Frederik Kalbermatten on the best winter activities in Saas-Fee, Switzerland

The Swiss snowboarder, who competed in the men's halfpipe event at the 2006 Winter Olympics, tells us why the holiday region of Saas-Fee/Saastal, where he grew up, remains his favourite winter playground.

The Swiss skiing resort of Saas-Fee/Saastal is enveloped by 18 13,000ft-plus peaks, 90 miles of pistes and the glistening Fee Glacier.

Photograph by Saastal Tourismus AG/AMARCSTER MEDIA
By Saa-Fee/Saastal Tourism
Published 30 Oct 2021, 16:00 BST, Updated 29 Nov 2021, 15:44 GMT

Located in the Saas Valley of the Valais Alps, the car-free village of Saas-Fee is a magnet for high-altitude lovers. It’s enveloped by 18 13,000ft-plus peaks, 90 miles of pistes and the glistening Fee Glacier — and with that comes adventure in spades, from skiing and snowboarding to snowshoe walking, ski touring and more. Olympic snowboarder Frederik Kalbermatten, who grew up on these slopes, tells us what makes the area special, and how best to explore it.  

Snowboarder Frederik Kalbermatten.

Photograph by Frederik Kalbermatten

How did growing up in Saas-Fee lead you to become a professional snowboarder?
Saas-Fee has a glacier for summer skiing — athletes come here because it’s one of the few places where you can train at that time of year — and back when I was younger, they had camps for snowboarders where kids could learn how to halfpipe. There were always professionals around who’d give us tips. I tried this sport when I was around 14 and got hooked; I spent every day of my eight-week school holiday on that glacier. Then, one thing led to another. I’m lucky I grew up here and this happened.

You’ve travelled all over the world with your snowboard. What are some of the most memorable places you’ve seen?
During a typical year, I’d ride the glaciers in Saas-Fee from September until Christmas. When the season began in early January, we’d go wherever there was good snowfall — usually, from Lake Tahoe, California, then up to Whistler in Canada and sometimes Japan. In March, I’d always go to Alaska, then Norway. After that, I’d chill for a couple of weeks before heading to New Zealand in July. My most memorable trips are the ones to Alaska — I went to Valdez and Haines a couple of times — and northern British Columbia. There’s so much nature, good snow and fun terrain for snowboarding. But it’s a little hard on your body sometimes, the jet lag and snowboarding itself. As I got older, I started spending more time in Saas-Fee.

What’s special about the Saas Valley when it comes to winter sports?
After spending a lot of time in other places, I realised the snow here is special — you can have fresh powder for a long time because the ski resort is at high altitude (between 4,921ft and 11,811ft), and a little bit north-facing. We are also snow secure and have more than 300 sunny days a year. I always say the snow is so good, and the runs so steep, it's like heliboarding without a helicopter — you just take the lift up.

Other than skiing and snowboarding, what are some great winter adventures travellers can try?
I like to splitboard [an activity similar to ski touring, but with a snowboard]. There’s also a lot of off-piste skiing, with high mountain guides who will take you to the glacier, as well as groomed winter hiking trails — walks through magical forests all covered in snow. For something unusual, you can try an activity called Alpine Canyon, using zip-lines and suspension bridges to traverse a gorge with a guide — it’s a fun, Indiana Jones-like adventure. The Saas Valley is a huge playground; it’s like a Disneyland for adventure, but I’m home for lunch. And after lunch, I go again!

I live here all year and there’s so much stuff to do in summer, too — hiking, climbing, swimming in fresh water, mountain biking and many via ferratas. In the evening, as the sun sets, you have these beautiful colours in the sky. When the last light hits the peaks, it's just magical.

Where would you recommend going to get immersed in the area’s nature? 
I always say that going up to Saas-Grund (part of the Saas Valley) is like skiing with a TV screen in front of you. It's just a stunning view — the mountains, the glacier. If you’re more experienced, I’d recommend booking a tour up to the Allalinhorn, a 13,212ft peak, or traversing the glacier with snowshoes next to huge ice features and crevices.

You grew up in Saas-Fee, and now you have a family of your own there. What are some great family experiences you’d recommend? 
We have a really good beginner area for skiing and snowboarding. Other than that, there are sledding trails, a natural ice-skating rink, snowshoe walks in the forests. We also have the Ice Pavilion on top of the resort, which is a spectacular cave inside the glacier.

What inspires you about living among these mountains?
I love that we have mountains here that are white throughout the whole year — real mountains that go straight up from the villages. And there are so many of them. The village of Saas-Fee used to be called the ‘Pearl of the Alps,’ and it's true. There aren't many places in the world where you can meet glaciers up close.

Saas-Fee has a glacier for summer skiing, making it a popular destination for athletes in the warmer months. 

Photograph by Saastal Tourismus AG/Puzzle Media

Essentials

The Saas Valley (Saastal) includes four municipalities: Saas-Fee (the largest and highest community at 5,900ft above sea), Saas-Grund, Saas-Almagell and Saas-Balen. Saas-Fee is car-free, but there’s a large car park at the entrance of the village and electric taxis are available to drive visitors to their accommodation.

For more information about the snow magic package (including four to seven nights in a hotel or apartment plus ski pass pass) head to saas-fee.ch

Published in the National Geographic Traveller (UK) Winter Sports 2021 guide

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