Arriving in Saas Fee by train and Post bus, I stepped off at the bus terminal to meet the electric taxi which was to transport me through this traditional mountain resort to my hotel.
Saas Fee, like all Swiss ski resorts has its own distinctive personality. It’s perfect for somebody who likes an unpretentious ski resort with good après ski bars, fantastic high altitude skiing in spectacular scenery and plenty of Swiss hospitality in some excellent hotels.
My first meeting in resort is with Franziska from Saas Fee Tourism, who does a fantastic job in selling me the resort. I soon discover there’s plenty of things to do in Saas Fee without strapping a planks to your feet – there’s a host of prepared winter hiking trails (why not strap some ‘tennis rackets’ instead of planks on your feet for a change), a 5km sledge run, as well as plenty of spa and leisure facilities, including a public pool and leisure centre.
As our meeting winds up, she suggests I check out the torch-light descent which will be happening that evening. Having seen a fair few torch-lit descents in my time, I was not all that keen on the idea of standing around stamping my feet to keep warm, watching what could be a repeat of something I have seen 100 times before. Franziska twisted my arm though as there was free vin chaud on offer, and I thought I might get a few good snaps with my camera.
A torch light descent with a difference
A big crowd is gathered as I arrive, and I find myself a great spot near the big air jump. As the multi-lingual commentary starts, I find out that this is no ordinary torch light descent it’s also a slope style and big air exhibition.
The torch light descent starts a fair way up the mountain and snakes its way impressively down towards the expansive beginners’ area. Just before it arrives at the bottom beams of light hit the slopes and the show really gets started! European flags held by instructors glide down towards the crowd, followed by a selection of skiers, including Saas Fee’s telemarking instructors and slope style team, magically weaving in between each other looking very reminiscent of the red arrows in their red ski instructor outfits.
As the show develops, riders take off from the big air jump, followed by a skier with a microlite engine, to cheers and applause from the audience below. The big finale before an excellent fireworks display was a man on fire skiing down the mountain!
Now for someone who thought he’d go down just to take a couple of photos, I really enjoyed the spectacle; including the vin chaud that warmed me up for my stroll back to the hotel.
Saas Fee’s skiing
I woke up bright, breezy and ready for my morning’s skiing. I’d heard a mixed bag of reports about the skiing in Saas Fee. With 100km of piste, some people say there’s not quite enough. In my opinion, there’s plenty of skiing here, with wide, well groomed slopes – and most importantly the whole ski area is above 1800m. Nice wide open pistes mean you can choose a different line every time and get to grips with some super fast and fun runs. The snow quality on the pistes was superb; soft and squeaky at the top and hard but not icy on the lower slopes.
One of my favourite aspects was the views and surroundings of the ski area. As you ski round the Allalin mountain the pistes weave around the Fee glacier. It’s the eternal snows of this glacier which gives Saas Fee such a long season with great snow conditions. Towering above the ski area is Switzerland’s highest peak, ‘the Dom’. This towering summit gives even more drama to the amazing views.
To get me down the slopes, I was using a set of Salomon V3s. I thought these performance skis were really good in the turn, with the transition in the turn gave me confidence to keep a carving edge even on the steep stuff.
At the end of the day, the bottom of the piste is where everybody heads for an après ski drink, or into the town to hang around the Zur Muhle. Many of the hotels also have busy bars, whilst the Popcorn bar and board shop is one of the places to party until the small hours.
Fondue with black tea? Really?
To round off my couple of days in Saas Fee, the tourist board invited me on a torch lit walk followed by a traditional Swiss favourite, fondue. Our walking guide Michael was a friendly guy who told us about the area as we strolled along the woodland path, finishing up at a traditional styled chalet restaurant which wafted with the pleasant smell of melted cheese. Now I’ve eaten plenty of fondue in my time but never with a French or Swiss native, so it was great to get an insight into how to chomp through this tasty melted cheese dish as the locals do.
The secret? It’s all about the drinks that you have with it. Firstly, always go for a dry white wine. The acidity of the white wine helps to cut through the cheese whilst red wine does the exact opposite.
Weak black tea is also an excellent accompaniment. As an Englishman who likes a spoon to stand upright in his cuppa, with a splash of milk and no sugar, I wasn’t too sure about this. The first cup of black tea with sugar was pretty awful, but once I lost the sugar I found it went pretty well with the fondue.
The third drink to try – and the one with the biggest kick is Kirsch; a cherry liquor. With your chunks of bread, dip them into the kirsch before stirring it around in the fondue pot. I wasn’t sure if I liked this taste experience at first, but after a couple of dunks I started getting a taste for it. Amazing how much Kirsch the dried chunks of bread soak up – I’d suggest too many of these may make skiing the next day fairly hard work!
Saas Fee’s Hotels
I lay down my weary head at the Metropol Grand Hotel, an excellent hotel in the heart of the resort. I can see exactly why this hotel is becoming a firm favourite with our Crystal Finest customers, with the five course evening meals, pool, sauna and Jacuzzi being the things that really made it for me. Though I was busy, I had to allow myself f a bit of time to relax and enjoy these wellness facilities before dinner!
During my trip I visited all the hotels we offer in Saas Fee and I’m happy to report every hotel had warm friendly staff and were all properties I’m proud to have in the Crystal Switzerland programme.
To highlight a couple of pointers to a hotel that may suit your needs: if spa and relaxation is your thing, the Hotel Schweizerhof has a superb spa area. The Saaserhof had a traditional alpine feel, whilst the Alphubel looked like a great family hotel (though a distance from the slopes they have a ski locker) and for value for money the Europa is an excellent choice, with a 2 star and 4 star option within the same hotel.
By Richard Sills, Crystal Ski Product Manager for Switzerland
For more information about ski holidays to Switzerland, see the Crystal Ski website.