A lovely day on the perfect pistes of Aletsch Arena

20th January 2020, by Chris Gill

Riederalp in the morning sun on Sunday

Riederalp in the morning sun on Sunday

It’s common knowledge that Switzerland is the home of the car-free traditional-style mountain village. Wengen and Mürren have strong links with Britain, Zermatt is famous the world over and next-door Saas-Fee has its own niche, offering exceptionally high skiing. Reideralp, Bettmeralp and Fiescheralp, on the other hand, are unknown.

They make up the area marketed as Aletsch Arena, the name deriving from the staggeringly long Aletschgletscher – Europe’s longest glacier by far – that effectively forms the northern boundary of the ski area and provides picture-postcard views from multiple viewpoints. (Rather better views for skiers than for summer visitors in fact – the glacier looks a bit dirty in summer.)

The tree-line is pretty high – the top of Riederalp is over 2200m

I spent Sunday skiing the area from Bettmeralp, the central village, the most rounded and the easiest to recommend for most people. It’s accessed by cable cars from Betten, down in the Rhône valley – nothing but a railway station, the lift stations and multiple car parks.

I set the scene a bit in a short blog posted on Saturday evening, when cloud obscured the view across the valley. Happily, Sunday dawned clear, and I had an excellent day skiing the whole area with the guidance of Jasmine from the tourist office. Among my discoveries was that the Matterhorn, although visible and instantly recognisable, is quite distant.

Bettmeralp’s central baby slope and chapel

Our tour revealed that the area has something for everyone, particularly families. Most of the skiing is reds, with a very good blue area above Bettmeralp, and the occasional black.

It also revealed that the area deserves its recent award from some survey-based website for the quality of its piste preparation. In stark contrast to the mountains we skied last week in the Grand Massif, there was not a rock to be seen. (The Swiss were making snow even though they didn’t need it. The French last week were not making snow, although they did need it.)

Although the area is very sunny, the altitude helps – Bettmeralp is at 1950m, Fiescheralp at an unusual 2212m – but the downside of that is that the verticals are not huge. Above westerly Riederalp, you get about 400m; above Bettmeralp up to 700m, above easterly Fiescheralp a bit more – much more if you take ski route 80 to Fiesch down at 1050m, or the red that winds down beside the exceptionally long toboggan run to even lower Lax (not to be confused with Laax). These runs aren’t open at present – but there is another respectable toboggan run higher up.

Bettmeralp’s ‘Main Street’ is effectively a piste

It’s a wide mountainside – about 10km side to side – and there are some long, tedious tracks across it linking the high points, including a blue one at altitude so tedious that Jasmine wouldn’t let me near it. These tracks account for quite a bit of the skiing.

The area is claimed to offer over 100km of pistes, and the estimable Christoph Schrahe measured it in 2017 at about 90km. So there might be something like 70km of runs you would actually want to ski. Not bad for an area you’ve never heard of.

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