Saas-Fee's ski area has 32 ski pistes totalling 100km, 50km red, the other 50km split evenly between blue and black, and 3 unpisted ski routes, served by 23 ski lifts. Saas-Fee is on the same line of latitude as the pine trees of Ascona on the shores of Lake Maggiore. The high altitude skiing is generally best on fine winter days from February to April which average 100-140 hours of sunshine per month and in summer when 20km of piste remain open for intermediates and above; on cold windy days in December and January it's bitter. There's also a freestyle snow park above Morenia, with one half-pipe, a boarder cross and two kickers, and 30km of hiking trails for winter walkers.
The base area is south of the village at 1800m. Here you'll find classic broad, gentle nursery slopes set to one side so that the main ski traffic doesn't conflict, served by three short T-bar lifts for beginners. There's a large ski school assembly area, two ice rinks and a series of hotels and pensions backing on to the base area whose restaurants, terraces and umbrella bars are handy for lunch and for après ski towards the end of the day. Set against the backdrop of improbably craggy peaks, it looks like a stylised version of an alpine ski resort of 50 years ago.
The main Saas-Fee ski area is due south of the village and reached by a big gondola, the Alpin Express, rising from the east of the village of Saas-Fee to Morenia at 2550m, followed by a funicular, the Metro Alpin, which reaches the 3,500m highpoint, crowned with the highest of Switzerland's three revolving restaurants, at Mittelallalin (which is simply referred to as 'Allalin - The Top' on the piste map).
The main ski slopes can also be reached from the base area by riding an older gondola to Spielboden 2448m followed by a cable car to Längfluh 2869m then use the Feechatz T-bar to access a series of groomed intermediate slopes beneath Allalin; the longest route back down to Saas-Fee is 9km long and all of the non-glacial pistes are covered by snow-making to ensure the descent can be made throughout the season.
The main concentration of pistes, a mix of about a dozen red, half a dozen blue and a few short black runs, is below Felskinn (3,000m) at the foot of the funicular. More experienced skiers might like to try the Weisse Perle ski route (yellow) which is reached from the top of the Spielboden gondola or from the black piste running from the bottom of the Längfluh chair down to Spielboden.
Saas-Fee is one place you're seldom tempted to duck under the ropes, as these are very obviously glaciers on the move, at their steep, deeply fissured stage - more crevasse than ice - unlike much of the glacier skiing in other parts of the alps, which is often on the relatively flat main body of the ice flow. These frozen rivers are spectacular, though for skiers they can feel restrictive; you certainly can't ignore them.
A subsidiary area, Plattjen, is much more limited. It rises to just 2570m to the south-east of Saas-Fee and is served by one gondola from the base station; there's no other connection with the main area, either by piste or lift. The peaks to the south leave it in the shadow through January, but later in the season some sun reaches its black and red pistes.
The routes down from top to bottom include a fast descent used for World Cup racing, which is half red then black on the steeper lower slopes or you can ski the slower and longer blue run which winds its way through the forest with some variation for intermediates and advanced skiers including an off-piste route (National) through the trees is like a roller coaster ride when icy. There are also glacier-free off-piste opportunities here, mainly through scrub and forest.
To the west of the village of Saas-Fee, the Hannig mountain is reserved for walking and toboganning. You can walk up or take the single gondola from Hohnegg to Hannig 2336m, where there's a popular mountain restaurant with sun terrace and the opportunity to continue walking up to Mällig 2700m. The 5km toboggan run down is highly recommended and it's worth sacrificing half a day on the ski slopes to make time available to enjoy tobogganing from the top of Hannig.
There's a further 35km of skiing between 1550m and 3200m on Hohsaas which is 3km lower down the valley at Saas Grund. Saas Grund is covered by the same lift pass and the Hohsaas ski area is reached by riding the gondola from Saas Grund to Kreuzboden 2400m then the Ziebel gondola to 3200m. There's also good ski touring higher up on Triftgletscher, quite challenging snow shoeing close to the pistes above and below Weissmieshűtte and an 11km long toboggan run all the way from Kreuzboden 2400m down to Saas Grund at 1559m. Saas Grund is worth visiting if you're staying in Saas-Fee for more than a few days.
