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|Resort: Gstaad Superski (Chateau dâ€™Oex, Rougemont, Saanen, Gstaad, Schonried, Saanenmoser, Zweisimmen, Glacier 3000 etc.)
Country: Switzerland (Vaud and Bernese Oberland) . The significance of the cantons being that the first 2 towns above are French-speaking and the others German-speaking.
Domain: Gstaad Superski ( 260 km). Not really a domain as you would expect in France, but rather a series of villages/towns that are managed by the same company. The company itself being a PPP with the towns and cantons.
Date: Mid-December 2007 - Early April 2008. However personal commitments meant that neither of us were there all the time and I only ski every other day or so.
Our â€˜Holidayâ€™/Background: Most readers will already know this. For others â€“ Better Half has skied for many years, I started 3 years ago and have become obsessed with improvement/catching up. We decided to take a small apartment to increase the regularity of our skiing. Choice of resort was largely driven by train connections to Geneva airport although we discovered Zurich airport was also a useful option.
Website : Gstaad and other BO villages website includes webcams
Interactive Piste Map
There is not a SCGB presence there.
Basics : The villages and slopes are easily accessible by Plane/Train and Car. Flying to Geneva the train leaves from the airport. You change in Montreux onto the Goldenpass panoramic and the train accesses all the villages, a stunningly picturesque train ride. The whole journey about 2 â€“ 2 1/2 hours (dependant upon your destination). Train from Zurich airport is about 3 1/4 hours but you do change more often. â€“ The interactive piste map is a little confusing as the areas are quite disparate. Driving from the airport is less than 2 hours â€¦ the quickest route is Autoroute to Lausanne then heading towards Bern leaving at Bulle. You can also access via Aigle.
Lift system : The lift system is similar to the mix that you will find in any Swiss resort that I have been to (imv this being generally older/inferior to those in France). There are still a number of T-Bars and some of the mountain links are older chairs. This being an important consideration as one of the important links broke down over UK holiday half term. The lift company recently announced a major replacement program for the area. They also said that 5 years ago apparently!
The Trains/ Post Buses and Ski Bus form an important part of the areaâ€™s infrastructure. All are included in your ski pass and you will use them extensively to access the different unless you have your own car.
The terrain : The ski area is really 7 different unlinked ( by ski or board) areas. The piste marking in the whole area is atrocious even by Swiss standards. Frequently the map and slopes are different and finding your way around initially is a tedious affair. Two of the areas are large and probably worthy of a weekâ€™s holiday in their own right. Iâ€™ll deal with them â€˜Left-to-Rightâ€™ as you look at the ski map.
St Stephan - Zweisimmen-Saanenmoser-Schonried
â€“ This is by far the largest area and accessible from any of the villages/towns above. The area ranges from 1000-2000m , but most access the area in Saanenmoser that is on a beautiful plateau at about 1250m, there also many kms of Cross-country skiing there as well. The area is intermediate country with an excellent Beginnerâ€™s area in Saanenmoser and many will be able to progress further up the mountain very quickly. There are a few token blacks â€¦ and all runs back to the villages and around â€˜linksâ€™ are blue â€¦. A feature of the area! This is nonsense as there is little difference between some of these â€˜Bluesâ€™ and the few Blacks. My favorite runs are the motorways leading to Zweisimmen and St Stephan â€“ the red from Saanerslochgrat down to the Chaltebrunne lift ( not shown on the map!) , which is very steep . The Hornberg-Saanenwald red ( despite the impossible (for me to get up without stopping) uphill section!) and the red from Hornfluh back to Schonried. This isnâ€™t to belittle any of the other runs as I cannot think of a â€˜shortâ€™ bad one.
Rellerli A small area accessed from Schonried from 1200-1900m. Almost South-facing so a fun place for a few hours on a Cold , sunny day . The Grossi Vorchess red is a great run here with nice wide slopes for improving beginners in the area as well. We loved it.
Wasserngrat A very small area from about 1100 â€“ 1900m. It only has 3 runs (Blue, Red and Black) but worth a visit for the Black (allegedly the steepest slope in the area) and the superb restaurant at the top.
