When we were living in the UK we had a week for a skiing holiday in mid-December but couldn’t decide where to go. The trick to skiing holidays in December is finding resorts with a sufficient, almost-guaranteed snow base.
There are a few early season gems in Europe, but mostly these are the resorts surrounding glaciers (like those in Austria) and the higher resorts in France. Unfortunately by the time we went to book, the accomodation options in France were pretty dismal so we looked left afield.
A few years earlier we had looked out the window of the Glacier Express train while crossing Switzerland and noticed a quaint little village surrounded by mountains, smack-bang in the middle of the Glacier Express route (St Moritz to Zermatt). Intrigued, we learnt that this little village had recently received a significant amount of investment from an Egyptian-Montenegrin billionaire, resulting in better infrastructure and a luxury hotel.
Andermatt is in the canton (Swiss province) of Uri. The village is connected to three major Swiss alpine passes. It sits along the Gotthard Pass, which is an important historic pass in Switzerland which connected the North and South of the county, previously almost impenetrable due to the mountains and gorges.
This piece of information simmered away in the back of our minds until a few years later when we were planning this ski holiday. Suddenly, a lesser-known but recently refurbished ski resort sounded quite interesting. Normally Switzerland is expensive but we offset these costs by flying in and out of Milan and hiring our car there. We also bought a weeks worth of groceries to enjoy in our apartment in Andermatt.
We found our apartment from the local tourist information website, emailing the owner and asking if we could stay for those dates. It was all very informal but we were amazed to turn up to a beautiful little apartment with a modern kitchen and balcony over the river with views out towards the mountains on both sides. The river is LOUD, but incredibly soothing as it rushes through the village. The church bells ring frequently in Switzerland.
We also factored in lift tickets, Andermatt allowed for a flexible ticket where you did not have ski sequentially which meant we could have a rest day to explore. Further, Andermatt had significant discounts for students and “young people” which we took advantage of for further savings. Interestingly, Andermatt (the ski area is called SkiArena) has recently introduced dynamic pricing, so there are discounts for both advanced purchases and for skiing at less popular times.
Andermatt connects multiple skiing areas, Nätschen-Gütsch, Sedrun and Gemsstock with gondolas, chair lifts and also the right to ride on the trains that connect those areas. Andermatt was mostly used by the Swiss military and developed slowly. It is now starting to thrive but is definitely not yet overly touristy.
You can access Andermatt easily from Zurich or Milan. If travelling by train, Zurich would be easiest but if travelling by car in a group, you may prefer to fly into Milan. It’s a nice drive, a bit over two hours which passes by Lake Como and Lugano – both beautiful spots to stop and look around. If you are planning to drive in Switzerland with a car hired outside of the country, make sure you purchase a Vignette (sticker) from a petrol station or border crossing before you cross in Switzerland. This is currently around 40CHF ($55 AUD). For four of us, it was cheaaper to hire the car even with the Vignette cost than it was for us to fly into Zurich and catch the train.
Gemsstock was a great mountain as even in mid-December we could ski top to bottom, right into the village. We enjoyed the different terrain of Sedrun and Nätschen-Gütsch as well as the cute little alpine restaurants (we allowed ourselves to eat lunch out every day but all other meals we prepared ourselves to save money). The terrain across the various areas did not disappoint, and the scenery was gorgeous. Particularly from the top of Gemsstock, where you have 360 degree views of the surrounds mountains. From our experience, you would want to be at least an intermediate skier to really enjoy Andermatt.
Switzerland itself is expensive for travellers, but it should not be overlooked as a great value skiing destination, the quality for what we paid in our accomodation and cosyness of the village and the reasonable priced lift tickets made this an ideal holiday.