There's 19km more piste skiing and ski touring at Saas Almagell, the most southerly community in Saastal which is about 7km from Saas-Fee and the home of Olympic ski racers Heidi, Pirmin and Slivan Zurbriggen. The skiing here includes a further seven pistes, a mix or red and blue, leading from Heidbodme 2400m to the restaurant and children's adventure world at Furggstalden 1893m and continuing to Saas Almagell at 1673m in the valley. There's 26km of cross-country ski trails, winter walking trails, a 3km toboggan run and some excellent ski touring in the Almagellertal from 1673m to Zwischbergenpass 3268m and to Portjengrat 3653m and more ski touring further south in Furggtal.
Saas-Fee's 22-lift system is not the resort's strongest suit, though it's by no means bad. As with neighbouring Zermatt, it's easy to grumble about the duration of some of the ski lifts, when they are in fact carrying you to great heights over a considerable distance at high altitude and surrounded by glaciers.
But unlike Zermatt, the Saas-Fee lift infrastructure hasn't benefited from recent major investment: Saas-Fee's last big installation in the main ski area was the Alpin Express jumbo gondola in 1991 (stage 2 in 1994) to the east of Saas-Fee, which not only shifts people quickly from the village to Felskinn 3,000m, a distance of 3650m and 1152m vertical (with one cabin change) but is closer to much of the village than the main base area.
The tunnel-bound funicular, the speedy Metro Alpin, which completes the trip from 3,000m Felskinn to 3,500m Allalin, is 1475m long with an improbable guide's request stop, the 'Metro-Window' halfway up, where parties can exit through an access tunnel to emerge through the rock face onto the blinding brightness of the Hohlaub glacier. Prevailing snow and ice conditions determine how sporting this exit is at any given time.
At the base area to the south-east of Saas-Fee, you can either ride a gondola to the smaller ski area on Plattjen 2570m, a cable car to Felskinn or ride the old gondola to Spielboden 2448m then connect to the higher slopes on the galcier by means of the Längfluh cable car, the Längfluh chairlift and Feechatz T-bar.
Saas-Fee's top lifts, high on the glacier, are inevitably T-bars - drag lifts are often the only feasible installation on moving glacier ice, a limiting factor which partly explains the apparent lack of investment in new lifts higher up.
There's also a gondola to the west of Saas-Fee leading to Hannig 2336m, which is an area reserved for winter walking and tobogganing, and the entire Saas Valley ski lift system includes a further 8 ski lifts at Saas Grund and 8 more at Saas Almagell.
Saas-Fee ski lift passes are available atwww.ticketcorner.com with the usual discounts for seniors and teenagers. Ski lift passes for children under 9 years of age are free.
Saas-Fee Ski Lift Company
Tel: +41 27 958 11 00
Email: [email protected]
For complete beginners, Saas-Fee's base area draglifts and nursery slopes at Stafelwald are hard to beat - easy to reach, well out of the way of fast ski-traffic and unthreatening (other than the stupendous views looming overhead).
The base area includes good facilities for children, clearly marked meeting points for ski school groups and the hotel restaurants that back on to the base area - Derby, Belmont and Waldesruh - are convenient for lunch and waiting parents as well as for après ski.
Progressing novices can head for Morenia 2550m via the Felskinn cable car or first stage of the Alpin Express, from where a series of long blue runs 4/4c/4b provide an easy descent back to Saas-Fee, and the Mittaghorn drag lift serves two more blues.
There's also a blue route from Allalin to Längfluh for a taste of the heights, though there's no easy way further down other than to download or to go back up the Feechatz drag and follow red 10b (usually in excellent condition) towards Felskinn and make an easier descent.
