Taking the Public Transport to Ski in Switzerland

When we think of skiing in the Swiss Alps, we normally associate it with the glitz and glamour of Alpine Resorts like Davos and St. Moritz. However, Switzerland is also famous for its punctual trains and great public transport. And as a small mountainous country, it is definitely easier to access the ski resorts around Switzerland via public transport, rather than the hassle of self-driving. With my past experiences using the trains and buses to get to the ski resorts in Switzerland, I would highlight why it is one of the best places to get to your ski resort on the public transport.

The Hauptbahnhof
Zurich Hauptbahnhof

Great Train Stations

It is no doubt that Switzerland is one of the most developed nations and what makes it better is that their cities are usually not too large or too crowded. This means one major central train station in the larger cities are adequate, making it less confusing for first time travellers.

Train station atrium
Lucerne train station

Not only that, the train network is extensive enough that many of the well-known ski resorts have their own train stations. In some cases, there might even be more than one station serving the ski resort, especially when the ski resort encompasses a whole valley. For example, skiers looking to ski at St. Moritz can stop at either the Celerina/Schlarigna stop or the St. Moritz stop that places visitors to the town itself.

Railway station
Railway station at Engelberg-Titlis

Taking the train to ski has an advantage in its own right as well since snowfall does not usually impede train travel as much as road travel. Especially in mountainous Switzerland, some of the alpine roads can be closed during periods of heavy snowfall and tunnels are expensive to cross, so taking the train can become more convenient and efficient.

Train Amenities

Using the public transport when bringing your ski gear can sometimes be an inconvenience for yourself and other passengers. After all skis and snowboards have to be placed under odd-sized and bulky items when being checked in on the plane. Thus it was nice to see some interesting features on the Swiss train carriages. Some of the trains that stops at dedicated train stations with ski resorts like Engelberg Titlis have a ski storage rack with barriers to hold multiple skis and snowboards together while the train is on the move.

Ski racks
Ski storage area in the train

Otherwise, most skiers who takes the train would usually place their gear overhead. Those overhead racks can certainly hold the weight of the gear, and with locals doing them, it makes perfect sense to just follow. Another thing to note is that most train carriages have coat hooks beside the windows. This makes it easy to hang your ski jackets on the side and get comfortable for the ride and minimize inconveniences to fellow passengers.

Snowboards overhead
Snowboards on the overhead storage

Some of the newer trains in the Swiss railway network even has side sills that opens evenly to match the platform so skiers wearing their ski boots need not climb up the steps to get onto the train. The large entryway into the trains with immediately accessible ski storage makes it a joy to use these trains to get to my next ski destination. The video below that I shot to depict my experience was taken on the train traveling between Lucerne and Engelberg Titlis.

Onboard Experience

Most inter-city Swiss trains have been setup with 4 seats to face each other to create a booth. This is the usual configuration in standard Economy class with larger and more private first class carriages available on certain routes. With most journeys lasting barely an hour, I would say these seating arrangements were more than adequate. Seats are also not reserved in most instances.

Standard train carriage
Standard train carriage

Aside from the clean and comfortable seats on the trains, several Swiss trains have been renowned for their views. This includes the Glacier Express trains that runs between Zermatt and St. Moritz, both of which are excellent towns to ski in their own right. These trains have large windows to take advantage of the views that it offers during the journey. While this is more of a sightseeing train that takes nearly half a day, the train that runs between the city of Lucerne and Engelberg has large windows as well since the views are still spectacular.

Glacier Express train
Glacier Express train
Large windows on the train
Large windows on the train

After all people travel to Switzerland for nature views of the mountains and the valleys and without distractions like wifi on the trains, skiers travelling via public transport would just have to occupy the time soaking in the sights along the way.

Ski Destinations and Swiss City Pairs

During my last visit to Switzerland, I used Lucerne as a base where I stayed and skied in 3 different destinations. Here I would try to list some areas covered by the Snow’N’Rail pass, along with indicating which major city guests could start their journey and roughly how long it will take, as well as whether transfers are required.

From Lucerne:

Engelberg Titlis – About 1 hour; Direct Train
Stoos – About 1 hour 20 minutes; Train to Schwyz and Bus
Mythenregion – About 1 hour 20 minutes; Train to Schwyz and Bus
Hasliberg Meiringen – About 1 hour 30 minutes; Train and Bus

From Zurich:

Pizol – About 1 hour; Train to Sargans
Flumserberg – About 1 hour 20 minutes; Train to Unterzerten with Interchange at Ziegelbrücke
Laax/Flims – About 2 hours; Train and Bus to Flims
Arosa Lenzerheide – About 2 hours; Train and Bus to Lenzerheide
Davos – About 2 hours 20 minutes; Train with Interchange at Landquart

From Bern:

Gstaad – About 1 hour 20 minutes; Train to Zweisimmen with Interchange at Spiez
Jungfrau Ski Region – About 1 hour 45 minutes; Train to Wengen with 2 Interchange at Interlaken and Lauterbrunnen
Adelboden/Lenk – About 1 hour 30 minutes; Train to Frutigen with Interchange at Interlaken and Bus to Adelboden

All of the listed ski destinations above can be accessed using the Snow’N’Rail service and some of them are really nice places with great views. Destinations like Gstaad and Davos are even internationally renowned. While many ski areas requires a change of buses, the punctual timing of the trains will mean skiers would disembark and have time to connect to the buses that have been scheduled to leave the train station a few minutes after.

Postbus transfer to Hasliberg
Postbus transfer to Hasliberg

Do note as well that to get to a particular ski area, the train station name might not follow the corresponding ski area. For example, the larger Jungfrau ski area has several train stations, with Wengen being the stop for the larger ski area. Meanwhile skiers could stop at St. Moritz station to ski there, but they could also stop at Celerina which is closer to the cable car and provides access to the other face of the mountain with easy connection to St. Moritz.

Celerina
Celerina station for access to St. Moritz

Train Etiquette Onboard

Riding the public transport in Switzerland does require passengers to be on time since the buses and trains do not wait and leave at the dot. Onboard, passengers are allowed to bring food and drinks and certain train routes might have a dining car, otherwise the distance are usually short enough that most skiers do not really need more than a simple snack and a cup of coffee for the morning trip. The seating arrangement is set for groups so on busy days passengers might need to share the space. Seats by the window tend to have a small ledge or table to place your drinks and snacks while there will be a trash compartment beneath it for your convenience. Though they are meant for smaller pieces of trash.

Older seats
Basic train cabin with booth seating arrangement

On certain routes, there are carriages specially setup for bicycles. During the spring season, there might be bikers who bring them to the ski areas. There are carriages with ski racks and some without, thus skiers could check on the carriage configuration at the train station beforehand. Since there are 2 different classes, they should also check on the validity of their tickets to ensure they are on the right carriage.

Bicycle carriage
Bicycle carriage

It is always good etiquette for skiers to hang their jackets on the hangers and place their skis overhead with boots going under the seat or above if there is no space underneath. Noise inside the cabin is generally kept to a minimum and most passengers would make their way to the carriage foyer if they need to make or receive a phone call.

Skier on the train
Skier on the train

Skiing in Switzerland is so great for travellers in part because of how easy it is to get to their numerous ski areas just by the use of trains and public buses. With the clean facilities and timely departures, it is convenient and allows organized travellers to plan ahead using the SBB website or through Google Maps. Combined with the lower cost of lodging in Swiss cities during the winter time, it might make sense to base yourself in the city and take the public transit to ski every day.

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