Switzerland is not exactly seen as a cheap holiday destination, much less a cheap ski destination. But I’ve been invited to check out a little known ski hotspot to find out for myself that there is more to Switzerland than high end ski resorts.
Just before Christmas 2022, we headed to the Pays St Bernard in Switzerland’s Valais canton. Nestled between Lake Geneva and the Italian border, this is prime Alpine territory. We’ve got Mont Blanc towering in the background, and the expansive (and expensive) Verbier just around the corner.
But I’m here to explore the lesser known Pays St Bernard ski region, at the invitation of Stefan Stolwijk, the co-owner of a budget and family focused holiday company Ski-Hostel.com.
“I think you’ll find that the resorts here are very family friendly and perfect for beginners”, Stefan tells me on my first morning at the hostel in Liddes. “Because there are less people on the slopes, you have much more opportunity to try things out without getting in people’s way”.
Which is just as well as my partner and kids have all come along to check out the mountains and to get a bit of winter wonderland before Christmas.
And so far, things are looking good. There was a fresh dump of snow just a few days before we arrived. But we wake up to blue skies and relative warmth. The hostel itself is situated in the village of Liddes and looks down a valley towards a small mountain that picks up the warm glow of the sunrise.
Liddes itself is the classic image of chocolate box quaint. Traditional wooden houses line the main road, which is the route to Italy and the Aosta Valley, and the only two shops are a dairy, selling top grade local cheese, and a small service station with a corner shop.
Our accommodation is a former restaurant which has been converted into a spacious hostel. And although we have come as a family, we get a four bed dorm to ourselves which is warm, comfortable and close to the key amenities.
The kids are having fun sledging and making snow angels in the huge garden while Stefan and I load the van. Then it’s off to the ski resort.
The Pays St Bernard ski region is made up of three small ski areas which are not linked together. With between 15 kms to 20 kms of skiable terrain, they’re not exactly vast, but what they lack in size they make up for in compact fun and being super cheap.
We headed to La Fouly, which is the largest of the ski areas in Pays St Bernard.
At the head of a neighbouring valley, the drive takes us along incredible mountain views and more postcard worthy Swiss villages.
The ski resort is a small three lift affair, with a chairlift taking skiers up onto the mountain and a t-bar drag lift taking you to the top.
At the base, the learner area has the third drag lift. And the entire area sits next to a well placed restaurant serving up warming hot chocolate and fondue. So far, so very Swiss.
My partner and eldest child make the most of the learner slopes with Stefan, who offers four hours of free ski tuition as part of the package with Ski Hostel. In fact the access to the magic carpet section of the learner slopes is totally free, meaning that learners can get their snow legs on without spending a penny!
In addition to this, it’s also relatively quiet, despite being a popular spot for locals.
The learner section also features a button/t-bar lift for those ready to take it up a notch. However you need a ski pass for this section, and my crew opt to stick to the magic carpet and then head to the auberge.
After a lunch time refuel of fondue and coffee, Stefan and I hit the mountain proper.
The first chairlift drops you at the start of a winding tree lined run back down to the base. It’s a little narrow to start with and I’m still getting my snowboard legs back, so I’m slow, to say the least. But once we’re out of the woods (literally) we’re on a steep descent back down to the base which is wide, fast and a lot of fun.
It’s also a grandstand finish, in the sense that the last run is viewable from the cafe, so it’s a fun place to sit and watch people flying down the last run at speed (or sliding on your butt in my case).
Stefan is keen to show me as much of the mountain as possible, so we head to the top via the t-bar. Here we have that beautiful valley view plus a really nice wide run back to the bottom.
Snowboarders often dread the idea of holding onto a t-bar lift for a kilometre or so up a mountain, but this was a relatively smooth ride. It might be because the snow was pretty fresh, or that there isn’t the traffic that you might find at more popular ski resorts. But it’s pretty simple and a pleasure to ride up to the top a few times.
Although La Fouly lacks a snow park for you to try your hand at jumps and rails, this top section of the mountain is actually well suited for some speed and even a few smaller jumps and side hits.
There is also a good variety of routes back to the bottom, including a black run and a yellow section (ungroomed red). So it’s easy to make a day or two of exploring La Fouly.
Although there are three more ski areas available as part of the Pays St Bernard ski pass, we didn’t get to check them out as they were closed while we were there. But with the closest ski resort to the hostel being a 5 minute drive (you can see it on the approach to Liddes), the Ski Hostel location is perfect for both beginners and intermediates.
That said, where did we go skiing and snowboarding for the rest of the week?
Being half an hour to Verbier, we got to enjoy the premium ski experience for a couple of days too. No, this isn’t quite budget skiing in Switzerland, but as the biggest ski resort in the country, and one of the most snow sure, it’s definitely a perk to being based in Liddes.
In fact, from Liddes, you can also head to Aosta in under an hour, Chamonix is just over an hour’s drive, and even Zermatt is just over an hour and a half by car.
“We’re actually perfectly located here. You can ski for CHF20 a day in our local resorts, or head to some of the world’s best ski resorts in well under an hour”, Stefan says. This is a man who clearly loves his job by the way.
“You’ve seen La Fouly is perfect for both learners and experienced skiers, but also the other resorts make it a great way to enjoy skiing in Switzerland for such a low price”.
And, in fact, Stefan is looking to attract another growing audience, the digital nomad.
The rise of the digital nomad has seen fun-seekers cruising around the world looking for the best place to work remotely. And Stefan thinks that Switzerland, and Liddes in particular, are perfect for the laptop worker set.
“People go to Bansko for the whole season to enjoy skiing while working, but the reason Bansko is so popular is because it’s cheap”.
I’ll pause here as Stefan isn’t particularly complimentary about Bansko. But he thinks that the gap in the market for digital snowmads is one that could see Liddes placed firmly on the map.
“We get better snowfall, the infrastructure is better and we’ve got world class resorts on our doorstep.
“And even when you consider that the cost of living in Bulgaria is much cheaper than in Switzerland, the experience here is definitely superior, even in the smaller resorts such as La Fouly”.
Having spent the best part of a week here, I can see his point. Although working with a view of the beach is often seen as the digital nomad dream, I for one love getting a few hours done then hitting the mountain for the afternoon.
The hostel is also well set-up for remote work, with large tables, a great view and fast Wi-Fi. Many of the volunteers working at the hostel are working here while also running their own digital businesses, so it’s clear that the business model and lifestyle are a match.
“We do offer a monthly package for people who want to come and work remotely, and as someone who runs a business from here I can tell you that the work life balance is hard to beat”, says Stefan.
Although the budget Swiss ski trip is cheap by local standards, the truth is that if you’re looking for a cheaper option then you will find it in Bulgaria or even parts of France. Switzerland just isn’t a cheap country to visit.
But when you factor in the fact that Ski Hostel do transfer your group to and from Geneva, offer half-board catering and drop you to your choice of ski resort every day, it is a very affordable option for a premium snowsports location.
In short, it is possible to experience cheap skiing in Switzerland for the whole family from €750 per person.
Want to explore a hidden snow sports gem in Switzerland? Check out Ski-Hostel.com for up to date information.Last updated on Feb 11, 2023
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