tourist office.

Snow tubing and air boarding: This and occurs several times a week. The snow tube lift in Saas-Grund is open 3–5.30pm and 8–10pm.

Events

Saas-Fee is a very popular venue for a wide variety of events because the height of the glacier pretty much guarantees snow all year round. The FIS World Cup in November has been held in Saas-Fee for many years, with disciplines for skiers and boarders in the half pipe and skier/boardercross. The Dutch and British Championships have also been held here over the years. The Saas-Fee Ride takes place every summer, usually at the end of July, and many of the best freestyle skiers in Europe turn up for the event. If you fancy your chances at entering the competition or if you just want to improve your style, why not book on to the British Freeski Camps (www. britishfreeskicamps.com) that take place in the few weeks running up to the Saas-Fee Ride.

The Ice Climbing World Cup in February is one of the biggest events in Saas-Fee. The world’s best ice climbers strut their stuff on a 30m high wall of ice in the car park of Saas- Fee. At the end of April is the last event in the famous TTR (Ticket To Ride) tour.

‘The world’s best ice climbers strut their stuff on a 30m high wall of ice’

Saas-Fee Accommodation

There are a variety of packages available to suit all budgets. Renting an apartment is often a good option. Bear in mind that the north end of the village is a bit of a hike from the lifts, so always make sure you check the location before you book.

For a funky, unique, well-placed and friendly hotel call the Dom Hotel (0041 (0)27 957 77 00, www.uniquedom.com). The PS2s in every room and the friendly staff make this hotel our top pick for the younger clientele. The rooms are minimalist and funky

with wooden floors, and the balconies have stunning views. The hotel also contains the hugely popular Popcorn bar and the Living Room, a stylish chill-out bar.

If being near the slopes is of utmost importance to you, check out La Gorge Apart-Hotel (0041 (0)27 958 16 80, www. lagorge.ch). It has a beautiful location sitting above a deep creek and contains a charming restaurant. It is only 100m from the lifts and is also close to all the facilities of the town. The rooms are fairly basic but contain a little kitchen so you can save money on food.

For a luxury apartment at a decent price check out the 5-star Shangri-La Apartments (0041 (0)27 958 15 15, www.rhone.ch/zumlerch). The apartments are huge (47–83m2) and contain Sky TV, a DVD player, internet connection, a coffee machine, a dishwasher, a washing machine and a massive balcony, and there is a sauna and whirlpool room for the use of guests.

If price is no object and you enjoy fancy hotels, it has to be the 5-star Hotel Ferienart (0041 (0)27 958 19 00, www.ferienart.ch). It has all the charm and splendour and prices that you would expect, with 6 restaurants, a piano bar, dance hall and beauty spa. The spa and beauty salon are very nice.

‘Dramatic views that can be enjoyed from comfy deckchairs’

Eating out

On the mountain

The world’s highest revolving restaurant is at the top lift station on the Mittelallalin glacier. It spins all the way round about once an hour. The views are stunning, the food is tasty and we think it’s pretty good value too. It’s definitely worth doing at least once and you should book if you want a table by the window (0041 (0) 27 957 17 71).

Other restaurants to check out are the popular, rustic Gletschergrotte, (0041 (0)27 957 21 60, www.gletschergrotte.ch) halfway

down from Speilboden and the more trendy hangout, Popcorn Plaza at Längfluh (0041 (0)27 957 21 32), which has dramatic views that can be enjoyed from comfy deckchairs on the huge terrace.

In town La Ferme (0041 (0)27 958 15 69) is a superb restaurant in the centre of town. It has a traditional, rustic and charming atmosphere and all the staff don the traditional dress. It’s not cheap, but is good value as the food is fantastic.

The Bodmen restaurant (0041 (0)27 957 20 75, www.waldhues-bodmen.ch) takes 10–15 minutes to walk to along a beautiful woodland path and is well worth the trip. It’s a beautiful place to sit at lunchtime in the summer as the huge terrace has marvellous views and goats scuttle in-between the tables. In the evening it’s not too formal and has great food, from fondues to fillet steak. If you wish, you can request the table next to a glass panel with views into a barn so you can see lots of chickens and other farmyard animals strutting their stuff while you eat. It’s not advisable to ask for this table if you fancy tucking into a chicken dish. To find the restaurant, walk past the Alpin Express lift station, in the opposite direction to town, and you will see a sign pointing you towards the Bodmen.

The Fletschhorn restaurant (0041 (0)27 957 21 31, www.fletschhorn.ch) is highly recommended, is highly expensive and has 18 points in the Gault & Millau gourmet guide. Boccalino’s (0041 (0)27 957 17 31) is a great pizza restaurant on the main street serving pizzas, pasta and risottos. Probably the best value in town, this is a great place to eat if you’re on a budget.

