Found in the south of Switzerland, the canton of Valais is home to some of the most legendary wintersports in all of the Alps. There are iconic mountains and glaciers like the Matterhorn and the Great Aletsch Glacier; there's more than 2,000km of ski runs to be explored; and multiple activities to give a go that don’t involve donning your skis at all, from sledging and snowshoeing to paragliding, fatbiking and much, much more.
So whether your idea of a great winter getaway involves long days on the slopes, long nights out checking out the restaurant and après scene or a long time spent chilling at the spa, you’ll find it in Valais. Read on to find out where to get yourself a piece of the action.
For more information on holidays to Valais, go to visitvalais.ch
Winter in Valais, Switzerland: Everything you need to know
There are lots of things that make winter holidays to Valais unique: the high-mountain scenery, the variety of runs, the backcountry adventures you have at your fingertips – it really is one of the most exciting places to go as a skier or snowboarder looking for an active break.
With more than 2,000km of piste – much of it interlinked – it's easy to explore, and has some of the best variety of skiing anywhere in the Alps. With 45 summits above 4,000m, it's also one of the highest places you can ski – meaning more snow, and some of the best conditions in Switzerland.
With such bountiful natural scenery, it's no surprise that Valais boasts some seriously unique propositions for snow lovers. For starters, it's got Europe's longest ski run, which leads down from the Matterhorn glacier paradise cable car station for 25km, all the way to the iconic Zermatt mountain resort in the valley below. Slightly further west in Nendaz – part of Les 4 Vallées, the biggest ski resort in Switzerland – experienced skiers can soak up views down towards the Matterhorn at the 3,330m-high slope at Mont-Fort before skiing down towards Siviez on an expert-level run.
But Nendaz isn't just a place for the experts: in January and March, Nendaz and Veysonnaz offer adult beginners the chance to get comfortable with skiing with an all-inclusive day package. It includes a lift pass, a two-hour lesson and a day's equipment rental for just £90. Once you feel good going it alone, you'll find 400km of slopes, seven freetracks and four ski touring trails to head out and explore – all just 15km away from Sion, the capital of Valais. It really is a paradise for skiers and snowboarders.
Head a little further north west towards the French border and you'll find Région Dents du Midi – a spectacular ski area made up of six villages perched high in the Alps. It's the gateway to Portes du Soleil – the world's largest international ski area with more than 300 slopes covering 600km of terrain. There are snowparks, ski-cross, family-friendly ski areas and 228km of trails to ski cross-country. Basically, whatever you fancy giving a go while you're there, you can do it in Région Dents du Midi.
valais is the highest place to ski in switzerland, and has some of the most consistent snowfall
Out east, Valais' chain of majestic mountains extends into the Aletsch Arena – the destination next to the biggest glacier in the Alps, with one of Switzerland's best views to the Jungfraujoch, Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. Everything here is set around the dramatic, 23km-long Great Aletsch Glacier, visible from many of the area's 104km of runs. This sunny, car-free plateau sits between 1,845m and 2,869m in the heart of a Unesco World Heritage Site, and gives you unfettered access to the slopes, as most of its resorts are ski-in, ski-out and located right on the pistes.
Such easy access to the hill means that this part of Valais – as well as the gorgeous resorts of Zermatt, Saas-Fee, Crans-Montana and Morgins – is the perfect place to set your alarm early and head out just before dawn to make fresh tracks in new, immaculately groomed snow as the sun comes up. There really is no better way to start a day.
Whether you want to learn to ski for the very first time, or just make the first tracks in a fresh dumping of snow, in Valais you can. So what are you waiting for? It's time to get booking for the 2020 season.
Winter in Valais, Switzerland: Three must-try ski activities
Great ski holidays don’t just mean riding the slopes, hitting the lifts and repeating until you get tired. In Valais, there are tons of different ways to get your kicks, from backcountry touring to one-off events. Here’s what not to miss this winter:
Head out on the Nendaz Touring Tracks
When it comes to exploring a winter landscape, there are few activities as rewarding as heading out ski touring. But if striking out into the backcountry seems a little intimidating, head out on one of Nendaz’s five signposted trails for a touring experience that’s easy. Graded in difficulty for all kinds of skier, it’s a great way to get that off-piste feel while keeping your cool. nendaz.ch
Take the Glacier Panorama Tour
Looking for a serious challenge that’ll take you some of the most stunning locations in the Aletsch Arena? You should probably head out on the region’s Glacier Panorama Tour, then. Taking in 104km of easy-to-follow interlinked ski pistes, this circuit trail can be joined at any point, works as a single- or multi-day tour and gives you panoramic views of the Great Aletsch Glacier and the mountains of Valais along the way. aletscharena.ch
Experience Snow in Light in Morgins
Save the date: on Wednesday 19 February 2020 from 5-8.30pm, Snow in Light will transform the iconic Foilleuse piste in the village of Morgins into a magical, rideable light show with hundreds of coloured lights twinkling through the forest. It’s a must-see every season in Région Dents du Midi, and is free with your day pass. Even better. Can’t make that date? Try night skiing instead, for a thrilling, high-octane ski experience under the stars that takes place weekly throughout the 2020 season. regiondentsdumidi.ch
Find out more about winter holidays to Valais and start planning at visitvalais.ch/offers
Winter in Valais, Switzerland: 6 off-slope adventures and après experiences
Because your time on the hill is only half the story, we've rounded up some of the finest things to do away from the pistes in Valais. Eat, drink, snowshoe or sledge – we've got you covered. Here's what to try when you're not skiing in Valais, Switzerland this winter.
