Resort Profile: Saas-Fee

By adamrowden, 13 Dec '12 at 14:27

One of Switzerland's most important winter sports resorts, Saas-Fee, in the German speaking upper-Valais, also offers one of the five largest Summer skiing areas in Europe. Marketed, like Courmayeur, as 'the pearl of the Alps', the resort is car-free, which means vehicles are parked at a large car-park on arrival at the edge of the village and only small electric taxis, mostly owned by the hotels, hum quietly and slowly around the pedestrianised streets.

The resulting tranquillity, coupled with the resort's strict planning regulations which have maintained traditional Swiss chalet style construction for several centuries, and the spectacular high alpine scenery all around, make Saas-Fee a delightful base for a mountain sports holiday.

The resort is based at the foot of the Dom, which although not as internationally well known as the Matterhorn, is in fact Switzerland's highest mountain, and one of thirteen 4,000 metre (3,120 feet) plus peaks surrounding the village. These may be viewed at your leisure from the world's highest revolving restaurant on the Mittelallin at 3,500 metres (just under 11,500 feet).

Saas-Fee has taken the quality of its environment and facilities seriously for many years, a member of GAST, the association of traffic-free holiday resorts, it was one of the earliest to ban cars in 1951, and as the road from Saas-Grund down in the valley only reached this high-altitude village in that same year, it can be said that Saas-Fee has never truly had car traffic on its streets, possibly a unique status.

The resort also has one of the longest traditions of mountain tourism in the world, with local clergyman Johann Josef Imseng recognising the importance of bringing visitors to the Saas Valley way back in 1836. Mr Imseng was also a mountain guide and is popularly regarded as the first skier in the country. Although one of the earlier successes of Swiss tourism (Saas-Fee had a population of 236 back in 1850 when most of today's ski resorts, even the famous ones, at that altitude were just summer cattle pasture with a couple of mountain huts for seasonal farmers), winter sports did not become predominant in the village until as recently as the 1960s, in common with many other Swiss skiing destinations.

Saas-Fee's early settlement and success as a tourist destination were helped by its mild climate, being on the same latitude as Ascona, 30km(19 miles) east in Switzerland's only Italian speaking canton, southerly Ticino, where palm trees grow. Today Saas-Fee's lift infrastructure includes some of the most hi-tec installations in the world, most notably the world's highest underground funicular railway, the Metro Alpin, which opened in 1984. Accommodation, eateries and other services and facilities in the village that offer articularly high standards are given a 'Q' symbol in recognition of the quality they offer.

The name Zurbriggen is prominent amongst the names in the Saas Valley, and Switzerland's recent skiing greats, Pirmin, Silvan and Heidi Zurbriggen have their home at Saas Almagell down in the valley.

Hikers will see the 18 breathtaking 4,000 metre peaks of the Saas Valley on the circular trail from Hohsaas (3,300 m above sea level) - starting with the real thing, and then on reproductions and information boards. The latter provide a brief summary of the special features and history of the individual peaks. The route is also prepared in winter as far as the "Dom".

The new outside adventure sauna with a view of the mountains is just one of the new highlights. Various day-SPA offers also give non-residents the chance to spoil themselves. The organised children’s programme gives parents a welcome break, while the extended Nordic Walking and Yoga offers do our guests’ health a good turn.

Skiing and Snowboarding in Saas-Fee

The main Felskinn area can be accessed using two routes, the Alpin Express gondola and the drag lift at the south end of the village followed by the Felskinn cable car.

If you are an expert skier or snowboarder then the pistes may end up leaving you a bit unfulfilled. There isn’t a huge amount of steep slopes, but the runs at the top of Längfluh can often have some pretty decent powder when the conditions are good.

If you are a fan of tree skiing - who isn’t? - then you will be pleased to know that when the snowfall is decent, there is some truly excellent tree skiing to be had on Plattjen. The snow does need to be good though as the terrain is pretty rocky. Mogul hunters should aim for the pistes above Spielboden.

When in the main sector you are advised, strongly advised, to only go off-piste with a guide as the glacial terrain leaves you with plenty of crevasse danger. If you do get a good guide though, there are plenty of cracking touring possibilities.

Intermediates who are up for a casual ride around will be pleased to know that Saas-Fee is ideal. Allalin is perfect for vast long cruises, especially if you head from the top of the mountain downwards then you have two options. You head towards Längfluh in one direction and Morenia in the other. If you do choose the Morenia route then there are some nice gentle red runs which lead you onto some nice even gentler blues.

The Highlights:

- High Altitude
- Pretty snow-sure
- Perfect for intermediates
- Beautiful scenery
- Good off-slope activities

For more resort profiles click here. Or, to find a good transfer company to take you to Saas-Fee click here.

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