Where to ski in the summer from Lake Geneva
A lot of people who live in and around Lake Gevena because they can indulge in winter sports, but skiing doesn't have to be for Christmas!
For those seeking a skiing fix or a chance to cool off in the long months between the traditional end of the ski season in our region, here is the inside scoop.
The season typically runs from April, and the start of the new season, mid-December, for the Swiss resorts, with other glacier resorts offering a shorter summer season.
From a distance and ease of access point of view, you can't beat Saas-Fee. A new section of autoroute has been installed along the way to Saas-Fee that cuts out a slow section past a few little villages en route. From Montreux, this cuts the journey down to a cool 1h45m door to door.
If you leave in your ski clothes with your boots in a backpack so you can jump straight out of the car at the other end, you can be at the top and on snow in 40 Minutes from arrival.
Top tip: Like most glaciers, it takes time to reach the ski area. In Saas-Fee, the two cable cars and a funicular train take a little while but give you time to get your boots and kit on.
The lifts are open from 07h30 but only for World Cup Skiing stars (not kidding) and the rest of us mere mortals can go up from 07h45.
The ski area opens until 12 pm, which trust me, at 3500m altitude is more than enough. It'll be firm first thing and then gradually softens off.
There are around 40kms of varied pistes to ski and a fantastic snowpark. There are no pistes for beginners. The glacier gradually opens later the further you go into the autumn.
Not everyone tries to make the trip in one day as I do, an excellent option is to go up the night before and stay in a B&B which can be had for around 80frs a night and then get up refreshed to go skiing. I have a young daughter so I'm usually up early and the journey isn't that much of an issue to me, and I just want to ski and escape the heat.
Zermatt is also another excellent option for summer skiing and is precisely the same travelling distance as Saas-Fee even though it feels like longer. The big issue with Zermatt is the access to the village and then the lifts being located on the other side of town.
Once you arrive at the parking at Tasch, you then have to get a train into Zermatt itself. Once there you'll have to wait for a little train, take a taxi or walk with all of your stuff to the lifts which are accessed from Zermatt Furi.
All of this loses you valuable time on a day trip and makes Zermatt not really viable in a day.
Zermatt is as a village also has more going on than Saas-Fee, so it's a more exciting place to stay for a few days.
In terms of the ski area, the Zermatt lift system drops you over onto the Plateau Rosa glacier which can also be accessed from Cervinia on the Italian side (more on this later). The pistes aren't as interesting as the Saas-Fee ones from a skiing perspective as there are two main pistes that everyone uses. They are steep at the top and then flatten off to a gentle gradient.
There are drag lifts so that you can access all of the runs with relative ease.
You could argue that there is some semi beginner terrain there, but accessing it from Zermatt isn't easy. The area is slightly higher than Saas-Fee and tends to hold up somewhat better in the summer heat.
Now for some alternative glacier skiing destinations that can be reached from Lake Geneva.
These will definitely require an overnight stay, but I must admit that I have done both of these in a day before.
Tignes would be more aimed at those living in Geneva or towards the Geneva end of the Lake.
Tignes is accessed by heading down the White Motorway (which will be less white in summer) and then up through the Vanoise National Park. It's a journey time of around 2h45m, which is why it will be worth an overnight stay.
The glacier is accessed from the Val Claret area of Tignes where you will find a lots of parking.
The journey to the top is one of the shortest in the alps with skiers only needing to catch a ride up the funicular and then the open-top cable car at the top.
The skiing is relatively steep with a limited 20km of piste that reduces as the season moves on. However, the season is short and usually is over by the beginning of August. Due to the hot spring, it closed two weeks early this summer.
Race teams heavily use Tignes, and as such, there are scrums for the lifts early on and a lot of french pushing in/queue jumping. Don't say I didn't warn you. Racers are under pressure to maximize their skiing time in summer conditions, and they don't tend to be too polite.
There is no shortage of accommodation in Tignes you can pick up a variety of different sized and priced apartments with ease. One big plus is that with your accommodation in Tignes you will get a MyTignes pass that gives you free access to SUP, swimming, pedalos, walking lifts and a load more. So there is plenty to do in the afternoons.
I think Cervinia in Italy is a fantastic option for some summer skiing, especially if you add in an overnight stop to sample some real Italian pizza or pasta the night before.
Cervinia is a lovely little village in the shadow of the Matterhorn, and it's interesting to see it from the Italian side as the shape is entirely different!
The same Plateau Rosa is accessed by some very fast bubble lifts and a cable car and goes up right from the center of town. The access to the glacier is much easier than from the Swiss side, and the atmosphere on the Italian side is generally lovely. Everyone seems to be in a great mood and having a good time. The lift prices are much less expensive to access the summer ski area than over on the Swiss side.
The curious thing about Cervinia is how to get to it. From Geneva, it is the same 2h40m that it is also from Montreux, but you go two completely different ways, one through the Mont Blanc tunnel and one through the Grand St Bernard tunnel. Once you are through, the Aosta valley is beautiful and utterly different from the Swiss side.
We often take clients summer skiing. Our clients are people seeking an escape from the heat, those wanting to keep their skiing in tune over the summer or young racers looking to get a jump on the opposition for the upcoming season. We also offer to pick you up and take you to the resort as well as organising passes and accommodation to make it a really unique Swiss summer experience.
I will be back on snow in mid-August which starts my season off, and we will then ski more or less non-stop until April, and we cannot wait. Most of the team get edgy if they are off skis for more than a few months!
See you on the glacier.