Gstaad-Wispile ( 1000-2000m) This area always seems to be the busiest as it the easiest area for Gstaad-based holidaymakers to access. It is also where most of the ski schools are â€˜basedâ€™ and has another big Beginnerâ€™s area. When I discovered how busy it could get (by the areaâ€™s standards ) I avoided it.
The second biggest area (1000-2200m) and , for my money, the most demanding skiing. Donâ€™t let the ski map fool you with its preponderance of â€˜Blueâ€™, some ( like the run back into Saanen Rubeldorf) would surely be red if it werenâ€™t for the fact that is the only way home. The runs from Videmanette to Chalberhoni are a blast ( and long ) but the best run in the area imv is the Videmanette to Rougemont Red/Blue. I donâ€™t recall how many kms, but it is again very long and one of the best runs I have ever had the pleasure of doing. I loved this area and as most is protected and/or North facing was very snow sure and high quality for all of the season.
12kms from Gstaad by Bus or Car, although also accessible from Col du Reusch ( near Gsteig). I can only compare with Les Deux Alpesâ€™ glacier and L2A knocks into the shade. The slopes are flat and boring. Only exception being the â€˜Oldenâ€™ â€“ 14km down to Reusch from the glacier itself.
Chateau-dâ€™Oex Frankly the slopes here were closed for much of the winter for various reasons .. some may like it but given the choices elsewhere in the area I couldnâ€™t get too excited.
I didnâ€™t ski Lauenen or Gsteig .. although both are very pretty , authentic villages.
The snow : We were very worried initially about the snow conditions due to the relative low altitude compared to other resort areas; this was accentuated when we learnt that the previous season had been a disaster. We were very pleasantly surprised. The Jungfrau isnâ€™t very far ( as the crow flies) away and thanks to the threads on I was able to â€˜compareâ€™ with what was being written there. My conclusion was that Gstaad had at least as good as if not better conditions generally than the Jungfrau. There were days I didnâ€™t want to ski due to lack of new snow or sleet/rain and a day I recall lost to high winds. Yes there were some icy patches early mornings in January and February in particular. There were times when I thought that the slopes would go green but the late March conditions were absolutely amazing.
Off-piste : I just donâ€™t do enough to be able to comment. What was very clear though that unlike other resorts what off-piste there is accessible by lift lasted a long time due to relative lack of use. I enjoyed what I did.
The resort : The area itself is stunningly beautiful .. the best â€˜viewsâ€™ are from Schonried but Gstaad, Rougemont and Saanenmoser all enjoy beautiful sunny positions. The whole area is still quite lightly developed and agriculture is still the main profession of locals and only Gstaad is â€˜touristyâ€™. My take on the various villages and towns :-
Chateau-dâ€™Oex Beautiful sunny disposition but the town has a â€˜run-downâ€™ feel with the architecture more Savoyard than the classical ( and much more beautiful) Swiss feel in the other villages.
Rougemont Great views and sunny. Only a small village but charming with everything you need for a week. Maybe too quiet for most.
Saanen Although the capital of the region, it has a rather run down feel again. Not the greatest views from the town compared to its neighbours and the sun sets earlier on most of it. Many of Gstaadâ€™s tourist workers live here and so it has a totally different feel to its more illustrious neighbour.
Everything you may have read about â€˜the tourist hubâ€™ that is this small town is probably true. Not as trendy and quite as full of designer shops as say Courchevel but its Chalets, â€˜Tea Shopsâ€™, Hotels and Restaurants cater primarily for the rich.â€¦ Alas during peak holiday periods the clientele need to be seen rather than ski, not that I was complaining as that meant that the slopes were invariably empty. My better half remarked several times that we were the only folks wearing ski gear / carrying skis when we stopped in Gstaad. It does have the best supermarkets and general shopping in the area though. So you will go there at some time during a stayâ€¦ great atmosphere most of the time with something always going on.
Saanenmoser and Schonried More â€˜outpostsâ€™ than real villages or towns. They were my favourites so that if/when I were to return I would probably stay in one of those villages due to the proximity to the best skiing. Access and travel by train was always easy anyways.