Over on Plattjen, blue 2a / 2b is a long and relatively easy blue run that starts part way down and winds through forested slopes back to Saas-Fee. Confident beginners can get to it by first skiing red run 1 from Plattjen 2570m past the landmark Vernissage Berghaus Plattjen mountain restaurant - worth visiting - but there's no easier way to reach blue 2.
There's more easy skiing for beginners nearby at Saas Almagell including the children's adventure world at Furggstalden, but by the time you have exhausted Saas-Fee's blue runs it's likely you will be ready to progress to ski easy red runs 5/5a/6 at Morenia and the cluster of easy red runs at Allalin 3500m which offer spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and are easily reached using the Metro-Alpin funicular from Felskinn.
If you feel like taking a break from skiing and want to try something different, the 5km toboggan run from Hannig 2336m, to the west of Saas-Fee, is highly recommended. You can hire a toboggan at the Hannig gondola station.
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With just 50km of well-groomed red run skiing among a ski area totaling 100km of pisted skiing, there aren't endless kilometres of piste to bash at Saas-Fee, but the steep-enough pitch of most red runs, combined with excellent snow quality, will appeal to strong intermediates.
And if you choose to take lifts to the top of the resort and descend all the way back to base, there are several alternatives available to you, with stunning views of the high mountain glacial terrain and 1700m vertical from top to bottom, taking in some of Saas-Fee's sweeping, wide red runs - 10b 'Panorama' and 6 'Moräne' - along the way.
There's a small cluster of red runs at Allalin 3500m - the top - which are suitable for improving beginners but quite short and most intermediates will start by lapping the red runs between Felskinn 3000m and Morenia 2550m then repeating a series of long top to bottom descents from Allalin to base area either via 10b 'Panorama' and 6 'Moräne' or via Feechatz 10a, Längfluh 11 and Spielboden 11a which is longer and usually quieter.
Adventurous intermediates can take a look at the Weiss Perle unpisted ski route from Spielboden 2448m back to base area which provides a more challenging route back to Saas-Fee, the level of difficulty very much depending on snow conditions and time of day.
Saas-Fee ski area has 100km pisted skiing between 3500m and 1800m of which 25km is designated black for advanced and 50km red, so there's not enough difficult piste skiing to keep advanced skiers entertained for a full week.
On piste there are a few short black runs, but the majority of the mileage is on moderate reds whose main challenge is their length. Descending without stopping from Allalin or from Längfluh to Saas-Fee is a worthy test. The best 'serious' pistes in Saas-Fee, including an FIS World Cup run, are on the lower half of Plattjen. There's also an unpatrolled ski route on this side, and tree skiing, and a longer ski route on the main area starting just above Spielboden which descends almost to the base area.
Saas Grund is also worth a visit. Again the main challenge is one of endurance - it has a serious 1600m vertical - but advance skiers can make it more testing by skiing the first half on an ungroomed and unpatrolled (but marked) official ski route. There is also a short but steep black off to the side heading towards Jagihorn. The lower ski route taking you through the trees to Saas Balen (1483m) requires good snow, You should also check bus times back to Saas Grund or Saas Fee if you don't want to pay for a taxi.
Saas Almagell has fewer challenges for advanced skiers, although there is one short ski route and a short black.
There are also 'Cool Challenges' at Saas Fee (their name, not ours) for better skiers, including a speed skiing time check, a slalom course and a parallel slalom course so you can take on one of your buddies in a race.
The glacier that divides the ski area means that even with a guide the crevasse hazards limit off-piste and freeriding opportunities between the slopes. Further afield there are multiple options for skiing off-piste, almost all of which require some climbing on foot and glacier crossings, but usually on less badly crevassed sections.
Skiing off-piste without a guide in Saas-Fee is positively dangerous as the crevasse hazard is so great that in some off-piste areas on Feegletscher the risk of ending your day (or your life) down a deep crevasse could be as high as 50:50.
