What happens when an Egyptian billionaire meets a charming but next-to-deserted Swiss village with some of the best freeride potential in the Alps? Andermatt, that’s what
Some ski resorts have stayed firmly on the radar since birth. Others have drifted in and out of popularity. Take Andermatt. It’s been a town of boom and bust since long before the first ski lift was built, turning from a busy Alpine thoroughfare to a literal dead-end, from bustling military base to Cold War remnant. Back in the 50s and 60s, it was a go-to spot for British skiers, up there with swanky Swiss resorts like Wengen, Gstaad and Engelberg. But, by the 1990s, the tour operators stopped coming, and the grand hotels’ only visitors were demolition teams, its mountains left for the locals and the adventurous.
This story does have a happy ending, though. Enter Samih Sawiris, the Egyptian property-developer who’s been pumping money into the resort (about 1.2 billion GBP to be exact), for the past eight years or so, building new hotels, chalets and golf courses. Best of all, his company is also working to revamp the lift system, providing new links and a faster uplift, and bringing Andermatt back into play.
But, as all you Fall-Liners will know, even the flashiest five-star hotel in the world doesn’t make a resort, the terrain does, and Andermatt has it in the bundle-loads. While the town has been in a constant state of flux, the mountains have the same draw they did back at the 50s. The colossal, couloir-riddled peak, Gemmstock, towers over the town and offers up long freeride options from every corner. Even the gentler side, Nätschen, has a fair sprinkling of gnarl. If you’re willing to hike a little, there are lines to compete with the classics.
Oh, and did we mention that hardly anyone skis here? Yet. All these new hotels are going to push Andermatt back into prosperity. Will they bring new crowds? Will they take away from its old-town charm? It’s too early to tell, but our advice is go there now, before the tour operators catch wind, or before our guide Ed Brett has tracked all the goodies out for himself.
BEST RUN FOR A WARM UP
Take the cable car up to the very top of Gemmstock (2963m). The 3.5km Sonnenpiste to the skier’s left of the lift is just the right pitch to find your muscle memory. If you’re ready for powder, try the Felsental – it starts with a 40° couloir, which might be a tad full-on for 9.15 am, but this can be skipped by following the Sonnenpiste initially and then bearing left half-way down. It offers a gloriously long run back to the village, and gives novice freeriders a real taste of Andermatt’s backcountry.
FOR FRESHIES DAYS AFTER A STORM
Head to the backside of the Gemmstock, to Guspis, by skiing a couple of hundred metres down the Sonnenpiste. From there, hike up to the ridge to gain access to a long route down to the village of Hospental. You’ll need to a bus or taxi it back to town, but it’s worth it, especially when snow is sparse elsewhere.
FOR BACKCOUNTRY THRILLS
The real beauty of Andermatt is the opportunities it offers experienced skiers. The Giraffe route is arguably one of the best, but should only be visited with a guide. Take a high traverse across the top of the Gurschen Glacier. It offers up a route right down the spine of the Gemmstock, with exposure on both the north and south sides, and is packed with mandatory airs, tight couloirs and gargantuan faces. It ends in the neck of the Giraffe; an almost endless couloir which is evenly-pitched and is a joy to ski, especially in fresh snow.
If you have skins, a short climb takes you to the Hansimgluck area, with huge open bowls ending in long, steep and narrow colouirs, which cascade through the cliff faces before depositing you nicely at the bottom of Unteralp for a long trek back to the village.
DON’T LEAVE ANDERMATT WITHOUT…
Taking the train. Winterhorn and Sedrun are just a short ride away and boast confidence-building cruisers, while Disentis and Airolo are within an hour and boast great tree-skiing for bad-weather days.
FOR MOUNTAIN BITES
Head to the tent at the mid-station. It has quick, filling snacks and un-Swiss like prices. Perfect for a pit-stop in between couloir-hunting.
FOR DINNER IN TOWN
Head for the Gasthaus Zum Sternen (gasthaussternen.com) close to the Gemmstock lift, for its local cuisine and rustic ambience. Try the Rösti topped with fried egg or the Cordon bleu. Swiss food does not get much better than this.
FOR AN APRES-SKI TIPPLE
It has to the Spycher bar. It can get pretty busy, but it makes for a great atmosphere and is always a good way to end a heavy day on the hills.
FOR LATE NIGHT DRINKS
Try the Apothek at the Riverhouse. It usually stays fairly quiet during the week, but it can kick off at the weekends when there’s always live music on offer. If you’re more into dance or techno, try the De Prato.