Touring Alps Ski Towns

I would be remiss if I didn’t start out by saying that we did not ski in any of these towns. Our goal was to visit them in the off season, then go back this upcoming winter and ski. Over the course of 2-weeks we drove 1,180 km (733 miles), stayed in six different towns (Verbier, Chamonix, Zermatt, Grindelwald, St. Anton am Arlberg, and Waidring) and six different countries (Switzerland, France, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria and Germany). Driving turned out to be a sporty 2-person job; one person drove, while the other tried to read street signs in German, French, and Italian and guess at the meaning of foreign road symbols.

This was my longest trip in Europe, so I had a few things to get used to:

  • Smoking is still very common here so you’re stuck breathing it
  • Generally speaking people are a little less friendly
  • Cold cuts are served for breakfast and made into “meat salads”
  • Beds come in one size – twin
  • And to quote Robin Williams, “The nice Germans, they are the Swiss… .”

Verbier, Switzerland

Our first stop after flying into Geneva, Switzerland was Verbier. According to On The Snow, Verbier is “at the centre of the Four Valleys, one of the largest ski areas in Europe, Verbier has everything a top-class winter-sports resort should have.” It has 39 lifts and amazing views of the Swiss Alps. We only stayed one night, as the town was SUPER quiet and we didn’t get a great feeling about the place. Nothing really spoke to us but we didn’t give it a great try either. Here’s my review of Hotel Les Chamois Verbier where we stayed. Certainly there are other nicer places to stay but this was well within our budget and perfectly adequate.

Chamonix, France

Next on the list was Cham… quite possibly the top adventure sports location in the world. At the base of Mont Blanc, thrill seekers of every variety will find places to explore while enjoying their ice climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, front country skiing, Heliski / Heliboarding, paragliding, rock climbing, via Ferrata, etc. We planned to stay one-night in Chamonix before heading up to climb Mont Blanc, and one-night after we climbed Mont Blanc (you can read our review of that climb here). We ended up staying two-nights after our climb and we absolutely loved it. Chamonix is super laid back, easy to get around, has great gear stores, restaurants, laundry, and grocery stores. There is tons to do there, even if you aren’t skiing or climbing. We would definately consider going back to spend time in Chamonix and ski. Here’s my review of  Hotel Heliopic Chamonix where we stayed and the the laundromat we used. Here are few photos from town.

Zermatt, Switzerland

img_3242We left Chamonix, relaxed having had an amazing adventure there, so we went to Zermatt honestly not expecting much. We really liked Chamonix and didn’t think we’d find a better spot to come back to. I don’t want to say that we were wrong, but boy did we love Zermatt! First of all you should know that Zermatt is a car-free town. YES!!! No cars, although they allow electric vehicles which are all small and extremely quiet. To get there, you take the train from the nearby town of Tasch or from further away in Europe. Upon arrival you are greeted by one of the most beautiful bustling (but quiet) bavarian towns. Literally every balcony drips with flowers and the people are equally cheerful. The town lines the valley and sides of the mountain just in the shadow of the Matterhorn. One of the crown jewels of the Alps, the Matterhorn may be the most famous mountain in the world for it’s breathtaking relief from anything nearby.

We were blessed to stay at the most welcoming and comfortable hotel and spa, where we made some friends that we hope to go back and ski with. Here’s my review of the Europe Hotel and Spa where we stayed. The rooms, the spa, the location were all so good but the FOOD was to die for, so we ate every breakfast and dinner there. The food was also quite a bit less expensive than anywhere else in town.

The first two days that we were in town were very cloudy so we didn’t get to see the Matterhorn but we hiked all over the valley and up parts of the ski resort. The second day we hiked up to the top of the ski lift Sunnega and had lunch at Chez Vrony Zermatt restaurant. What a treat it would be to ski there for lunch or apres ski. Photos from Zermatt.

