Winter Sports in Switzerland
An overview of the meaning of the slope grades and details on the facilities for Alpine skiers, snowboarders, cross-country skiers and other snow sport enthusiasts in Switzerland...
Many snow sports are possible during the winter in Switzerland, the two most practised are skiing and snowboarding, and advancements in technology have seen these sports change dramatically over recent years. Carving, freestyle and off-piste have all grown in popularity and accessibility in recent years.
The Swiss adhere to the International Ski Federation (Fédération Internationale de Ski, FIS).
About 20 percent of Europe's Alps mountain range is in Switzerland. There are around 100 peaks close to or over 4000m above sea level. The highest mountain in Switzerland is Monte Rosa (Dufourspitze) on the border of Valais and Italy at 4634m.
While mountain sports are possible year round in places, the 3000 Km² of glaciers are decreasing at a rapid rate and their instability means many are closed to the public.
Switzerland is home to some of the world's most chic winter resorts: Zermatt, Saas Fee, Klosters and Davos and the Matterhorn on the Swiss Italian border is one of the most famous peaks in the Alps. The Swiss ski resorts vary in altitude and facilities.
Weather and Snow Reports
- To find the snow conditions in a resort: Snow reports and select the region
- Snow reports and weather forecasts from Snow-Forecast
Local English radio station, WRS, provides updates on state of the slopes every Thursday evening at 18:40 and Friday morning, around 08:05 and throughout the day.
As well as checking the weather forecast and snow conditions before skiing it is also important to check the UV index, the sun is very powerful at altitude and the thinness of the air and the reflection from the snow can cause skin to burn very quickly.
- Check the UV rays index
Not all basic health insurance covers all winter sports activities; check the exceptions on the policy, for example, some may not cover off-piste or tobogganing.
Before skiing for either a day, a season or a holiday make sure that the following are insured:
- Search and rescue
- Hospital costs
- Third party liability
- Criminal and civil proceedings
Snowcare insurance provides top-up insurance cover for any accident on the slopes in Switzerland (and Italy). There are various Snowcare packages for day, or a full season's insurance and it can be bought with a ski pass at any participating resort.
Snowcare insurance only covers on-piste accidents. In the event of an accident, an emergency rescue must be requested on the run as proof that the accident took place on a run. The claim must be submitted within 10 days.
- Further information form the Snowcare website
Carré Neige/Licence Carte Neige (France)
The Carré Neige and Licence Carte Neige provide top-up insurance and assistance.
The Carré Neige is short-term insurance available at the participating resorts. It can be bought from the lift pass office when buying the lift pass. It is valid as long as the pass is valid for all snow sports (by amateurs) in France and neighbouring Switzerland.
The Carré Neige provides insurance and assistance: search and rescue, first transport, medical expenses and repatriation (as well as bad weather insurance on the cost of unusable ski passes). In the event of an accident a claim should be made within eight days. The claim should include the original lift pass and medical certificate detailing the injuries.
The Licence Carte Neige, issued by the Fédération Française de Ski (FFS), provides long-term cover and is available at participating French ski resorts. It is valid to an amateur involved in any mountain sport accident (with some minor exclusions), anywhere in the world. There are various types of Licence Carte Neige providing different degrees of cover depending on individual circumstance.
Ski slopes - or pistes - are graded by difficulty:
- Cross-country skiing - Ski de fond
- Snow shoes - les raquettes
- Chair lift - télésiège
- Ski lift - téléski
- Snowboard - un surf
- Mountain Map - plan de piste
Resorts and Passes
All resorts use a lift-pass system. A ticket to use the resort's lifts and telecabins must be bought and the price of the pass will vary depending on the skier's age, competence, choice of sport and the resort. Passes can usually be bought in the resort with the minimum being a ½ day and the maximum being a season pass. They can also be bought by pedestrians and non skiers for lifts which bring passengers down the mountain.
There are ski schools in every resort and individual and group lessons are usually available. There are crèches and snow play areas for children too young to ski. Lessons can be full day or shorter.
Skis, snowboards boots and racquets can be hired from specialist shops in resorts. Charges are made by the standard of the equipment and the duration.
Winter sports in Zürich
The International Ski Club of Zürich is a social and skiing club for people living in the Zürich area. They also organise a ski school in association with the Swiss Ski and Snowboard School (Flumserberg Schweizer Skischule & Snowboardschule). The ski school is suitable for children aged four and over and for adults of all levels.
Snowshoeing (raquettes) is becoming more popular and many resorts in the Alps and Jura have created special routes with different grades of difficulty. Technology of the shoes is advancing to make the equipment more efficient for going up and down hills and walking on the flat.
The International Ski Club of Geneva (SCIG) has regular weekend snowshoe and Nordic ski outings for it's members (and paying non-members).
- Full details on the website: International Ski Club of Geneva
Ice skating is a popular winter pastime in the region with both indoor and outdoor skating rinks.
- For a list of ice skating rinks (patinoires)
Floodlit pistes can be found in many resorts and mountain restaurants stay open into the evening so customers can ski home from dinner. (Note that Snowcare insurance does not cover accidents involving alcohol.)
- For an overview of night skiing resorts in Switzerland
Many resorts have toboggan runs where sledges can be hired and there is a lift or train to get back to the top. Some of these runs are not suitable for young children. Check that insurance covers this activity.
- For an overview of tobogganing in Switzerland
Snow tube is also popular. An inflated tyre or tube is used instead of a sledge.
- For a list of resorts offering snow tubing
Dog sled and mushing
A team of mountain (Nordic) dogs pull a sledge or skier through the snow. The Musher Club Suisse (French speaking Musher Club of Switzerland) operates out of Savièse.
Disabled athletes can register to compete through the website (in French or German). Disabled skiing is a popular sport and instructors are located in resorts around the country.
- Swiss Paralympic Committee
At: House of Sports, Talgut-Zentrum 27, 3063 Ittigen B. Bern
Tel: +41 (0)31 359 73 50
The Ski 2 Freedom Foundation is a non-profit company providing a growing extensive directory of information on the facilities available at snow and winter sports stations and resorts for people with special needs and disabilities.
The Swiss Office Fédéral de l'Environnement (OFEV) issues guidelines and warnings about the effect of snow sports on the environment. Skiers and snowboarders are destructive to the natural environment as the infrastructures required to build pistes, lift and resorts harm existing nature.
Suggestions for environmentally sensitive skiing from the OFEV:
- Stay on piste
- Respect natures limitations, for example, light fall or lack of snow
- Follow the signs on the mountain, if a piste is closed do not try it
- In woodland and forests do not leave the marked tracks to ski in the powder
- Use public transport to get to and from the ski areas
One of the most harmful effects to nature is back country or off piste skiing. Making tracks through powder has a high risk of causing an avalanche and land slip, damaging flora and fauna beneath the snow. Marked pistes are specifically designed to leave areas of the mountain for animals to live in their natural habitat; skiers and boarders disturb the fauna during the winter which is often an important time for hibernation. The greatest disruption to the environment is caused by the volume of traffic transporting tourists to their destination.
In its report on the threat of climate change to Alpine ski areas the OECD states that a 10 percent decline in the number of snow reliable areas in Switzerland is anticipated in the next 20 years.
- WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF
At: Flüelastr. 11, CH-7260 Davos Dorf
Tel: +41 81 417 01 11
Fax: +41 81 417 01 10
- At: Worbstrasse 52, PO Box 252, CH-3074 Muri near Bern
Tel: +41 (0)31 950 61 11
Swiss Snow Sports: governing body representing various sporting disciplines. It regulates and represents ski schools and instructors across Switzerland.
- At: Hühnerhubelstrasse 95, Case postale 182, CH-3123 Belp
Tel: +41 (0)31 810 41 11
Fax: +41 (0)31 810 41 12
Remontées Mécaniques Suisses: organisation which brings together the 650 different ski lift operators in Switzerland to work towards a safe and modern lift infrastructure.
- At: Giacomettistrasse 1, 3006 Bern
Tel: +41 31 350 43 43