Pass sharing connections from Colorado to Switzerland
The Epic Pass can get you onto Verbier; the Ikon Pass works at Matterhorn Zermatt
When Vail Rotarians Edgard Cabanillas and Chris Aubel participate in the prestigious Patrouille des Glaciers ski mountaineering race in May, they will travel from Zermatt to Verbier in Switzerland along a variation of the famous “Haute Route.”
The race traces its origin to World War II, when the Swiss army’s Mountain Brigade 10 used the race to see troops prove their ability to cover the four-day route as a single stage.
Here in Vail, World War II is also directly connected with our mountain town, as its founders were veterans — Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton both served in the war, and Seibert was himself a “ski trooper” for the 10th Mountain Division.
And up near Vail Pass at Copper Mountain, Chuck Froelicher, brother of 10th Mountain Division Sgt. Sangree M. Froelicher, would help found the resort there in the decade that followed Vail’s founding in 1962.
Verbier is Epic
With all this in mind, I have to commend the Epic Pass and Ikon Pass on their selection of resorts in the Swiss Alps to feature ski pass sharing arrangements. If you buy an Epic pass for Vail, you can ski Verbier. If you buy an Ikon pass for Copper, you can ski Zermatt. My wife and I decided to check out both during a visit to Europe to see family in December.
Traveling with small children is never easy, but Switzerland proved to be easier than expected and we were able to ski there together as a family at a much more affordable rate than I would have expected.
The catch with Verbier is you have to stay in one of the roughly 25 properties that participate in the arrangement to receive the ski pass. They have all price ranges, from bare-bones hostel to full Swiss luxury. We chose one in the middle for its location at the bottom of the gondola, rather than midway up the mountain. Getting out on a ski day with the whole family, you don’t want to get stuck watching full cars pass you at a mid station while you wait in line with impatient children.
The Una Lodge was located right at the bottom of the Verbier gondola in Le Châble. The place proved to be perfect for our needs. Built in 2014, it was inspired by a traditional Swiss chalet, but everything inside was new and modern. Owner Tom Waddington, a ski coach by trade, said that when the opportunity arose to create the place, he jumped on it.
“There was certainly Swiss efficiency in the building of it,” he said. “It was a piece of land five years ago.”
He said sustainable concepts were important to him in starting a business in the Swiss Alps. The chalet has numerous solar panels on the roof and used recycled Swiss wood in the construction.
Most of all, “we try to use as little plastic as possible,” Waddington said. And in disposing of what plastic they do see, “we just started using a new recycling company that’s a lot better at disposing of the different plastics.”
While there was green grass outside Una Lodge, atop the mountain the snow was plentiful. Verbier is a mix of different lifts and gondolas running every which way, and it was easy to get a bit confused — in a good way. We were there on St. Nicholas celebration day, when visitors received discounted lift tickets if they wore Santa costumes. The slopes were a sea of red. The après scene was lively, and crowds were friendly to the kids. My son, 3, snowboarded the baby slope while my wife and daughter, 4, ventured off onto the steeper terrain. The runs had a good groom and the “off piste” areas had nice, untracked snow. While I was there, I met several people skinning up the mountain along with whole groups of people training for the Patrouille des Glaciers race. The front-desk person at the hotel said its common to see people in town readying for the race, which becomes the talk of Verbier in the weeks leading up to it. She was excited about that event, along with the Freeride World Tour competition that takes place there in early April.
Zermatt is Ikonic
The drive to Zermatt was beautiful, and upon arriving, we were worried that we would be staying in a windowless underground room in at the Zermatt Budget hotel. But it turns out that the Zermatt Budget is just one part of the Alpen Resort hotel, and as the Alpen Resort was not filled, we received a nice upgrade to a room with an amazing view of the Matterhorn.
My kids had seen both the Matterhorn neighborhood in Vail and the Matterhorn replica at Disneyland, so I was worried that they might not be impressed. But the Matterhorn itself is so awe-inspiring to behold with the naked eye that they, too, were mesmerized and are still talking about it.
Not long after we got there, it started snowing, and the Matterhorn disappeared from view. My kids opted not to ski the Matterhorn Zermatt Bergbahnen resort the next day, as the weather had turned and the hotel itself was such a fun place. There was a big underground pool and spa area, active atmosphere with classrooms of kids taking tests in the evenings, and lots of Americans were there. Our kids loved the wide-open spaces, and they had an incredible spread of options at the free breakfast.
My wife and I were able to sneak away in separate shifts to snowboard, benefiting from the Ikon Pass agreement, and we were both amazed by the Denver International Airport-like tunnel and train ride through the mountain up to the lifts. The runs were nicely groomed, and we were lucky to have some fresh snow on the off-piste areas
And the views up there are as dramatic as they come.