SAAS FEE, SWITZERLAND
Saas Fee ski holidays…
Saas-Fee is one of the ski world's most magical ski holiday destinations. Although a road was finally built here in the early 1950s, the villagers decided the cars had got close enough and determined they would park on the outskirts of the village and not be allowed on its streets.
That's still the case seven decades later, making the village, which has also strived to maintain its traditional chalet-style architecture, a very special, unspoilt destination and a true escape from our busy daily lives. As you wander along the narrow streets, the only traffic is small electric carts and people-transporters, much the same as Zermatt and now a kind of vision of future mobility, you’ll pass lots of enticing cafes and boutiques that line the main streets as they climb up to the ski lifts.
Saas Fee, Switzerland
SKIING IN SAAS FEE
What to expect…
Saas-Fee has an exciting and varied ski area with a big lift-served vertical of approximately 1,800 metres. With the resort itself already at 1,800 metres above sea level and the upper part of the ski slopes glaciated, it will be unsurprising to be told that the snow conditions and snow quality here is generally among the most reliable and best in the world. Saas-Fee has an excellent, decent-sized ski area with 100km of slopes stretching up over 1,800 metres of vertical to a snowsure glacier open for snowsports nine months of the year.
Saas Fee Expert
"All around there’s magnificent mountain scenery, with thirteen 4,000 metre plus peaks surrounding the village, including one of Switzerland’s highest, the Dom, which Saas-Fee sits at the foot of. It’s no surprise that Wham chose it as the location to shoot their famous Last Christmas video. "
LOCAL SKI AREA - SAAS FEE
Saas Fee's ski slopes are divided into three main areas, the Felskinn, the Plattjen and the Längfluh.
Altogether these three areas offer 100km of runs divide up as 30km easy, 45km intermediate and 25km black, so a good mix although a higher proportion of intermediate and advanced runs than most leading resorts offer. There are several dozen lifts including the famous Metro Alpin underground railway and a funitel, in addition to a gondola that can carry 30 passengers in a cabin serving Felskinn.
That said beginners need not be put off; the easier slopes can be found higher up the mountain, although depending on how far you’ve advanced, you may want to ride the lift back down as there’s not much easy terrain between those high runs and the nursery slopes at the base.
Intermediates can happily make their way around much of the mountain and there’s a great descent over the full vertical from the top of the Allalin glacier all the way back down to the village. Experts have an unusually high 25% of the ski runs to themselves, with five ungroomed and unpatrolled but avalanche protected itinerary runs to enjoy. Finally, Saas-Fee has a strong reputation with freestylers, perhaps because it maintains a great terrain park for nine months of the year up on the glacier, complete with half pipe.
WIDER SKI AREA - SAAS VALLEY
Although Saas-Fee itself has by far the biggest and most exciting ski area in the region, there are two smaller nearby areas included in a Saas Valley lift pass for a few francs more than the Saas-Fee only ticket.
Saas Grund has the larger area with Saas Almagell a further small area. Although quite close by and linked by a regular bus service there’s no lift piste connection between the three. The combined Saas Valley stats for the three areas are 150km of piste served by 35 lifts. The runs include nearly 50km of easy runs, more than 70km of intermediate terrain and 30km of black runs, including seven off-piste itinerary runs.
Neighbouring Saas Grund, located a few hundred metres below Saas-Fee, has the larger area with 35km of runs served by a dozen lifts and given its rather small ski area, another impressive lift-served vertical of 1,640 metres stretching up to a very snowsure 3,200 metres above sea level. Like Saas-Fee, there's a good mix of terrain for all abilities here, although about two-thirds of the runs are intermediate level reds. There are runs of up to 7/1km and six kilometres of black graded piste with the Panoramapiste regarded as one of the best in the resort.
Saas Almagell has the smallest and lowest of the three areas, albeit with 100% snowmaking cover. It’s 12km of runs between 1672m and 2400m altitude and served by half-a-dozen lifts are predominantly easy to intermediate level with no black runs. Saas-Fee is just over a mountain from Zermatt (a joint summer ski lift pass has been offered in the past) and in recent years there has been talk of linking the two with some of the world's highest ever gondola lifts, potentially creating one of the world's biggest areas stretching right over the Italian border to Cervinia.
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Approximate transfer times:
- BERN: 2½ Hrs
- geneva: 2½ Hrs
- BASEL: 3¾ Hrs
Saas-Fee is unusual and very special as a ski resort in many different ways.