This is what Saas Fee excels at. It has all the ingredients needed - high lifts to give you a start so your descent is many time greater than your climb, even higher 4000m mountains, and naturally snowy terrain
Saas-Fee Mountain Guides are used to taking first time tourers. They offer a range of regular day tours off-piste in Saas-Fee most of which involve between 2-5 hours climbing using touring skis and skins (boarders can use snowshoes). All of the necessary equipment, including harnesses, can be hired locally in Saas-Fee.
There are further ski touring options at Saas Grund (especially up and over the 3499m Lagginjoch pass or the ascent and descent of 4017m Weissmiess) and Saas Almagell . The valely between
And of course ski tourers not only have the option of skiing to and from Zermatt, but enjoying a day's skiing when they get there. And if you want to do more serious itineraries, Saas Fee is on one of the variants of the Haute Route crossing the Alps, so other great off-piste resorts like Verbier and Chamonix are within reach.
Heading in the opposite direction ski tourers can also reach the cult Italian off-piste resort of Macugnaga. The return from Macugnaga to Saas Fee is much easier so first timers might perefer to go there by taxi and return on skis or boards/snowshoes.
Saas-Fee Mountain Guides
Tel: +41 (0) 27 957 44 64
Email: [email protected]
Snowboarders and freestyle skiers should head for the Snow Park at Mittelallalin. The park is groomed all year, with a half-pipe, quarter-pipe, kickers and rails. You can also relax on a comfortable couch to sounds in the Chill Zone.
There's also a Snow Park located in the Morenia area with two lines of kickers: two small kickers; a big kicker with a 5- and a 9-metre table and adjoining them a quarter-pipe and a corner wall. The half-pipe is located in the middle of the park and the rails should appeal to thrill-seekers, with a straight and a triple kinked rail, and a rainbow.
The piste riding provides some good carving terrain and few traverses; off-piste boarders will find some of the major routes a slog on snowshoes, with traversing and uphill sections where they'll inevitably expend more energy than skiers on skins, though they might well have some back on the descent.
Starting from the top down, the revolving restaurant at Mittelallalin at 3500m may be the world's highest, but the view - for which you're paying - is not always as good as you might hope for. Only the table service restaurant rotates, at approximately one revolution per hour. Be aware that the floor revolves while the windows stay put, so hang on to your gloves and valuables (or wait an hour for them to return). There are two more restaurants lower down at Felskinn 3000m and Morenia 2550m which are in the centre of the main ski area and easier to get to.
At Längfluh 2869m, the Popcorn Plaza has a sun terrace, bar and DJ or live music. Spielboden 2448m also has a terrace and good food. Gletscher Grotte (Tel: +41 27 957 21 60) is a lovely rustic hut slopeside lower down mountain (watch for the signs on red run 11a) serving a good range of rösti, fondue and meat and cheese boards.
Plattjen has food at the top station but one of the best mountain restaurants in Saas-Fee, also on Plattjen, is the charming Vernissage Berghaus Plattjen (Tel: +41 27 957 12 05) restaurant and sun terrace to the right of red run 1 and next to a landmark radio mast, which is recommended, but quite small so it's best to make a reservation.
Probably the most adventurous eating in Saas-Fee (in terms of getting there, rather than what's on your plate) is at the Britannia Hütte, a hike from Felskinn, where there's also hut accommodation for ski touring.
Down at village level, the base area 1800m next to the ice rinks and the nursery slopes is also well served by hotel restaurants and sun terraces such as the hotels Derby, Belmont and Waldesruh which also has an umbrella bar. From here you can easily walk a short distance to one of the restaurants on the main street leading to the village where there are more restaurants such as Zur Mühle which is good for lunch as well as for après ski.
For eating on the mountain the following restaurants are especially recommended:
Vernissage Berghaus Plattjen
Tel: +41 27 957 12 05
Tel: +41 27 957 21 60
The Saas Valley includes the four communities of Saas-Fee, Saas Grund, Saas Almagell and Saas Balen, the biggest of which is Saas-Fee with nearly 1,700 inhabitants.
