This is the second in the Swiss dream ski week, where Nick and Liam Bates, regular contributors to GenevaLunch, see how much great skiing at top Swiss resorts they can pack into one week. Be sure to check their tips at the end.
Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – Nick and Liam left the car at home near Lake Geneva, with some reluctance since they are used to driving to the slopes. They caught a fast CFF InterCity train for Zurich, then headed for St Moritz.
Both had passes for first class travel; Liam, who lives in Beijing, had a Swiss Pass for foreigners, which meant one 8-day ticket that covered all trains as well as city transport, the mountain trains they used and cablecars in the resorts they visited.
Initial calculations were that a car would be cheaper and handier, but by the end of the week the two had changed their minds. Two Swiss Pass tickets for eight days would cost just under CHF1,000 but a rental car plus CHF300 petrol to cover the same distance, plus parking fees at some hotels and lift areas would quickly have cost the same.
“We never missed having a car, at all,” says Nick, who would have done all the driving since Liam does not have a Swiss license. “In many ways the train was much more pleasant. You don’t have to worry about maps or where you’re going. And when you’re feeling tired, it’s nice. You can have a glass of wine, read a book or watch a movie on your laptop.”
You can go out to dinner at the end of the day, relax and drink without considering if you’re staying under the legal driving limit, he notes.
First class is busy for a reason: it has advantages
Liam, who normal travels as cheaply as possible, and who expects other people to, was surprised to see how busy first class trains are.
First class cars have bigger seats and more luggage space, and you tend to see more foreigners on them, Liam noticed, probably because so many foreigners buy special offer packages before they come to Switzerland.
These often include first class travel because these cars are usually more conveniently located for making connections and for getting in and out of stations more easily or quickly.
Commuters who work on the train regularly often have general subscription passes for first class. The Swiss have the world’s highest rate of use of trains in the world, and rush hour on commuter trains can get very busy.
One surprise was the number of first class cars on the train heading for St Moritz, almost as many as second class!
Swiss trains usually have ski racks at the end of cars, but you can also slip your skis into the overhead racks.
“It’s a cliche,” says Nick, “but the trains really do run on time and when you’re making several connections it makes a difference.”
Tips from the train travellers:
- Avoid rush hour if you can, so you’re not fighting for space with commuters.
- Train transfers tend to be just 5-6 minutes, but it’s enough time as long as you’ve planned your trip ahead. Keep your cell phone or printout with your connecting times and tracks handy.
- It sounds silly, but make sure you can carry your luggage easily!
- A ski bag is definitely a worthwhile investment so you can carry it easily and your skis aren’t slipping around. A ski bag plus light bag for the week is a good combination.
- And when you get to the hotel, you’ll discover there is almost always a ski room that’s kept warm. Be sure to leave your boots there overnight, so they’re dry and warm when you step into them in the morning.
Swiss Travel System options often cover local transport
“Cars can be a hassle in a resort, and you have to think about the cost of parking them, plus finding a space,” Nick points out. ” Most of the resorts now have good shuttlebus service and a lot of them have free bus service to the slopes.”
Scuol, one of the resorts the pair visited in canton Graubuenden, re-designed part of the village to improve access for skiers. “They relocated the ski lift so you can walk to it from the train station. It’s less than 100 metres, which is great. A lot of the resorts are really trying to encourage people in little villages around to leave their cars there and take trains and buses to the lifts.”
Swiss Travel System is something any foreign visitor, or Swiss residents who have foreign guests, should be familiar with: it’s the brand name for the entire set of Swiss public transport services that are available to foreign visitors: trains, Postbuses, river and lake boats, urban buses and trams. It covers tickets issued by 150 public transport companies and there is a good and varied range of options and prices. Information is available in English and easy to understand. Some 224,000 overseas visitors used the system in 2010.
GenevaLunch’s weekend sports writer Nick Bates and son Liam Bates, 22, who writes occasional travel reports for GenevaLunch, hit the slopes with a pair of skis and a snowboard, the last week in February. Nick has been skiing in Switzerland for 30 years and Liam grew up skiing most weekends in canton Valais, then spent four years near the Whistler resort area in Canada.
Like so many skiers in Switzerland, though, they have tended to return to the same places, mainly around Gstaad, Diablerets and Crans-Montana, and this year, they decided to test and compare other resorts.
Swiss dream ski week, part 1: Verbier
MySwitzerland, national tourism office
Swiss Travel System special offers for foreigners
CFF rail company travelcards and passes, especially for Swiss residents, in English