As mentioned in the introduction there is the peaceful, car-free nature where you find yourself surrounded by spectacular scenery. There is the remarkable glacier allowing a nine-month ski season from mid-summer to mid-spring. But even though it has a reputation for year-round snow-cover up high, it should also be noted that Saas-Fee's early settlement and success as a tourist destination were helped by its mild climate, being on the same latitude as Ascona, 19 miles to the east in Switzerland's only Italian speaking canton, southerly Ticino, where palm trees grow. So there is something of a Mediterranean climate and a claimed 300 days of sunshine each year, along with fresh mountain air.
Those who have followed Swiss ski racing will be interested to note that the Zurbriggen name is prominent amongst the names in the Saas Valley family, and the branch that has been world-famous for its racers for generations now have the family home at Saas Almagell down in the valley.
RESTAURANTS & BARS
Dining out is easy and pleasant in Saas-Fee with around 100 restaurants in resort serving everything from traditional Valais regional cuisine to international gourmet dining.
There is plenty of variety with lots of cafes, bars, and pizzerias to choose from besides the more formal restaurants. For those with special dietary requirements, there are at least a dozen restaurants with vegan and many more serving vegetarian dishes. Again there's a big choice of the type of establishments available to vegans and vegetarians too, from the Da Rasso pizzeria to the more fine-dining Essstube for example, not just specialists.
A large proportion of the eateries do serve up local Swiss mountain favourites include schnitzel, raclette, and cheese fondues. One of the most popular is Astrid’s Fondue Hitta, a small (it can only seat 25 guests), cosy restaurant which, as its name suggests, specialises in fondue. Unusually guests sit around large shared tables allowing plenty of space for the fondue paraphernalia and creating a great social experience.
The Heida restaurant is another atmospheric choice, located in a converted ancient wooden barn that dates back 200 years but has been redeveloped with stylish interior design complimenting the old beams. Here you can dine on traditional favourites with dishes that are only made using locally sourced, season ingredients including Valaisan dried meats and cheese and vegetables produced nearby.
The Michelin-starred Waldhotel Fletschhorn is the most highly rated fine dining establishment but for many, equally appealing will be 12-Inch CofFee, a modern coffee bar in the resort central known for its cool tunes and great bakeries as much as its freshly ground coffee from a local speciality roaster.
No visit to Saas-Fee is complete without paying homage to the world's highest revolving restaurant, Allalin.
Allalin is 3,500 metres up and accessible to any non-skiing members of your group, via the gondola and underground Metro Alpin funicular.
Gletschergrotte, reached via a short forest path from the valley is where Chef Karl Kempf serves up seasonal Valais regional specialities and if you have space some wonderful homemade desserts. Spielboden has a gourmet reputation with its reinterpretation of traditional favourites.
Saas-Fee has a fairly low key and generally refined apres-ski scene with plenty of relaxed hotel bars to relax in.
Should you be looking for a night on the town there are some livelier options available in Saas Fee. Many are to be found on Gletscherstraße, beginning near the bottom of the slopes. Here venues like Rudi’s Snowbar in the Mistral Hotel has a reputation for good music, drinks and food if you want it, with the option to sit out on the heated terrace above the slopes.
The nearby Skihütte is a little more sophisticated with a great wine list. In the resort centre, the Metro Cocktail Bar often has live music but otherwise, there are music or sports videos on the big screen TVs. It's open to 1 am. If you want to go on later still the Poison night club opens at 10 and stays open until after 3 am.
There’s plenty to do in Saas-Fee in winter besides ski and board.
The world's highest underground mountain funicular railway takes you up to the resort's ice palace in the glacier and you'll also find what is claimed to be Europe's highest zip wire. There are 60km of marked winter hiking paths and you can also try snowshoeing and winter gorge walking. Ice sports include ice climbing, curling and skating and there's also snowmobiling, tubing and several toboggan runs in the area, the longest 11km long, open day and (floodlit) at night.
One of the major attractions on the mountain is located 3,500 metres up at Mittelallalin.
Accessed by the Metro Alpin underground funicular railway, where there's an ice pavilion carved into the 1,000-year-old glacial ice. This can be accessed via a 70-metre long tunnel it is full of amazing ice carvings as well as information on the shrinking glacier itself. Also at Mittelallalin visitors find Europe's highest zip line, some 280 metres long, and the world's highest revolving restaurant, providing incredible views of the eighteen 4,000 metre peaks as it slowly revolves. On a clear day you can see Milan, 120km away.