Before the advent of tourism, Saas-Fee's inhabitants were subsistence farmers who, for extra cash, would harvest ice from the glaciers, delivering it to the hotels in the valley and beyond. Saas-Fee's rural origins are still evident in the old chalets and storehouses, called 'Stadel', perched on stone mushrooms to keep the rats at bay. The car-free streets help preserve the ambience.
A priest, Johann Josef, brought the first British alpinists to town in the mid 1800s and established Saas-Fee's future. The Hotel Dom was the first to be built and in 1849 Josef made skis with which to descend to Saas Grund. There was no looking back, other than to his statue in the town square.
Saas-Fee has a wide choice of accommodation with 57 hotels and numerous apartments, most of which are owned by local families as the sale of apartments is strictly controlled to ensure that the traditional village character is maintained.
The road to Saas-Fee was only built in the 1950s, before which it was a donkey track. The builders wisely decided to end the road with a big car park from where it's an easy walk, with luggage on a hand trolley or electric hotel taxi cart, to the centre, making this one of the Alps' easiest traffic-free ski resorts to negotiate.
Today, Saas-Fee has some of the most restrictive building regulations in Switzerland. New buildings must follow the traditional Swiss chalet style construction with gabled roof and their facade which must be built largely from wood, which is quickly blackened by sunlight, so that they blend well with the older properties.
Heading south (left) from the car park takes you down towards the base area with a mix of hotels, après-ski bars and ski shops. In the northern half of town there are more hotels and chalets as well as restaurants and bars.
Three electric bus routes run to the ski lifts and although Saas-Fee village is not big, the many places with ski and boot storage (CHF 2 per day) near the base station come in handy for people staying at the northern end of the village (up to 1km from base area) allowing them a more comfortable commute to the lifts.
The street leading from the slopes into Saas-Fee must have been built with apres-ski in mind, and it's enjoyable rather than. Lined with restaurants and bars that catch the last of the sun, this is where you'll find the late afternoon action.
Hotel Waldesruh, Hotel Derby and Restaurant Belmont have terraces and an umbrella bar right next to the base area nursery slopes and at the bottom of the runs down from the main ski area which ensures their popularity at lunch times and after skiing and for families especially.
Nesti's Ski Bar is frequently packed and probably the most popular of the lot; the Fee-Iglu-Bar is another good indoor venue; the Black Bull pumps out some lively tunes well beyond the confines of the Heineken umbrellas on its sundeck and is busy until the early hours of the morning. Zur Mühle, close to the base area ski slopes, is a popular bar restaurant with a dark, cosy interior and popular outdoor terrace with sheepskin covered seats and heaters when needed.
Beneath the Unique Hotel Dom, Popcorn's is a popular snowboarder haunt, which transforms from being a popular place for boarders to hang out and shop by day into a lively bar and disco after hours. Living Room in the Unique Hotel Dom is open daily from 8pm has a chilled out atmosphere and is one of the more popular late night venues for drinking and dancing. Poison nightclub (underneath the Metro) attracts a younger crowd and is invariably lively and packed from late night until 3 or 4am.
There's a good range of eating in Saas-Fee with 42 restaurants and cafés ranging from Michelin-starred gourmet dining at one of Switzerland's top restaurants to traditional Swiss fare, speciality dishes, pizza and spaghetti in rustic surroundings, 5 cafés and 11 mountain restaurants. With 15 bars and 3 night clubs there's also plenty of après ski to be enjoyed before and after dinner and for those that wish to until well after midnight.
The illustrated guide book Saas-Fee for Gourmets by Irma DűtsIrma Dütsch - the first Swiss woman to become Cuisiniere de l'annee in 1994, who made her name over 30 years at the Restaurant Waldhotel Fletschhorn - is a mouth watering guide to some of the gourmet dishes available and restaurants where you can savour them.
The best restaurant in the region, with one Michelin star and 18 points in the Gault Milau gourmet guide, is the Fletschhorn, a 30-minute walk from town or a 10-minute taxi ride. Its nouvelle cuisine is considered some of the best in Switzerland. Make reservations early and expect to pay from €100 per head or more if you choose high end fine wines from a cellar of more than 20,000 bottles. It's also a 15 room hotel.
