A Swiss ski tour is special anywhere. There is just so much choice! The Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) has been pioneering and researching mountain routes for alpinists, hikers and skiers since 1863, and they are still finding new ones.
Crossing the Swiss Alps has been a big deal for a lot longer than that of course. With elephants, a-la-Hannibal. With the Legions, a-la-the-Romans. With your knights, a-la-mediaeval times. Or by car, a-la-last century.
Amazing tunnel technology has more recently made it possible to burrow through, rather than go over, the Alps. Convenient, a timesaver, but where’s the fun in that?
This Swiss Ski Tour north to south from Andermatt to Locarno is a much better way of crossing the Alps ..
The Swiss Alpine Club Mountain Huts network
Over the millennia some lessons have been learned about mountain travel, not least the importance of shelters in the mountains. These have progressed a long way, from basic emergency refuges to today’s SAC network of 152 mountain refuges offering 9,000 beds.
Nowadays in many of the newer huts small bedrooms are available, in some cases even showers. In the serviced huts, the warden and their team offer tasty 3- to 4-course dinners and a balanced breakfast.
About three-quarters of the 150 SAC huts have a full-time or part-time warden in the summer season, whereas in the ski touring season, in late winter or spring, about half of the huts have wardens.
All huts are usually always accessible, since each hut serves also as emergency accommodation and has a shelter room. From large and easily accessible modern mountain houses, to self-catering cabins with simple furnishings, to the remote, Spartan bivouac, all kinds of accommodation can be found in SAC huts.
The average price for a night including dinner and breakfast is about CHF 70 per adult (about CHF 60 for members of the Alpine Club). Early reservation of beds is highly recommended – check the club links here for more info on that.
Just heading out for a night to two as part of a resort based snow holiday is perfectly feasible, but planning longer routes with guides is really the ultimate way to do it.
A ski tour from Andermatt to Locarno
Alpinist and guide Dani Arnold is quite a legend in mountain circles already, holder of various climbing records and author of he took a group from Andermatt to Locarno which makes a great illustration of the options available to you. Story & images © Swiss Tourism.
Day 1: From Andermatt to Rotondo Hut
Andermatt is a magic resort, a stand out even among so many outstanding Swiss ski areas. The shape of Gemsstock is spectacular – a lone dominant peak with two lift accessed glaciers spilling off the top. Very tempting to just stay and lap them, but this is an earn-your-turns story ..
Gemsstock, 2,961m Peaks, couloirs and deep-snow slopes extend as far as the eye can see. Our destination – the Piazza Grande in Locarno – light-years away. Dani Arnold propels us onwards. The mountaineer and mountain guide, born in the canton of Uri, is leading us from north to south, through the heart of the Alps.
Our first turns through the snow make us focus on the task at hand and give us a boost for the ascent to Gloggentürmli. The Gotthard Tunnel lies 1,800m under our feet. Cars and trains speed through the tunnel, crossing the Alpine region in a matter of minutes. It’s a surreal thought from up here in the snow-clad mountains.
But the tracks that we are leaving in the deep snow leading down to the Gotthard Pass are real enough. And deep is the word: the mountain pass road is covered in metres of the white stuff.
With Pizzo Lucendro in sight, we summon up every last reserve of energy for the next ascent. And as we drive into the depths once again, the snow is bathed in late-afternoon light. An evening beer on the Rotondo hut terrace takes some beating.
Day 2: From Rotondo hut to Cristallina hut
As we step out of the hut and into the first light of dawn, we are greeted with some impressive weather conditions. We are right on the meteorological border here. Clouds rush up the valley from the north and encircle the peaks, only to be blown away again by wind from the south. Time to head south.
“Here on the Alpine divide, the weather can change completely within the space of a few metres” says Dani.
We quickly reach the Rotondo Pass; the Pizzo Rotondo beckons but we decide to save this mountain for another day. Perfect spring snow gives us a morning rush of speed down to the Val Bedretto. Our final swing drops us right outside Ristorante All’Acqua, where a Ticino platter and soup await. We need this fortification: a four-hour ascent lies between us and our beds for the night.
The Cristallina hut heralds our arrival on the southern side of the Alps – on a cultural level as well as a geographical one. Emanuele, the hut warden, serves a Ticino Merlot with dinner. The social scene is lively and he won’t let us turn in for the night until we’ve had a grappa with him.
Day 3: From Cristallina Hut to San Carlo
The next day is our last stage. By sunrise we are already sitting on the Cima di Lago – surrounded by the prominent peaks of the Valais Alps, striking Central Switzerland peaks and countless Graubünden peaks too.
To the south, the valleys are lost in the vast Po Valley. The imposing Basodino Glacier silently witnesses our last turns towards the south.
With our thoughts still in the snow-covered mountains, we soon find our ski boots stepping onto the spring meadows of the Val Bavona.
As we disembark from the Post Bus in Locarno (with a Swiss Travel System Pass you can ride buses, trains, lake steamers and many cable cars and lifts too), Andermatt could not feel further away. Our eyes wander over Lake Maggiore. The mountain peaks glisten with snow.
The stats are impressive:
- 38,4 kilometers of distance have to be walked.
- 3789 meters of ascent have to be managed.
- 4833 meters downhill reward all of your efforts.
Swiss Ski Tour contacts / more info
The two keys to successful Swiss ski tours, north to south, east to west or wherever, are planning and guides.
For SAC hut bookings go to their site here
For Swiss Mountain Guides try Mammut Alpine School
For Swiss travel info and ideas My Switzerland