Switzerland is a country famed for its stunning mountains and pristine lakes. The snow-capped peaks of the Alps are one of the reasons why thousands of tourists come to Switzerland every year, to ski, snowboard or walk. Ski resorts in Switzerland are highly popular in summer and winter for tourists and locals alike.
Skiing & Snowboarding in Switzerland
Skiing has a long history in Switzerland. Popular with locals, expats and tourists, skiing is one of the most popular adrenaline sports in the world and continues to be one of Switzerland’s favourite pastimes. Around half the population of Switzerland knows how to ski.
The sport relies on consistent snowfall during the winter, and a mixture of gradual, steep or sheer slopes to ski on, typically found in many Swiss mountain ranges.
Snowboarding is also popular in Switzerland, especially among young people. Over the past few years, most ski resorts have begun to install performance and trick areas where snowboarders can showcase their skills on a halfpipe or trick course.
When does the ski season start in Switzerland?
The start of each ski season is determined by the temperature in the mountains and how much snowfall has occurred up to that point. Larger ski resorts can use snow cannons to compensate for the lack of snow, but may have a restricted selection of ski runs.
Most ski resorts open in early November each year, continuing until mid-April the following year. Resorts with ski areas above 2.000 metres above sea level are likely to open first and close last.
Swiss ski resort difficulty system
To make sure each person is safe and comfortable when skiing, ski resorts in Switzerland use a colour system to show you what skill level is required to do each ski run. Each run will have its own characteristics, but all resorts use the same system to categorise them.
Before you start skiing, be sure to familiarise yourself with the local ski map or piste map. This will give you a good idea of where you should go to match your skill level, and to make sure you avoid having to go down a slope that you are unprepared for.
Blue ski runs in Switzerland
Blue ski runs are the easiest slopes beyond flat training courses. These are always wide, groomed ski slopes that have a low incline. The piste will never involve more than a 14-degree drop, and when the drop happens it will always be short and wide.
Red ski courses in Switzerland
Red ski runs are intermediate courses, designed for people who have some experience skiing. These courses are steeper or narrower than blue slopes, but are still groomed, unless the narrowness of the trail prohibits it. The slope gradient does not normally exceed 22 degrees, except for short, wide sections with a higher gradient.
Black and orange runs
These are runs for only the most experienced skiers and snowboarders. Black runs typically involve steep gradients of 40 degrees or more. They can be groomed on occasion, but only where the gradient allows. Excessive use can also lead to increased amounts of ice, making conditions more treacherous.
Orange runs are almost exclusively off-piste and should only be attempted if you have extensive skiing experience.
Best ski resorts in Switzerland
Switzerland is home to hundreds of different ski resorts, each with its own set of runs based on the mountains and landscape that surround them. Some ski resorts operate for the full season, whereas others may only open on weekends and include a single T-bar. Some of the most popular ski resorts are also some of the best, attracting tourists from around the world to come and hit the slopes.
One of the most popular ski resorts in the Swiss Alps is Davos Klosters. The resort covers six different skiing areas: Parsenn, Schatzalp, Madrisa, Jakobshorn, Pischa and Rinerhorn. All of the skiing areas can be accessed by trains between Davos Platz, Dorf and Klosters Platz.
The area around Davos is where you will find the largest hotels and resorts, many of which will provide a shuttle service to get to the different mountains. Complimentary public transport is also offered by most hotels for the duration of your stay.
Klosters, on the other side of the mountain, is smaller and is better known for its short let apartments and chalets. Parsenn and Madrisa can be accessed by cable car, and regular rail services are available between Klosters and Davos for the other mountains.
The favourite ski resort for the British royal family
As well as attracting the greatest number of skiers every year, the area around Davos Klosters is the favourite skiing destination for the British royal family, who have been visiting the area for many years. It is known to be the favourite ski area for Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, who has been an avid skier since 1963.
In the shadow of the Matterhorn, Zermatt is the highest ski resort in Switzerland. With over 360 kilometres of pistes and 52 separate ski lifts, the area has ski runs for all skill levels.
As well as a large number of ski runs, Zermatt also has a range of different hotels, restaurants and bars for some Après-Ski. The majority of hotels are situated in and around the town of Zermatt, but there are also some hotels in the mountains themselves. The most famous of these are the ice hotels, with rooms, bars and restaurants made entirely of ice.
The highest ski resort in Switzerland
The resort of Zermatt, along with its neighbour Breuil-Cervinia, is the highest in Switzerland, at over 3.883 metres above sea level at its peak. Zermatt can be reached by regular trains from Visp, where Intercity services can be used to get to Swiss cities. To get an excellent view of the Matterhorn itself, it is recommended to take the inclined railway from the town centre to Gornergrat to get an unobstructed view of the mountain, weather permitting.
St. Moritz is known as one of the most luxurious ski resorts in Switzerland. For skiing in winter, the resort uses the Corviglia mountain range, which at one point hosted the skiing events for two Winter Olympic Games in 1928 and 1948. St. Moritz can be accessed by car or train from the capital of Graubunden, Chur. The area also has its own airport, where private planes can be chartered.