‘This is a great place to eat if you’re on a budget’

Bars and clubs

Saas-Fee has a very good night scene. The laws are such that there is no specific time at which a bar should close; if it’s busy they will open until it’s time to hit the slopes again. Dangerous stuff.

The Popcorn bar in the Dom Hotel (see Accommodation) is definitely at the centre of the action with good après ski, European DJs, live bands and the odd ‘Diva Night’ when they play all the classic cheesy music. Dressing up is optional. It’s not cheap here though. The younger crowd tend to hang out at the Happy Bar (0041 (0)27 957 38 96), at the north end of town, where the drinks are cheaper, especially during happy hour.

If you are in the 25+ category you might favour the Living Room in the Dom Hotel (see Accommodation), which is more of a chill-out bar with sofas and candles. If the mood takes you later on, you can always head downstairs to the Popcorn for a drunken boogie. Poison nightclub (0041 (0)27 957 50 51) is popular and good fun. Again, it’s more for the 25+ age group. Opposite the Popcorn is the Alpen-Pub (0041 (0)27 957 38 28), which has live music in the winter and on quieter nights is a great place to have a cosy beer and a game of darts.

If you intend to do your partying indoors, watch out for the ‘hush police’ who parade the streets after 10pm and can collar you into a fine if they think you’re making too much noise.

Getting there

By car

From Calais, it will take around 10 hours to drive to Saas-Fee. Enter Switzerland above Lausanne and from there follow signs for Sion, and then Brig, where you are signed to Saas-Fee.

The village itself is car-free, so you will have to use the car park (open air or covered). The car park price per day decreases the longer you are staying and is cheaper if you have a guest card, which can be obtained from your hotel or apartment owner on arrival.

There are free phones in the unloading areas to call your hotel for a free lift or to call a taxi (free phone numbers are by the phone).

By plane

Geneva (234km) Transfer from Geneva is approximately 3 hours by car. If transfer is by train, change in Brig (or Visp) for the postbus, which takes you right to Saas-Fee. There are hourly connections from Brig from 06.15 to 20.05 and from Visp from 06.35 to 20.25. Reservations may be necessary with the post bus (0041 (0)27 958 11 45).

Zürich (246km) There are regular transfers to Brig or Visp. The transfer is approximately 3 hours.

By train

Take the Eurostar from London St Pancras to Paris, then an overnight train, changing at Zürich, to Brig, and then a local bus (57 minutes) to the resort. Contact Rail Europe (0870 830 4862, www.raileurope. co.uk) or European Rail (020 7387 0444, www.european rail.com). Bus tickets are purchased on the bus. (For people booking through European Rail to Swiss resorts, the rail fare includes the bus connection to resort, so there is no need to pay for a bus ticket.)

Useful facts and phone numbers

Tourist office

T: 0041 (0)27 958 18 58 F: 0041 (0)27 958 18 60 W: www.saas-fee.ch

Direct reservations

T: 0041 (0)27 958 18 68 F: 0041 (0)27 958 18 70 W: www.saas-fee.ch

Emergency services

• Police: 117 • Police station (by the car park): 0041

(0)27 958 11 60 • Ambulance: 114 • Breakdown service: 140 • Weather information: 0900 57 30 70

(CHF1.49/min)

Doctors

• Stefan and Stephanie Kuonen, Saas-Fee: 0041 (0)27 957 58 59

• Medical Centre, Saas-Grund: 0041 (0)27 957 11 55

• Pharmacy, Saas-Fee: 0041 (0)27 957 26 18

• Dentist, St Imseng: 0041 (0)27 957 20 52

Electro-taxis

• Ambros: 0041 (0)79 439 10 29 • Taxi Anselm: 0041 (0)79 220 21 37 • Bolero: 0041 (0)27 958 11 35 • Center Reisen: 0041 (0)27 958 11 33 • Imseng: 0041 (0)27 957 33 44

SkiAndBoarding GIve thanks and recognition to the following for this review:

This review is from the Which Ski Resort Book which can be found at: http://www.foulsham.com/product1201.htm

ISBN 9780572036317 and price £10.99.

SkiAndBoarding are extremely happy to work together with other Snow Enthusiasts to help bring you the best information and reviews online!

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Which Ski Resort? – Europe

This review is taken from Which Ski Resort? – Europe, a useful and comprehensive book containing reviews of 50 top resorts for both skiing and snowboarding. As well as information on the style of the resort, the mountains and the skiers it caters for, you’ll find all the practical data: phone numbers, how to get there, and so on. Plus there are run-downs on where to find instruction, the best accommodation, eating out and enjoying yourself. It also rates the top 5 results for apres ski, parks, guaranteed snow, romance  and various other categories. Click here to get your copy.