A Swiss ski tour north to south Andermatt to Locarno

snow action team 03.02.2020

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 ..

Skiing up on a Swiss Ski Tour north to south from Andermatt to Locarno
Tunnels are quicker, but ski touring is way more rewarding!

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.

There are 152 SAC Huts in the Swiss mountains – hike to them in summer, ski tour in winter and spring © SAC

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.

Skins on, Day 1

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 above Gemstock

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 ..

Inset from the Andermatt trail map – not many ski lifts give you a choice of two glaciers to lap on. But that’s not the mission on this trip

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.

Swiss Ski Tour route day 1 from Andermatt to Rotondo Hut
A cable car ride to Gemsstock then it’s earn your turns for a big Day 1 to Rotondo Hut

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.

Turns you earn are always the sweeter for that

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. 

Passing the Pass, St Gotthard

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.

Swiss Ski Tour route day 2 from Rotondo Hut to Cristallina Hut
Day 2, warming to the task

“Here on the Alpine divide, the weather can change completely within the space of a few metres” says Dani.

Worth a little detour to the peak for the view

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.

Arriving at Cristallina Hut on Swiss Ski Tour from Andermatt to Locarno
The morning’s descents are long forgotten after the 4 hour haul up to Cristallina Hut

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.

Swiss Ski Tour day 3 Cristallina Hut to San Carlo
Day 3 is relatively by far the easiest, heading to the sunshine

To the south, the valleys are lost in the vast Po Valley. The imposing Basodino Glacier silently witnesses our last turns towards the south. 

It may be an easy day, but we start before dawn to catch sunrise on the summit

With our thoughts still in the snow-covered mountains, we soon find our ski boots stepping onto the spring meadows of the Val Bavona.

Last summit

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.

What goes up, comes down ..

 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.
End of north to south Swiss Ski Tour at Locarno
Looking just a tad overdressed off the Post Bus at Locarno, mission accomplished

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