One of the oldest ski resorts in the world
As the area around St. Moritz (the Engadin) is the origin of British and European ski tourism, it has many grand, opulent hotels to choose from. Alongside the large hotels, the resort also has a casino and a large shopping district. St. Moritz has been in operation since 1864, making it one of the oldest ski resorts in the world.
Alongside the skiing, you can also try the Cresta Run, a historic tobogganing run made by one of the oldest winter sports clubs in Switzerland, the St. Moritz Tobogganing Club.
Situated around four large valleys, the ski resort of Verbier is a favourite among experienced skiers and snowboarding enthusiasts. The area, in Canton Valais, has 34 ski, snowboard, snowshoe and Nordic ski routes.
The ski resort for experienced off-piste skiers
Split between Verbier, Val de Bagnes, Bruson, Le Châble, La Tzoumaz and Vollèges, the area has 410 kilometres of ski runs and seven secure, marked but ungroomed routes for off-piste skiing. The ski areas can be accessed from each resort, and you are able to jump between the two by using a shuttle transfer or by using the ski runs themselves.
The resort of Verbier is a short bus ride from the station of Le Châble, where regional services can be taken to Sion, Lausanne and beyond.
Jungfraujoch and Grindelwald
The ski resort of Grindelwald is split into three major areas. First is the skiing area around Jungfrau and Lauterbrunnen, the ski area of Grindewald First and the ski area between Grindelwald and Wengen. The area, along with Adelboden, is famous for being the home of competitive skiing in Switzerland, with many Swiss champions being crowned on the slopes around the town of Wengen nearby.
For the casual skier, the Jungfrau Ski Region offers a wide range of ski areas, but these are mainly suitable for those with some experience. The area has a number of fast, exciting slopes as well as valley routes back to Grindelwald.
The “Top of Europe”
Grindelwald can be accessed by car and train from Interlaken, where Interregional rail services can be taken to other Swiss cities. During your visit to Grindewald, it is highly recommended that you take the Jungfrau Bergbahn or Jungfrau mountain railway to Jungfraujoch. The “Top of Europe” offers expansive views of the surrounding landscape and is a must-see.
Other top Swiss ski resorts
In a country known for its mountains, it is no surprise that there are many other ski resorts to choose from in all different parts of the country. Alongside the favourites, there are many different resorts that are popular with tourists and locals alike.
The ski resorts of Arosa Lenzerheide are connected by either side of a large mountain. On the slopes of the mountain range around Arosa, there are over 30 different ski pistes to use, as well as many more in Lenzerheide. The resort of Arosa is well known as a friendly ski resort for kids, with many easy but enjoyable ski runs. Getting to Arosa means taking a train from Chur or driving a road which has exactly 101 curves.
The area around Saas-Fee has 33 different ski lifts and over 180 kilometres of ski runs. Only 15 kilometres from the Italian border, the ski resort is known for its high-quality hotels and spas, nestled between two mountain ranges. Saas-Fee can only be accessed by bus and car, adding to its exclusive atmosphere.
The home of Swiss skiing at Adelboden-Lenk
One of the most famous ski runs in the competitive ski calendar can be found in Adelboden. Together with Lenk im Simmental, the resort hosts a round of the AUDI FIS Ski World Cup. The Adelboden Giant Slalom is described by the governing body as the hardest course in the skiing calendar, with unforgiving steep sections and icy conditions.
For the non-competitive skier, the area also offers a wide range of other pistes for all skill levels. Lenk can be accessed by trains from Bern and Zweisimmen, and Adelboden can be accessed by bus.
Après-Ski at Crans-Montana
Unique to some Swiss ski resorts, Crans-Montana is just as famous for its post-skiing activities as the skiing itself. The area is well known as a year-round spa and sports resort, and has a large range of bars, restaurants and even its own casino. Despite the other attractions, Crans-Montana retains its reputation as a premier destination for sport, holding skiing, snowboarding and golfing tournaments throughout the year.
Crans-Montana can be reached by taking the funicular railway from Sierre.
Nearest ski resorts to cities in Switzerland
If you become a resident of Switzerland, and especially if you are employed by an international company, it is likely you will be based in one of the many cities around Switzerland. Although ski resorts are never too far away, here are the resorts closest to each large city.
Closest ski resort to Zurich: Flumserberg
Only one hour and 10 minutes by train, the ski resort of Flumserberg is a favourite among the residents of Zurich. A resort overlooking the Walensee and the mountains of Toggenburg, it has an extensive system of ski lifts and runs for every skill level.
Amongst the ski runs are a selection of restaurants and some smaller hotels. The resort usually runs throughout the ski season and also has its own “Rodelbahn” rollercoaster during the summer.
Closest ski resort to Bern: Interlaken
Known for its adrenaline sports, Interlaken is just an hour's train ride away from Bern and offers a one-stop connection to several large skiing areas. The town is famous for activities like skydiving, kayaking and ravine crossing, and is also the ideal base to go skiing.
