Ski Switzerland despite the Franc

Copyright: Mürren Lover

You want to ski in Switzerland but the ever rising Swiss Franc is keeping you away? Cheer up, the exchange rate has quietly fallen over the last year and there are deals to be had but you have to know where to look.

For nearly 10 years the Swiss Franc was stable against the euro then in 2008 came the financial bust. Hot money flooded into the safety of the Swiss franc as the pound, dollar and euro sank around it. Faced with the drastic domestic financial consequences, the Swiss government held its nose and bought massive quantities of dodgy euros, dollars and pounds to keep the exchange rate down.

OTS talked to Heidi Reisz responsible for development at the London office of My Switzerland a.k.a. the Swiss National Tourist Office. She said, “Although government intervention had rescued the Franc from its embarrassing success, Swiss holidays are still more expensive than they used to be five years ago.” However there has been widespread effort across the industry to cut prices, but there is a limit to how far this process can go. It is too early for Reisz to judge how things are going this winter but a good sign is that after several weak seasons the figures for this summer have shown an upturn in the number of visitors to the Swiss mountains.

Snow-covered rooftops in pretty Adelboden.   - © Photopress / Adelboden

Snow-covered rooftops in pretty Adelboden.

Copyright: Photopress / Adelboden

Switzerland is the idyllic ski scene

When weighing up the cost of skiing in Switzerland to elsewhere in the Alps, Reisz points out that it is important to compare like with like. For example, taking ski resort architecture, she says, “Can you compare unique old world Swiss charm with a stack of rabbit hutches in a modern French ski resort?”

Despite currency worries there is no doubt about the attraction of Switzerland for some winter sports enthusiasts. Jenny Trevor from Powder Byrne deals with the top end of the market and says, “When you think of the classic winter sports scene you are thinking of Switzerland. It’s the high mountains and the image of tradition, quality and efficiency – precision watches that sort of thing. Every thing we want for our clients. We tend to use four- and five-star hotels in quiet resorts that cater for all the family. We find that many people keep on going back because it is special, but there is no doubt holiday makers are being more careful. It is not just a question of Swiss prices but also the effect of the recession in the UK.”

Wengen Railway, Switzerland  - © Wengen

Wengen Railway, Switzerland

Copyright: Wengen

Is Switzerland really more expensive?

Laurent Valant is a Geneva based business consultant who issues an annual report on Swiss and European skiing resort costs. He says, “It is often forgotten that hotels in French ski resorts can be more expensive than their Swiss equivalents.” A view confirmed by Marie Laforge of who says, “Figures based on a million hits a day on our hotel price comparison website, show that although St Moritz retains its exclusive top spot as the most expensive winter resort in the world, the French and Austrians are up there in the top six too.”

In their last survey of typical nightly hotel costs in winter resorts for a double room, the figures were St. Moritz £281, Gstaad £260, Kitzbühel £243, Val D'Isère £224, Courchevel £213 and Ischgl £194.

Valant admits that Switzerland is not cheap to ski, but deals are out there. He says, “There are good inexpensive places but the problem is in the fragmented nature of the market. So you have to work quite hard to find them. The issue is only just being seriously addressed by the industry.”

An insane variety of terrain and reliable snow for freeskiers and riders in Verbier, Switzerland  - © Verbier Tourist Office

An insane variety of terrain and reliable snow for freeskiers and riders in Verbier, Switzerland

Copyright: Verbier Tourist Office

Finding Swiss ski deals

There are plenty of ski deals to be had at Swiss ski resorts, but it does mean putting in some time researching ski resort and hotel websites.

OTS talked to Stephan Roemer of the Jungfrau ski area which includes the top resorts of Mürren, Wengen and Grindelwald and asked the question: “You want to ski the Jungrau area but there is the problem of the exchange rate – what can you do about it?” Roemer said, “That is exactly the question we asked ourselves. The answer we came up with was ‘two for one’.” This is a three-day ski deal for couples during the lower demand periods. Two nights in a hotel with breakfast and a three-day Jungfrau lift pass which is free for the second visitor – an overall 50 percent reduction. Londoners can jump on a Skywork flight from London City to Bern which is 40 or 50 minutes from the resorts.

World-famous Zermatt too has figured out ways to ease the financial pain. Children can ski for free till the age of 9 years with reductions for teenagers. There is also a special lift price for beginners – why pay to roam the slopes if you can hardly stand up?

A good tip is to make a list of five to 10 of your preferred ski resorts and check their websites for deals. Generally check before booking that any accommodation you are interested in is signed up for any price reduction scheme. A good source of information is the My Switzerland website, especially its Top50 best ski offers in Switzerland which is updated daily.

Arosa  - © Tourismus Arosa


Copyright: Tourismus Arosa

Smaller & quieter means cheaper

Staying just outside a big resort is a tried and tested way of getting the skiing you want at the price you can afford. The Hotel Kröne in Göschenen, 10 minutes by rail to Andermatt and the ski lifts, is a good example. It is less convenient but if you are happy to be in a quiet village rather than the main resort, it’s great.

Of course you don’t have to holiday in the top resorts. There are plenty of smaller quieter, less expensive places. Mike and Helen Onions run Snowypockets chalet holidays in Arosa. In 2007 they moved from Courchevel where Mike was a ski instructor. Despite the dramatic change in the exchange rate they are still very glad they made the move. Their view is happiness is a resort with not too many ski lifts. It is less expensive and fewer ski lifts mean fewer skiers and snowboarders on the slopes.

One way to keep the budget under control is to stay in a Swiss Alpine Club mountain hut. Things have come a long way since the 1860s when the lowland British first discovered the Alps and Edward Whymper spent his holidays climbing the Matterhorn, complaining about the insalubrious Swiss mountain inns and occasionally dropping boulders on his Italian rivals on the other side of the mountain. There are now 153 different CAS ‘huts’.  The Cabane du Mont Fort at 2,547m is a particular favourite at Verbier.

Julien Morcom a regular visitor to Cabane du Mont Fort over the New Year holidays, admits it is a little on the Spartan side and definitely not handy for night clubs, but it is affordable. He says, “I go there to ski with my two sons and it is pretty much unbeatable. There is always a spot with good snow even at Christmas and New Year. Up high, even at busy times there is hardly ever any waiting for the lifts. When the other skiers have gone back down to Verbier and you watch the sun set over the mountains it is a wonderful sensation. When you ski out of the Cabane and are the first to open the piste on the first day of the New Year it is unique.” The Cabane du Mont Fort is £60 a night half-board and £40 if you are a member of the CAS. You have to carry your kit up on the ski lift and then ski down with it to the cabin. So you travel light.

Cabane du Mont Fort, Verbier  - © Cabane du Mont Fort

Cabane du Mont Fort, Verbier

Copyright: Cabane du Mont Fort

Getting around for less

If you want to use the extensive and excellent public transport system in Switzerland – trains, boats and buses – make sure you buy your Swiss Pass or one of its variants before you go. It is only available to non-residents of Switzerland and Lichtenstein. It can very quickly save you a lot of money.

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