On the third day the skies parted and there just above town was the Matterhorn. It looks like a dream you might have, of a giant rock coming out of nowhere. Just beautiful! So we hurried ourselves and rode the Schwarzsee gondola up to the start of the Hornilhut trail. The lift drops you off at 2,559 meter so you get quite a head start on the elevation gain. Also, the trail is short – only 4 km up to 3,260 meter, so we were able to get there in 2.5 hours, despite how often we stopped to take pictures. This experience was night and day different, from our hike up to the Mont Blanc base camp hut, but this time we were much more acclimatized and in better physical shape. When we arrived at the Hornlihut there was only one other Italian couple there. They were sitting on the expansive deck enjoying the view and a snack. The hut is closed until July 2017. The Matterhorn is quite honestly just awe inspiring and begs to be climbed, and looked like a classic Alp peak as it had been coated the previous two days in a foot of new snow.

As we walked from our hotel to the Bahnhof to board the train back to Tasch, Sean and I both felt an overwhelming sense of sadness come over us. Zermatt had touched us both and we didn’t want to leave. We can’t wait for our next trip back to the quiet, clean, friendly little ski town of Zermatt – that just so happens to have 54 lifts between the Italian and Swiss side with 7,477ft of vertical relief and 394 acres of skiable terrain.

Grindelwald, Switzerland

My first impressions of Grindelwald are meh and yuk. Having just left a car-free town, this place literally stinks from the combination of diesel, cigarettes, and sewage (my nose is sensitive). It doesn’t help that we arrived on a cloudy day and we can’t see any of the peaks, the Ogre, the Monk, or the Maiden (AKA the Eiger, the Monch, the Jungfrau). We stayed at a hotel that was rated highly but is severely aging, here’s my review.

Because the weather was socked in we didn’t spend really any time in Grindelwald. The Jungfrau trip is expensive but I’m sure it’s worth it if you can actually see the mountains. We really just ate dinner, slept, and left. The place will be on our list of places to return!

St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria

Our visit to Saint Anton was quick but it worked out well because the town is all but shut down for the off-season. The skiing in St. Anton is likened to Chamonix and Jackson Hole, so we were eager to lay eyes on it. With 97 lifts and nearly 5,000 feet of vertical relief we expected it to be huge but what we saw was massive. Like all of our non-travel days, we hiked up above town to get a glimpse of the skiing and a better view of town. In just an hour and 45 minutes we hiked up 2,2oo feet to the cross that resides overtop the entire area. Here are few Photos from our hike. We stayed at a newer hotel that was very inexpensive 75 Euros per person/night, and that included breakfast. We will definitely come back here and ski!

Salzburg, Austria

While not a ski town, we had a few extra hours to spare before our flight out of the Munich airport in Germany, so we took the opportunity to explore Salzburg. This is likely the oldest city I have visited to date and I love #oldsh!t. We also (don’t slap us) wanted to avoid Oktoberfest in Munich. We really only had a couple of hours and if you know Sean, beer and big crowds of happily drunk people aren’t on the agenda. And if I’m honest, I was worried about our Mietwagen (rental car) getting towed. Since it was loaded with all of our climbing and trekking gear for Nepal this seemed pretty monumental. So we toured the Salzburger Altstadt for a few hours, here’s a few photos. Little did we know that we would stumble into St. Rupert’s Fair which is held in honor of Salzburg’s patron saint, and it’s one of the city’s most popular fairs. We were treated to lots of vendors, traditional costumes (Trachten) and an Oktoberfest like atmosphere – so we didn’t escape it altogether.

Funny story about the Mietwagen, after we toured old town and grabbed a snack, we headed back to the car–which we had parked in a residential area, a half mile or so from the action (AKA free parking). The first spot that I parallel parked in, was too tight, so we moved the car a block or so up the street, however when we walked back to the spot where we thought the car was… we missed it. So about a block past where we thought it was parked, we both looked at each other in utter horror. Did it get towed? Was it stolen? OMG who do we call? And how do we find a phone? The SIM card I bought in Switzerland wasn’t working in Austria despite my best efforts. I just couldn’t believe that anything like that actually happened, so I calmed both of us down, and convinced Sean that we walked past it. Of course, that’s exactly what happened but we were both horrified at the car being gone. Once inside the car I insisted we do a little pranayama breathing. #breathislife

That put things into perspective, everything outside of the car being gone was really easy to deal with. We liked our visit to Salzburg but big cities stress both us out, so one trip was enough.

So now we are preparing ourselves for the next adventure — NEPAL!!!! #Namaste

 


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