Skiing in Japan poses quite the conundrum; yes, there’s unbeatable powder and fantastic food – but also expensive direct flights, a lack of high quality hotels and pricey resort costs. Plus, anyone who grew up skiing in Europe will no doubt miss the rustic alpine charm of log cabins and feasting on hearty meat stews, calorie-laden strudels and cockle-warming fondues… all washed down with a glass of schnapps, of course!
The most talked about ski hotel opening this year has come along to solve this (admittedly) first world dilemma. Renowned luxury Asian hotel chain the Chedi has just opened their first European ski hotel in Andermatt, Switzerland, perfectly merging Asian hospitality and hotel standards with the quirks and charms of a traditional ski hotel.
The deal clincher? Flying direct to Zurich with Swiss Air cost me less than flying direct to Niseko with Cathay. What’s more, the overnight flight meant I got an extra day skiing from the same length trip!
So is the Chedi Andermatt a worthy destination for Asia-based skiers looking for European ski charm, but with Asian hospitality standards?
Andermatt, previously a Swiss military base, has been revived by an outside investor who hopes to bring this forgotten mountain town back to life. Over the next ten years, there are plans to revamp the lift system (including one setting off from the Chedi’s back garden) and improve the town’s infrastructure, encouraging new hotels and restaurants to move in; only one year in however, and the resort does fall slightly short. The old part of town is full of charming picture-perfect Alpine buildings, but having not catered to tourists for long, the quality of the restaurant cuisine (whilst hearty and very Swiss) was not the most inspired. Give the resort a few more years and it’s bound to be the next Verbier, but for now, despite Alpine charm, the food and après-ski fall far short of Niseko.
Score: Niseko 1, Andermatt 0 (for now!)
Andermatt’s ski area is comprised of three different regions that will be increasingly connected with modernised lifts. For now though, only 70km of runs have been developed – so adventurous skiers might want to wait until the new lift connections and runs are built. Nevertheless for the more social skier, the range of runs is great with reliable snowfall and picturesque mountain trains to take you between areas. For the true off-pister, the Gemstock Mountain is famed for its unrivalled powder slopes – a true contender for Niseko’s backcountry.
As an on-piste but advanced skier, I enjoyed the skiing but would have got bored if I’d stayed much longer than the weekend – making the resort more suited to intermediate or laidback skiers, along with the powder hounds.
Score: Niseko 1, Andermatt 0.5 (depending on your skiing demands)
This is where the Chedi Andermatt comes into its own, setting a benchmark for ski hotels that will be hard to beat. A sumptuously designed interior houses impressive communal areas, where open fireplaces are surrounded by deep sofas; meanwhile, the bar buzzes on weekends with a fantastic drinks list and of course, more fire pits! The boot room is an extension of the bar, shunning the concrete basement approach and instead doubling as a lounge.
Meanwhile, your ski butler saves you the effort of popping to the hire shop, choosing the perfect skis for your style whilst equipping you with information on the best day’s for skiing and where to grab lunch. Every afternoon, our butler was ready with slippers to soothe our aching feet, whilst our skis were waxed and preened every night. Asian hosting standards had evidently been wonderfully transposed onto these local staff.
The spa is worthy of a trip to the Chedi Andermatt itself! Impressively large, the indoor pool is lined with cosy loungers complete with their own fireplaces, whilst downstairs saunas, steam rooms and a high-tech gym pamper ski-wearied bodies. The spa will be a shining feature come summer too, thanks to an outdoor pool and a world-class hotel golf course.
The restaurant was beautiful and serves up not only hearty local food, but also a wide selection of Asian cuisine. However, considering the price, we found it rather bland and uninspired (especially when compared to the greed-inducing breakfast buffet spread), meaning dining on-site for prolonged stays might prove rather unexciting.
Finally – the rooms! Larger than most Hong Kong apartments, these boast dedicated lounging areas, fireplaces, deep baths, an in-room wine fridge and your own mini iPad controlling your audio, lighting and room service needs. Suffice to say, if I hadn’t left the hotel for the entire trip, I would have been more than satisfied! Hotels of this calibre just don’t exist yet in Niseko – or even most European ski resorts for that matter.
Score: Niseko 0, Andermatt 1
TOTAL: Niseko 2, Andermatt 1.5
The Chedi Andermatt is possibly the world’s most impressive and luxurious ski hotel and won’t fail to meet the demanding standards of any Hong Kong traveller. The only issue is that the resort and ski area will understandably take a while to catch up, as development has only just started. In ten years time, I have no doubt that Andermatt will be the hottest ski destination around – but for now, it’s best suited for those who see skiing as just a part of their trip and are more seeking a world-class hotel to pamper and indulge them.
As for the Niseko comparisons, as a ski fanatic, it couldn’t quite compare – but that isn’t to say the hotel junkie in me wouldn’t return, especially with the ease and cost of flights over there.
Rooms start from HK$4500 per night
The Chedi Andermatt, Gotthardstrasse 4, CH-6490 Andermatt, Switzerland, +41 41 888 74 88, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.chediandermatt.com