Skiing the opening weekend in Andermatt

4th November 2021, by Abi Butcher

Skiing for the first time since March 2020: Abi Butcher in Andermatt last weekend

Skiing for the first time since March 2020: Abi Butcher in Andermatt last weekend

Last weekend, I went skiing in Andermatt. There wasn’t much open — one run, to be precise, but after a season without skiing it was MORE than enough. So while it was a bit of hassle negotiating all the Covid rules, to be skiing again before Halloween felt so good.

When the invite from Andermatt came through in September, to join the Swiss resort for its opening weekend at the end of October, I could barely believe my eyes. I’ve not been skiing since March 2020, when I was on a family holiday in Courchevel the day before France locked down. I knew resorts across the northern hemisphere were planning to reopen this winter but after last season, and the way Covid has a way of turning around and biting us in the backside, I didn’t dare trust that they would.

Andermatt uses a technique called snow farming to preserve the previous season’s snow over the summer. Essentially this is piling snow high on its Gemsstock mountain (just under 3000m), covering it with fleece to keep the sun and summer warmth reflected away before unveiling it the following autumn. Dave Watts has written about how Kitzbühel do this (it’s how they start their season early) but I’ve never seen it for myself — and the snow is far nicer than artificial stuff from snow guns.

I ate rösti, drank glühwein and generally filled myself with Swiss fare

Unlike glacier resorts there wasn’t masses open — it’s been a warm autumn and there isn’t snow into the village yet — but a 7km stretch down from the Gemsstock gives us the perfect pre-season warm-up. Call me a ski nerd but I quite like skiing up and down the same run, it helps me work on my technique when I know the slope well. I hadn’t forgotten how to ski (I thought I might have) and while it did take a few runs to get back into the groove, as soon as I’d done my first turn I was grinning from ear to ear.

The first-morning faff was off the scale as our small group got back into our boots (I could barely remember how to buckle them), rented some skis (I couldn’t remember what length I normally use) and found ski passes and the necessary Covid paperwork for using the lifts and eating and drinking on the mountain. To buy a lift pass, go into a restaurant, bar, nightclub and some hotels in Switzerland you have to show a Covid Certificate (you can now use your NHS certificate, but you have to convert it into the Swiss QR code, best done using their app) and ID (passport photo page or driving licence will do). You also have to be masked or have your face covered on transport (ski lifts) and while walking about indoors — and I found carrying skis, wearing ski boots, having my face plastered with sun cream, all while at altitude made for a slightly claustrophobic experience. So take some extra buffs — I used a fresh one every day.

You must show your Covid pass and ID in every Swiss hospitality venue

And for all those wondering whether Covid rules are policed in Switzerland? Yes they are. The mountain is peppered with Covid signs, and it’s weird to see lift operators wearing masks, asking everyone else to pull up their buffs over their noses. The instructions are good-natured but firm — our instructor Pascal warns: “If you’re not wearing your mask on the chairlift, the lift operator will stop the lift and not let you off.”

Masks or face coverings must be worn on ski lifts

Those familiar with Andermatt will know this cult freeride resort, which was a Swiss Army Garisson, has undergone massive development and expansion in recent years. When I first started working for Where to Ski & Snowboard one of my early trips in 2013 was to report on Andermatt’s new link with Sedrun. Back then, the five-star Chedi and Radisson Blu (where we stayed last weekend) were still under construction. Today these hotels are operating slickly, and fully booked most of the year round (Covid permitting) — something sceptics of the development thought impossible. The expansion is about halfway through, with more hotels and apartment accommodation, shops and a big sports complex planned over the next few years. Editor Watts and Editor Gill skied there in February 2020, just before lockdown — you can read their blog here.

There are a couple of big names about to make a splash in this little Swiss resort — Michelin-starred chef Markus Neff has taken over the high mountain restaurant Gütsch and the owners of Verbier’s La Vache restaurant (Dale Roberts, Rob Sawyer, James Blunt, Lawrence Dallaglio and Carl Fogarty) have opened a Pot Luck Club Andermatt and are transforming the hotel above it into La Vache Andermatt. All these businesses planned to open last season, but became victims of the pandemic which forced hospitality to close.

Over winter 2020-21, when Covid restrictions prevented any seated hospitality up the mountain, skiers were eating set menus while standing in the cold on the terrace of the Gütsch — so you’ll have an idea of how popular Markus Neff’s cooking is going to be this winter. We had an amazing meal at the Gütsch on the Saturday night and I can heartily recommend splashing out on a special dinner there; sustainable, local, down-to-earth cooking from the soul.

Sitting in prime position directly opposite the Chedi Hotel, Pot Luck Club Andermatt opened for about a week last season but co-owner Rob Sawyer (former owner of Le Farinet in Verbier) is planning a full season this winter. The team has bought the hotel above the restaurant — currently called Hotel Bergidyll, and is in the process of refurbishing it into La Vache Andermatt. There are two aprés-ski huts on either side of the terrace, the restaurant and lounge has been refurbed, with the rooms to go.

Lawrence Dallaglio, James Blunt, Carl Fogarty and Rob Sawyer are opening La Vache Andermatt

The locals are excited about the opening of La Vache and Pot Luck — so says ski instructor Pascal when we meet for a few drinks to test out the off-season après in the rest of town. And that’s where I’ll end this report, on the aprés. It’s unchanged, in Andermatt at least. You have to show your Covid pass and ID to the bar staff or someone on the door, but then it’s masks off and drinks at the bar as normal. Which is a relief — I’ve been asked several times by my followers on Twitter what aprés might be like and while there won’t be any beer ping-pong in Ischgl, there’s certainly going to be some fun had this winter, both on the slopes and off them.

Read Where to Ski & Snowboard‘s independent review of Andermatt here

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