Written for SUISSEPIC by Yustiniya Khokhlova from Geneva
Switzerland has a lot to offer almost any sporty person, but it’s a particular draw for anyone passionate about winter sports. If you’re new here and into snow sports, the only downside you could reasonably imagine would be that your equipment that once lasted you years when you used it only one or two weeks a year now lasts only for a couple of years at best thanks to those 30+ days on the snow each season!
Life in Switzerland can put a big strain on the wallet, especially if your passion is the relentless pursuit of “white gold” and you’re updating your gear every year or two. With skis or a board easily setting you back 600 CHF or more, trying before you buy seems like a no brainer.
But that’s virtually impossible in a city-based retail store and on-the-piste rental shops tend to vary greatly in both quality of equipment and the selection they offer. Not to mention the fact that they generally aren’t wild about you swapping skis/board two or three times a day!
A ski/snowboard test, however, is a totally different story. Imagine, instead of languishing in the city in front of Netflix over a rainy November weekend, you could head out to a spectacular glacier (may I remind you that in Switzerland, if it’s raining in the city it’s most probably snowing in the mountains) and spend two days checking out as many pairs of skis/snowboards as you can!
Also, you wouldn’t be going to just any ski resort, but to world-renowned Saas-Fee, where – unlike many other big-name ski-test destinations – they are (quite literally) chilled enough to provide more snowboard than ski brands.
The Breathtaking views and name of the place might very well ring a bell, since this is where the video for the all-time classic “Last Christmas” by the late George Michael (WHAM!) was filmed back in 1984.
located in different parts of Switzerland: Valais and Vaud, Bernese Oberland, Central Switzerland, Graubünden, Eastern Switzerland
the highest top-altitude of ski resorts in Switzerland (Zermatt, Valais). Here, in Zermatt, there is Matterhorn, Switzerland’s highest peak at 4,634 metres
the second highest ski-resort in Switzerland with its top elevation of 3,550 m. Typical activities include skiing, snowboarding, snowshoe trekking, canyon climbing and ice climbing.
Since October and November, when most tests take place, is considered low season, many hotels offer attractive package options (accommodation, ski pass, city pass for the bus), plus you’ll avoid the crowds.
If you’re lucky, like I was, you can score some pre-season powder on virtually deserted slopes and enjoy all the attention of, as one lyrically-gifted friend of mine put it, “not unattractive bearded men” to attend to all your equipment needs.
Here’s what you need to know:
- When you get to Saas-Fee, take two gondola lifts (Alpin Express I and II) up the mountain and then change to the Metro Alpin Express. This is the world’s highest-altitude underground train and definitely one of the fastest.
- Once on the very top, you walk a few meters to a converted hangar where they usually store piste bashers, but which transforms into a huge ski/snowboard Mecca for a few weeks a season.
- Once registered (don’t forget to bring your voucher for the test), you get a sticker with a bar-code. You are scanned in and out each time with your equipment and at the end of the test you can ask for a convenient print-out with all the details (brand, model, size) of the skis/boards you’ve tested.
- Don’t be shy! Make use of the expert advice on offer from any of the assistants who call the hangar home for this magical month, but bear in mind that each of them represents a certain brand, so don’t expect an unbiased, cross-board (pun intended) comparison of the market.
- Make sure to check the time-table as you scan out your skis/board, as the equipment return times for Saturday and Sunday as well as for skis and snowboards may differ.
P.S. Before riding on a glacier for the first time, make sure you read the safety instructions.
Et bon courage!
To get to Saas Fee
By car (~4h)
At Zurich Airport take a train to Visp (Valais). At the station take a bus to Saas Fee. Tran schedule www.sbb.ch/en (the route will take you not less than 4h)
By car (~3.5h)
At Geneva Airport take a train to Visp (Valais). At the station take a bus to Saas Fee. Tran schedule www.sbb.ch/en
(the route will take you not less than 3h)