Frederik Kalbermatten on the best winter activities in Saas-Fee, Switzerland
How did your childhood 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 you can train at this time of year – and when I was younger they had camps for snowboarders where children could learn to ride the halfpipe. There were always professionals around who gave us advice. I tried this sport around the age of 14 and got hooked; I spent every day of my eight week school vacation on this glacier. Then one thing led to another. I’m lucky I grew up here and it happened.
You have traveled all over the world with your snowboard. What are the most memorable places you’ve seen?
In a typical year, I roamed the glaciers of Saas-Fee from September to Christmas. When the season started in early January, we were going where there was good snowfall – usually Lake Tahoe, California, then to Whistler in Canada and sometimes Japan. In March, I was still going to Alaska, then to Norway. After that I relaxed for a few weeks before leaving for New Zealand in July. My most memorable trips are to Alaska – I’ve been to Valdez and Haines a few times – and northern British Columbia. There is so much nature, great snow and fun terrain for snowboarding. But sometimes it is a bit hard on your body, the jet lag and the snowboarding itself. As I got older I started to spend more time in Saas-Fee.
What is special about the Saas Valley when it comes to winter sports?
After spending a lot of time in other places, I realized that the snow here is special – you can have fresh powder for a long time because the ski resort is at high elevation (between 4,921 feet and 11,811 feet). ), and a little north- oriented. We are also protected from snow and have over 300 sunny days a year. I always say the snow is so good and the trails so steep, it’s like doing a heliboard without a helicopter – just take the elevator.
Other than skiing and snowboarding, what are some great winter adventures travelers can try?
I like splitboard [an activity similar to ski touring, but with a snowboard]. There’s plenty of off-piste skiing too, with high mountain guides taking you up 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 ziplines and suspension bridges to cross a gorge with a guide – it’s a fun Indiana Jones-style 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’m going back!
I live here all year round and there is so much to do in the summer too: hiking, climbing, freshwater swimming, mountain biking and lots of via ferratas. In the evening, at sunset, you have these beautiful colors in the sky. When the last light reaches the peaks, it’s just magic.
Where would you recommend going to immerse yourself in the nature of the region?
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 breathtaking view – the mountains, the glacier. If you’re more experienced, I recommend booking a trip to the Allalinhorn, a 13,212-foot peak, or snowshoeing across the glacier alongside huge ice and crevice features.
You grew up in Saas-Fee, and now you have your own family there. What are some good family experiences that you would recommend?
We have a very good beginners area for skiing and snowboarding. Apart from that, there are toboggan runs, a natural ice rink, snowshoeing in the forests. We also have the Ice Lodge at the top of the resort, which is a spectacular cave inside the glacier.
What inspires you to live among these mountains?
I love that we have White Mountains here all year round – real mountains that go straight up from the villages. And there are so many. The village of Saas-Fee was once called the “Pearl of the Alps”, and it is true. There aren’t many places in the world where you can encounter glaciers up close.