Ice Climbing is also popular in the resort, which hosted the World Ice Climbing Championships. Climbing is centred on the Kletterdome which in summer is a giant rock-climbing arena but in winter becomes Saas Fee's artificial ice climbing arena. Here guides will introduce complete beginners to basic safety and climbing techniques or welcome more experienced climbers.
Other outdoor sports on offer in winter include sledging, ice climbing, snowshoeing, hiking, Bavarian curling, and XC skiing. You can also take a ride on the Feeblitz Mountain-coaster which claims to be accessed by the steepest mountain coaster lift in the Alps, then hurtle back down the mountain at speeds of up to 40km/h. There’s a second zip-lining option down between Saas-Fee itself and neighbouring Saas Grund with a guided tour through the Fee gorge passing frozen waterfalls and crossing suspension bridges before ending with a high-speed zip-line. This is also offered at night with the option of raclette or fondue once you've finished.
As well as an indoor pool the Aqua Allalin complex has a great wellness area and spa with sauna, solarium, aqua fitness and massage treatments. Several hotels also have their own spa facilities open to the public where you can enjoy an Alpine wellness ritual of your own. Finally, the village also has a ‘Bakery Museum’ where you can get hands-on and enjoy rye bread making with the village’s master baker Lukas and, thankfully, a tea room attached where you can sample the goodies.
WHO IS SAAS FEE SUITABLE FOR?
Here are the highlights...
Saas Fee is a great choice for families. The car-free nature of the resort and its timeless character and stunning location all make it a wonderful, memorable place in which to spend that essential "quality family time" together.
The resort has the Swiss government's "family-approved" official tourism, label due to the quality of its offer, which covers both the slopes and the resort. On the mountain, there are excellent nursery slopes away from the main slopes and if you pop over to Saas Almagell the special Kian's Adventureland on Furggstalden is a wonderland of (friendly) dragons, lions, penguins and other creatures. There are also activities like kids' mini snowmobiling, snow tubing and even a carousel. There are some good attractions in the resort too including the excellent Aqua Allalin leisure centre. If you visit late in the season Saas Fee's famous population of friendly marmots may have woken from hibernation and be waiting hopefully for you to come along with some food for them. In addition, the village has lots of organised family activities including ‘Kids Days' every Friday through the season.
Saas-Fee has one of the longest ski seasons in the world, typically lasting around 280 days with only 75 days a year without snowsports, thanks to its year-round glacier snowfield.
The resort is open from mid-July to late April each year – more than nine months of snow sports. With ski slopes stretching up above 3,500 metres to permanently snow-covered slopes, its one of the planet’s most snowsure destinations. Apart from the year-round snow cover up top, most of the rest of the main ski area is located above 2,500 metres and has largely north-facing slopes which usually hold the snow very well. The resort typically gets around four metres of natural snowfall each autumn and winter, and thanks to that high altitude and north-facing slopes, it tends to stay put once it falls. In addition, more than 100 snowmaking machines cover lower slopes and help ensure that the main valley runs down to resort are normally open from November onwards. The Plattjen, Morenia, Spielboden and Längfluh sectors also have snowmaking cover which extends to about 80% of the ski area.
With its wonderful atmosphere, spectacular location and pedestrianised streets, Saas-Fee is a lovely and very special resort in which to spend time, even if you don't wish to ski or snowboard.
Just wandering along the streets window shopping and perhaps popping in to a bakery or boutique is pleasant enough but a trip up by gondola and the world's highest underground funicular to the Allalin area at 3,500 metres up is a must, if only for a drink in the world's highest revolving restaurant but of course there's also the ice palace (also the highest in the world) and Europe's highest zip wire to visit there too. There are lots of other activities on offer, indoor and out, including snowshoeing, winter hiking and ice skating or curling on the rinks. You can also give snowmobiling a try or indulge in a little Nordic walking. The Aqua Allalin indoor pool complex also boasts a great wellness and spa area and you can even take a Zumba or yoga class there if you wish.
SAAS FEE WEATHER
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MAP OF SAAS FEE
Find your way…
Here's our map of Saas Fee showing you the key hotels and apartments as well as some of the main points of interest.