Saas-Fee, dubbed the ‘Pearl of the Alps’, lives up to its touristic tag. Situated nearly 3,000m down Switzerland’s highest mountain, the mighty 4,545m Dom. This village oozes with chocolate-box charm. Yet as a resort, the place has its share of critics, who regard the ski area too small, the village quite cold and would prefer to be vacationing in its more popular neighbour, Zermatt.
Having just 100km of piste, and vast crevasses to catch anyone straying too far from the marked ski trails, Saas-Fee’s skiing is seriously limited for a ‘big-league’ resort; and the ring of mighty peaks that encircle it mean the village doesn’t really warm up until spring time. But while Zermatt has become into something of an alpine theme park, Saas-Fee’s limitations have granted it to hold its traditional character, featuring cozy restaurants and hotels on the main street blended with rustic 17th-century barns, hanging a couple of feet off the ground to keep the rats from getting in. The barns are now empty and the rats are long gone, but they have left behind one of the most appealing ski resorts in Europe, let alone some of its most snowsure slopes.
The glaciers that surround Saas-Fee mean the primary ski area, which ascends from the village up to a breathtaking 3,500m at the top of Allalin, is rather long and very thin, with pistes threading their way beside a dramatic high-alpine landscape of crevasses. But having a guaranteed snow, a vertical drop of 1,700m, great snowboard facilities and some of the most stunning scenery in the Alps, there’s enough to entertain most standards for a week.
Bashful skiing beginners have some excellent nursery slopes at the border of the village, a walking distance from a warming gluhwein among the several bars that line the snowfront. But anybody will opt to go for the heights. Main mountain access is via the queue-busting Alpin Express gondola/cable-car hybrid, which takes skiers up to Felskinn at 3,000m. From here, there are some adorable sweeping reds going back down the village, or take the chance to go even higher and break three world records while you’re at it.