Hotel Hohnegg's award winning restaurant is particularly good for vegetarian food, which in this part of the world usually means cheese, by the kilo. The Hohnegg makes a refreshing, refined change. Recommended by Gault Milau, Guide Michelin, Guide-Bleu and Gôut Mieux, it's also an 8 room hotel and has been listed among the top 10 Alpine hotels in Switzerland and the 100 most liked restaurants in Switzerland.
For more centrally situated gourmet dining, the stylish Vernissage Restaurant at the 5-star Ferienart Resort & Spa with Heinz Julen chairs and impressive chandeliers is worth visiting for dinner or for after dinner drinks in the stylish Vernissage cocktail bar which is one of the more sophisticated places to chill out later in the evening. Ferienart Resort & Spa's Casar Ritz is another of Saas-Fee's first class restaurants.
La Ferme, a rustic chalet restaurant in the centre of the village, offers a good choice of traditional Swiss fare, mostly meat dishes as well as fish, pasta and vegetarian alternatives. Starters range from CHF 10-30, main courses CHF 25-50 and desserts are CHF 10-15 so expect to pay CHF50-100 per person for a 3-course dinner plus wine. Le Vieux Chalet, with Swiss flags flying from its first floor window boxes, serves Swiss traditional fare in similar surroundings.
Don't forget Saas-Fee is just a few kilometers from Italy and Del Ponte Pizzeria at Ferienart Resort & Spa serves excellent pizza and spaghetti dishes. The trendy CofFee Bar in the main street is worth visiting for relaxed après ski, for a snack or after dinner drinks with "smooth music".
Saas-Fee has winter walking trails on the Hannig and elsewhere around Saas-Fee, totaling 30km, with an additional 22km around Saas Grund, Almagell and Balen. The Tourist Office information lists 24 different walking trails in Saastal, many of which are no more than a 30-60 minute walk and the longest will take an average walker about 2½ hours to complete. Similarly, there are 16 high alpine walking trails for snowshoeing above Saas-Fee and Saas Grund including the route from Felskinn via Egginerjoch to Britanniahűtte and back which takes between 1-2 hours.
There's a 5km toboggan run from the top of the Hannig. The slopes are served by gondola and there's a twice a-week fondue evening at the Hannig mountain restaurant, followed by a torchlit descent. It's a great ride down the forested hillside, with a small bar on a corner before the final quick section. At Saas Grund there's an even longer 11km from Kreuzboden to Saas Grund. The 900m Feeblitz toboggan run in Saas-Fee is an adventure ride on rails, open all year, but it's no match for the thrill of tobogganing 5-11km on snow.
There are 36km of cross country skiing, most of which is in Saas Almagell including the route up the valley from Saas Almagell to the Mattmark dam, following the pretty route alongside the wooded river. In Saas-Fee itself, has just 6km of cross-country skiing. Most trails are for classic cross-country with only 4-8km of skating trails depending on conditions.
For thrills, try the alpine gorge adventure, led by a guide through frozen waterfalls and across rope slides. More serious still is Saas-Fee's first class ice climbing; in January they hold the world indoor ice climbing championships on a spectacular ice pillar in the middle of the car-park's spiral ramp.
Still on ice, but with no special skills required, Saas-Fee's ice grotto is the world's largest (5500m³) and at an altitude of 3500m above seal level; you can get married there but most visitors choose just to slide around and take in the ice sculptures.
Back at valley level there are outdoor skating and curling rinks. Additionally there's snow tubing, airboarding, husky sledding, horse carriage rides, spa, pool and wellness facilities at the Bielen leisure centre, and finally, free walking tours of the village organised by the Saas-Fee tourist office and a village museum. A number of Saas-Fee hotels including Hotel du Glacier and the Ferienart Resort & Spa also allow non-residents the opportunity to enjoy wellness facilities.
For more information contact the Tourist Office in Saas-Fee: