Now that I’ve spent a few days in Zermatt, I feel that I am able to write somewhat knowledgeably about ski resorts in the Swiss alps. That, of course, doesn’t mean I ski in the resorts. We’ve been to Villars, Leukerbad, Saas Fee, and Zermatt, but I think I’ve only skied once. Seth and I are more into the snowshoeing/winter hiking side of winter sports. So is Ruben!
I always thought the ski resorts must be like Switzerland Disneyland. I thought they were for tourists only. Yet, I am always surprised by how authentically Swiss they feel. First, the same shops are there that are everywhere else, including the obligatory Migros and Coop. Granted, the supermarkets are open later and there is a glut of expensive sports stores, but there are also dairy shops and butcher shops, lots of bakeries, and lots of restaurants serving Swiss food. I largely think the resort bakeries and restaurants are far superior to their city counterparts, which seems odd given that that the resorts are not exactly rural villages where one would expect to find authentic, home-style cooking or ingredients. I have also come to realize that these resorts have some stable population as well, and not everyone who lives in them works in the tourist industry. The apartment building where we stayed in Zermatt (thanks, Alex!) has full-time residents and a shared laundry room resembling the one in Renens (which, I can’t believe I’m saying, I pine for now). I’m also always surprised to hear that most people around are speaking the language of the place where the resort is located, and all the signs are in that language. So if they are tourists, they are local-ish ones.
These resorts basically feature the essential Switzerland packed into a tiny little city in the mountains, where everyone is clomping about in ski boots and eating incredible amounts of cheese, and where everything is slightly more convenient and expensive than in the cities below. They seem far less fake to me than I would have imagined. I’ve been in mountain villages and countryside villages, and they are basically quieter, smaller versions with one bakery and one restaurant and a Migros with shorter hours than in the cities. On the other hand, I imagine coming on a visit to Switzerland and ONLY staying at one of these resorts. As many people do. And I just know that despite that surprising resort semi-authenticity, they are barely catching a glimpse of Switzerland, and they have nothing for comparison to determine what was fake and what was Swiss. They are missing the quiet, the inconvenience, the timely transportation, the vegetable markets, the rolling fields of cows and sunflowers, the vineyards clinging to the foothills, the realization that almost all stores are chains, the lakes, the bureaucracy, the universal tidiness that is not just for the eyes of visitors. They are missing the small places, where there is nothing in particular to see or do other than observe and have a glass of wine made on the premises. And if all they are doing is rushing down the slopes, they might be missing even more.
When people back home expect that the slopes are the only Switzerland I’ve seen, and then berate me for never skiing, because that’s all anyone they know who has been to Switzerland has ever seen and done, it makes me sad. I know I’m missing something by not skiing, but I feel proud of how much I have tried to learn about and see this place and live as part of it. There is so much more to Switzerland than skiing, cheese, and chocolate. And the resorts are better seen on foot, anyway.
Here’s Zermatt (note the Matterhorn theme):
And here’s some recent scenes from regular life: