Saas Fe, Switzerland
Aug 13, 2009
Trace a line formed by Maine's State Routes 16, 27, 4, and 142 and you will encircle some of the state's highest mountains. In the southern part of the circle you'll find the long, impressive mass of Saddleback Mountain, from whose summit drop the twisty, wooded trails of Saddleback the ski resort.
Sugarloaf boasts 138 trails, 15 lifts, and a bustling village at the base.
Even on the biggest dump days the place is peaceful: Lift lines barely push four minutes, and locals take leisurely dips into untracked shots all day.
For much of the 20th century, Switzerland’s Saastal Valley was inaccessible to most of the world. But in 1951, when a two-lane road to the village of Saas Fee was completed, skiers caught on fast: Here was access to some of the western Alps’—and Europe’s—most consistent year-round skiing. Today, the village remains car-free, the resort clings to its rustic charm, and the skiing is Swiss premier: miles of intermediate glades and groomers surrounded by endless guided-only glacier skiing.
Must Hit: Race down the Allalin-Rennen, a 6,000-foot leg burner that starts above the Metro Alpin cablecar and passes Panorama and Moräne pistes.
The Stash: From the Mittelallalin, ski double-wide Grand Canyon couloir to Ottmar Hang, a 1,500-foot-long chute below several seracs. Hire a guide to avoid sucker tracks, which could be disasterous.
Quick Tip: Get rescue insurance. A mere $25 gets you a free rescue and a heli ride should the sheisse hit the fan. Buy it at the post office in town.
Powder Day: Head to the sheltered larch forest just off National below the Plattjen World Cup gondola. Later, hire a guide at Mountain Life in town (mountain-life.ch) and ask him or her to take you to the unmarked Mittaghorn glades for 2,500 feet of hidden pow.
Three Days Later: Heli to the summit of 13,000-foot Alphubel Peak for 7,000-foot-long powder veins that pump skiers past a series of cracks and seracs—straight into town.
Park and pipe: Pro rider Fredi Kalbermatten heads to the Weisse Perle below the Längfluh tram to surf the sharp spine created by a glacial moraine. Otherwise, the Snowpark Allalin is Switzerland’s best jib spot.
Backcountry access: Saas Fee’s OB policy is laissez-faire: Leave the ropes and you’re on your own. Hire a guide (who’ll set you up with gear) and bag a 4,000-meter peak like the Allalinhorn, a three-hour climb from the top of the Metro. Descend into the town of Täsch (on the Zermatt side).
Weather: The best storms roll in from the Mediterranean, stack upon the Monte Rosa massif, and pound Saas Fee with maritime moisture. Storms from the west can bring big winds, which scour the glaciers. (snow-forecast.com)
Après: The Volcom crowd heads to the Popcorn Station in the Dom Hotel. And normal folks hit the Gletschergrotte, a rootsy ski-to bar near the base that feels like a Swiss mountain home.
Fuel: Most hotels offer typical Swiss continental breakfast (muesli, croissants, coffee) with lodging, but the Café Sporting has fresh pastries and great European java for your glacier commute.
Up all night: Late night, the scene at Popcorn revs up with DJs and dozens of shakers of shots. Later, try the Alpen Pub or the Vernissage, a cool cosmopolitan lounge with a clientele to match.
Digs: The Ferienart Resort and Spa (ferienart.ch) offers breakfast and dinner with the price of a room. Prices start at $200, but deals including a ski pass are available late in the season (after April 8).