1. Bask in the local food and après culture
With 75 Gault & Millau-listed restaurants and ten with Michelin stars, Valais has great food in abundance – meaning you'll never go hungry when you're done on the slopes. So much of this comes thanks to its amazing local produce: there are 8 AOP and IGP products, it's the biggest wine producer in Switzerland, and it has famous local dishes like Raclette du Valais AOP and cholera – a vegetable pie that was originally made during an outbreak of the disease with the same name in the 1830. It's stayed on menus ever since. When it comes to après ski, Valais is off the charts, too: ride the cable car up to La Croix de Culet in Champéry for panoramic views with your beer, or try the Edelweiss Bar in Nendaz, which offers live music all winter long – the perfect place to blow off steam after a long day in the cold.
2. Take a snowshoe and raclette tour
Fact: there is no food more essential to a good alpine holiday than raclette cheese. And there's probably no better way to eat it than on a snowshoe tour in Nendaz. On a three-hour tour, you'll shoe out into the forest as it starts to get dark before lighting a fire and cooking the famous cheese al fresco. Absolute perfection.
3. Dine then fly in the Aletsch Arena
For an alpine adventure that stimulates all your senses, you're going to want to give this a go: fuel yourself with traditional Valais delicacies at the legendary Restaurant Bergfreund, then head out for one of Switzerland's best paragliding experiences, floating across the Aletsch Arena on a paraglider with skis on your feet, the stunning scenery flooding your eyes and the wind rippling through your hair.
4. Go fatbiking
Trade your skis for a custom-built bike and explore the winter scenery with a fatbike. It's a super easy way to get exploring on days when you just don't feel like queuing for the lifts. Try it across Valais in Aletsch Arena, Leukerbad, Obergoms or Crans-Montana.
5. Take the family Yooner sledging
Nothing will bring out your competitive side quite like a night of Yooner sledging in Région Dents du Midi. Whizzing down the slopes on a user-friendly, ski-mounted sledge, you'll be carving a route to the bottom in no time, and after an hour and half of exhilarating racing, you'll head inside for a well-deserved fondue.
6. Soak up the mountain views
Part of any great winter holiday is seeing epic mountain panoramas first hand. And they don't come much better than the views in Aletsch Arena, where you can see around 40 4,000m-high peaks, plus the vast expanse of the Great Aletsch Glacier down in the valley below. Buy a View Point Explorer pass (£40 for adults) and you'll be able to access all the best spots via passenger lift.
Find out more at valais.ch/snow
Winter in Valais, Switzerland: 3 places to stay while you're there
hotel nendaz 4 vallees & spa
Found at the heart of Les 4 Vallées ski resort, this four-star hotel is decked out in Valaisian style, with warm hospitality to match. It's close to the slopes and the 2,200 sq m spa's not bad, either. hotelnendaz4vallees.ch
Hotel plein ciel
Champery, Region Dents du Midi
Hotel Plein Ciel
Clinging to a mountain ridge above Champéry, this hotel affords epic views across the village and the Dents du Midi range. It's basically worth staying just for the rooftop terrace alone. pleinciel.com
Voted the best three-star superior hotel in Valais, this bolthole gives you views across several 4,000m peaks, including the mighty Matterhorn. Not sold yet? It's also got a Guide Bleu-awarded restaurant... bettmerhof.ch
Winter in Valais, Switzerland: This season's must-visit festivals
rock the pistes
15-21 March 2020, Portes du Soleil
This ski season, Rock The Pistes returns for a tenth year, with more than 30 live high-altitude concerts taking place across the slopes of Portes du Soleil’s 12 resorts. The best bit? All you need to see an amazing roster of live music is your lift pass. You can count us in. rockthepistes.com
nendaz spring break
11 April 2020, Nendaz
This end of season blow-out is an institution in Nendaz, with festivities starting at the summit of the pistes from 10am. The morning sees a waterslide competition, while the afternoon offers open-air dancing with live concerts and famous DJs. nendaz.ch
14-18 April 2020, Zermatt
Valais/Wallis Promotion – Pascal Gertschen
Since its launch back in 2007, this acoustic music festival has evolved from a local favourite into one of the most important dates in the Swiss music calendar. The weekender rolls into the picturesque resort of Zermatt towards the end of the season, seeing four main stages host some of the finest musicians from around the world playing unplugged sets to rapturous crowds. Outside the main site, there are gigs to check out in more than ten further venues around town, too. Passes from £49. zermatt-unplugged.ch
16-19 April 2020, Crans-Montana
Like partying on the slopes? Good. Like underground house and techno? Even better. You’ll probably love Caprices – the famous electronic music festival that brings club culture to one the beautiful resort of Crans-Montana. Regular DJs include the likes of Sven Väth and Ricardo Villalobos – playing against epic Alpine backdrops, naturally. Weekend pass £201. caprices.ch
For more info, go to visitvalais.ch