Only 30 minutes from Interlaken are the skiing areas of Beatenberg-Niederhorn, Axalp ob Brienz, Diemtigtal and, during especially snowy winters, the small but beautiful resorts of Habkern and Aeschiried.
Nearest ski resort to Basel: Andermatt
As Basel is one of the northernmost cities in Switzerland, travel to the nearest ski resort takes up to three hours. Despite some other resorts being closer, one of the most notable alternatives is the town of Andermatt in the Canton of Uri. This ski resort spans six different mountains and three different towns: Andermatt, Sedrun, and Disentis.
The resort specialises in medium to challenging ski runs, with some smaller options for less experienced skiers. The area has many different hotel options, with some chalets also available.
Closest ski resort to Geneva: Praz de Lys
As Geneva is so close to the French border, the closest ski resort is in the Haute-Savoie region of France. Praz de Lys is the closest as it is only one hour's drive away from the city centre.
Please bear in mind that because of the lower altitude of Praz de Lys, the number of ski runs open may be reduced and the season may start at irregular times.
Nearest ski resort to Lausanne: Leysin
Just one hour away by train from Lausanne is the mountain resort of Leysin. Situated on the southern bank of the mountains, the resort is in the heart of Valais and has several cable cars and ski lifts, with ski runs ranging from beginner to advanced. The southern facing slopes get regular amounts of sun for most of the year.
Where can I learn to ski in Switzerland?
Learning to ski is a significant part of life in Switzerland. In the school system and many international schools, trips to learn how to ski are common. For adults wishing to learn, every ski resort has ski schools that will provide a selection of instructors for you to learn with. Most ski instructors speak English, and individual private lessons are usually available.
Top ski lesson providers in Switzerland
There are many different types of ski school to choose from, but some of the most popular expat-friendly providers include:
- Summit Ski & Snowboard School
- Swiss Ski School
- British Alpine Ski School
History of Swiss ski resorts
Organised skiing in Switzerland dates back to 1893, but records of people in Switzerland skiing goes back hundreds of years. The first people to standardise skiing were tourists from the United Kingdom, but the first ski club was formed in Canton Glarus by a Swiss man, Christoph Iselin, who also started the first-ever ski factory.
First ski resort in Switzerland
Not long after the first ski club was formed, popular alpine resorts in the mountains that had been attracting tourists since the 1870s, like St. Moritz and Davos, started to offer their own skiing experience. For high society, new ski clubs were formed that offered ski trips, Nordic skiing and other winter sports.
Club culture reached its peak in the early 20th century, with the creation of the most famous alpine club in Switzerland, the St. Moritz Tobogganing Club. The resort of St. Moritz is also responsible for the “White Turf” horse racing event, begun in 1907 and raced almost every year since. Skiing continued to gain popularity among tourists that visited the mountains, beginning Switzerland’s reputation as a haven for adrenaline sports.
Swiss ski resorts as tourist destinations
The idea of a skiing holiday was first popularised by British tourists that came to the Alps as part of a “Grand Tour.” This meant that the first ski resorts were frequented by only the richest families from around Europe, leading to the construction of imposing skiing clubs and hotels which you can find in the older resorts today.
In the 1960s, with air travel becoming cheaper and more widespread, ski resorts became more popular. Alongside resorts in Austria, Germany, Italy and France, Switzerland's resorts began to appeal to a wider range of people. Ski and snowboards became mass-produced, meaning more people could afford to go skiing.
Today, ski tourism represents 1 percent of Switzerland’s GDP, but in mountainous areas like Graubunden and Valais, it accounts for 10 percent. Skiing has had a profound impact on Swiss culture, with many slalom and mogul world champions coming from the alpine nation.
How many ski resorts are there in Switzerland?
There are currently around 345 separate ski resorts in Switzerland, most of which are in the Swiss Alps in the south. Typically, the higher you go in the Alps, the more ski resorts you will encounter. These resorts can range from a simple T-bar lift up a large hill, to huge resorts with multiple ski lifts, runs and hotels.
What do you need to go skiing in Switzerland?
To begin skiing in Switzerland, it is important that you have the right equipment to avoid an accident. Skiing can be dangerous due to the speeds involved, so it is crucial that you have everything well prepared. Some of the most common items you will need for skiing are:
- Warm clothing for temperatures between -10 and 5 degrees Celsius
- Well-maintained skis, either rented or purchased
- Ski boots of the correct size and fitted to your specific skis
- Helmets are highly recommended due to the high impact speeds with skiing
- Other options include a back brace, ski poles for balance and ski goggles to make it easier to see
Health insurance requirement for Swiss ski resorts
Before you hit the slopes, you will need to check that your health insurance covers accidents during winter sport. If you are a Swiss resident, this is typically covered under most forms of supplemental health insurance. Basic health insurance can cover these costs as well, but may require a patient transfer.