We love a good glacier here at Fall-Line. Which is why we’re big fans of Saas-Fee / Saastal– it has a rather impressive one at the top of the resort that guarantees skiing throughout the year (although the lifts aren’t always running), and even in the height of summer the conditions can be distinctly wintry. Which is why Fall-Line’s technique editor Dave Young heads there most summers to work on his spins (the freestyle snowpark is a good’n).
The setting isn’t bad either – it’s surrounded by no less than 13 peaks over 4,000m, including Switzerland’s highest mountain, The Dom at 4,545m.
Ok, the ski area is on the smaller side, but there’s still plenty of terrain – on-piste and off – to keep you entertained for a long weekend, including a hypersonic 1,700m descent from the top station back down to town. Oh, and it’s home to the world’s highest revolving restaurant and an epic toboggan run. Now that’s cool.
We caught up with local Kevin Emmenegger to get the best tips for riding Saas-Fee.
FIRST RUN OF THE DAY
I head to the Plattjen bubble at the foot of the home run. A quick ride in the resort’s most modern cable car brings you to the top of a wide red that gives you several options. If you’re still half asleep, take the first red section and cruise down through the trees on a gentle blue; or you could hoon it down the red and onto the steep black pitch at the bottom. Finally, if the snow looks tempting, there’s an itinerary route that’s woven through the trees and spits you out onto the blue at the bottom.
FOR A DAY AWAY FROM THE LIFTS
One of the reasons I came to Saas-Fee is that the mountains here offer some spectacular touring routes.
If you’re less experienced but fancy a day away from the lifts, the Britannia hut is no more than an hour’s hike from the top of the Felskinn and Alpin Express lifts – you don’t even need to faff with skinning gear, and a path is bashed out later in the season.
If you’re savvy with backcountry skiing or take a guide, you can stay overnight in the hut and make the descent down into Saas-Almagell. It takes about two hours and you get to drop a whopping 1350 vertical meters.
More adventurous still, the well-trodden tour up the Allalinhorn (4,027m) gives views across to Zermatt and the famous Matterhorn. My favourite is the Alpubel (4,206m) route; you stay overnight in the Langfluh hut (half-board costs 75CHF per night), it takes just over seven hours and you get a three-hour descent.
FOR FRESH TRACKS
The best thing about Saas-Fee is that the glacier intimidates many visitors so they stick to the pistes. But, so as long as you know where the glacier ends, there are miles of safe, playful untracked pow to get stuck into days after it has snowed.
Take the old-school Spielboden gondola, then hop on the Längfluh cable car and make a sharp right off the side of the piste. Here you’ll find some nice steep, deep pitches and various rocks to air off. You can either lap the short Längfluh cable car or carry on down following the Spielboden gondola for some serious thigh burn and a long lift back up for round two.
THE MISPERCEPTION OF SAAS-FEE IS…
That it’s a smaller ski area. If you’re willing to abandon the obsession of skiing an area where your skis never touch the same patch of snow twice, you can get really creative with the terrain here. Sure, bigger, more established resorts like Verbier eclipse the skiing in Saas-Fee, but while they were struggling snow-wise last season, we maintained ours extremely well due to the altitude of many of the pistes above 2,500m.
BEST PLACE FOR MOUNTAIN BITES
If you’re looking for something on the cheaper side, try the Pitstop Bar at the foot of the snowpark, found just above the middle station of the Alpin Express cable car. You can kick back in the sun on the bean-bags with a burger or hotdog, with a great view of the park. It’s a particularly great spot to watch the comps that take place here, for instance the Style Session in April, where crews of riders from all over the Alps come to battle it out.
For a late lunch, head to the laid-back Gletschergrotte restaurant, located on the home run. Expect
to pay £15-£20 for a main meal, but it’s worth it for a great view in the sunshine sitting on the motorbike seats!
For traditional cheese fondue or potato rosti, with big portions and value for your cash, I’d head to Hotel-Restaurant Tenne. Or, on the walk back through town after a day on the hill, there is
a bakery that has a stall on the main street selling really good fresh donuts and pastries!
BEST PLACE FOR AN APRES-SKI TIPPLE
For typical Swiss après with quality euro pop music, swing by the Black Bull. It’s an outdoor bar on the main street… you can stay warm with a glühwein or a Jägertea.
Opening this December, the Dom Bar (found at the main town square) is going to be the place to go! Okay, perhaps I’m biased… but it really is one of the only venues in Saas-Fee where you’ll find live music, and we will continue with the Wednesday night jam sessions here, previously held at Fee-Iglu.
BEST BAR/CLUB FOR PARTYING
Metropol, is a two-minute walk from the town square on Untere Dorfstrasse and it has a ping pong table this year – what more could you ask for?!
Or, head to the Popcorn Bar; it has a bit of a lary reputation with the locals and it’s currently at a temporary venue, but is set to move in December to its brand new ‘deluxe’ site in the new Popcorn Hotel.
But watch out, drinks are expensive here; you can pay over £9 for spirits with mixers so I’d stick with beer
(£6 a pint).