I didnâ€™t really get to see much of Zweisimmen nor St Stephan. I didnâ€™t like Zweisimmenâ€™s location ( a busy rail and road hub) and St Stephan is very close to Lenk.
Lauenen and Gsteig are both small villages in the general area. They are both Swiss â€˜chocolate boxâ€™.
Food and AprÃ¨s-ski : Food Iâ€™m no fan of Swiss food. Over a prolonged period this â€˜gotâ€™ to me and I avidly shopped for anything resembling salad or vegetables in order to avoid cheese and dried meats. Nevertheless there are some great restaurants both on and off the mountain. Our favourites were â€¦.
Mountain Saanen-Rougemont. The small restaurant in Chalberhoni at the bottom of the link ( not shown on the map!) . Cheapest food by far with daily specials Wasserngrat â€“ The Berghaus ( should be Michelin â€“ starred according to some) but normal mountain prices. Schonried-Saanenmoser. The Kubelialp â€“ specials every day. Very small, difficult to find if you donâ€™t know where it is. Book in Advance. The Hornberg ( but see below as thereâ€™s one on the mountain and one off) . Great views, beware there are 2 restaurants next to one another â€¦ the one on the left is the one you want!
Off-Mountain We didnâ€™t eat out very often but there were a few that we were recommended and visited a few times which really were excellent.
Rougemont â€“ The CafÃ© Cerf. Best â€˜mountainâ€™ food ever. Based upon cheese.. and local cold meats are a speciality with a limited menu. Amazing value , the â€˜entertainmentâ€™ you can tell me about after youâ€™ve been. Advance Booking is essential every night.
Gstaad â€“ Hotel Post. Included as it is excellent value by Gstaad standards with daily specials.
Saanenmoser â€“ Hotel Hornberg ( not up the mountain but you can ski to it) . Great menu (which changes) . International cuisine and good value as well.
Gstaad â€“ The Burger Bar under the railway bridge â€¦ cheap when you just need protein or fries!
AprÃ¨s-ski Not our thing to be out very late but the nightclubs are centred on Gstaad. Our favourite bar was â€˜Hardyâ€™s â€˜ (Thanks Thomaz!) in the Bernerhof Hotel also the cheapest!! The Saanenpub in Saanen was OK, but the tenants have decided to go elsewhere soon.
Accommodation : We didnâ€™t stay in any holiday apartments or hotels although we did get to know a few hotels through their restaurants. My choices would be driven by access to slopes/ transport so would probably suggest the following.
Saanenmoser â€“ Hotel Hornberg
Gstaad â€“ Hotel Bernerhof and Hotel Post ( latter being cheaper with good food but 250m from the train station)
Costs: Our season ski/train pass was CHF 990. In general we found cost of living to be slightly cheaper than Wengen and on a par with Zermatt and the 4 Vallees. Having said that our (limited) experience of all Swiss resorts in terms of â€˜On mountain pricesâ€™ is that they are very similar.
Conclusion: We had a great time â€“ the only drawback was the lack of people to ski with when I was there alone. We met very few Brits who were resident â€“ and the ones we did didnâ€™t ski. The scenery and ambience are wonderful and the residents/locals are charming, but that is something I've found everywhere in Switzerland.. I have to say I prefer it to the Jungfrau in terms of skiing, no crowds and more slope variation and in general â€˜lifeâ€™ was excellent. The drawbacks --- an ageing lift system in some bits (but is that just a Swiss thing?), atrocious piste marking (if you for a week maybe get a guide for the first day who has a car and get him to show you as much as possible) and the fragmented nature will put some off if they just want high mileages â€¦ but the trains/ buses are excellent when you work out how to link everything together.
If you are thinking of going the biggest consideration and highest expense will be accomodation. Only at New Year and I assume Xmas were more than 2 of the 6 flats in our chalet occupied and most of the time we were alone. January and March ( after Easter) were very, very quiet and probably the best and cheapest times.
I'm sure I've missed some pertinent stuff out . If you are planning on visiting and would like some advice or help then pm and I'll help if I can.
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