Switzerland has always held a special place in my heart. As a kid, I would visit annually with my family for a week of snowboarding. A privilege, I know! This particular trip was different.
I had flown to Zurich to spend a week with friends before I was due to join my family in Davos for our regular trip. However, after arriving in Zurich at the onset of a Covid variant from a high-risk country, my flights were canceled, and my plans quickly fell apart.
With my snowboards packed and eager to use them, I would find a way to the Alps, come hell or high water. What was meant to be two weeks of skiing had turned into a day trip, but I wasn’t going to let this dampen my spirits.
The Journey on SBB
My journey started at the crack of dawn. I had purchased a train ticket at the Zurich Hauptbahnhof the night before just to ensure I wouldn’t be too rushed in the morning. Trains are pricey in Switzerland, as is everything else. A return journey from Zurich to Davos cost CHF 118, a hefty price I was willing to pay for a day in the snow.
I caught the first IC3 train out of Zurich Hauptbahnhof at 6:38 am, traveling towards Chur. These trains typically leave every 30 minutes. Depending on where you are going, Chur is the main off-shoot into the Eastern Alps, including resorts like St. Moritz and even Livigno in Italy. Most of the passengers on my train were traveling for work purposes.
As a regular on this particular journey, I knew where to find the correct platform and how to navigate the station; however, if it’s your first time visiting the Hauptbahnhof, give yourself extra time to find your way. You know what they say about Swiss time – a train won’t wait for anyone here.
This train trip is always a highlight for me, watching as the scenery changes from a dull wintery city to a dreamlike snowscape.
The train traveled for about one hour until I reached Landquart, where I had a quick 9-minute changeover. Without luggage, this is breezy, but if you’re traveling with ski bags and suitcases, you need to go under the railway lines and make your way to a different platform in a bit of a rush. I then caught the RE24 train at 7:50 am, which travels on narrow tracks through the high alpine landscape.
The views on this train are even more spectacular. I was lucky with my timing. I was at the back end of a few days of heavy snowfall, and the sun was shining – all signs were pointing towards a classic bluebird snow day.
The train winded its way through the snow-covered landscape, passing small villages, chapels, and the odd langlauf (cross-country) skier along the way. I arrived in Davos just before 9 am, with the journey lasting a breezy two hours and twenty minutes.
There are two stations in the town. Usually, I would travel to Davos Platz to get into the center, but for this trip, I hopped off at Davos Dorf, which is the closest station to the mountain I was planning to ride.
The same journey in a car would take you about two hours direct, which only saves you around twenty minutes. A private transfer will cost a lot more and, in my opinion, offers much less impressive views than the train.
Davos in a Nutshell
For a bit of backstory, you can think of Davos as one of Switzerland’s most legendary ski resorts for locals. As the highest city in Switzerland, it might be less charming than the alpine villages of Chamonix and Zermatt, yet it offers an incredibly diverse terrain for skiing.
The skiing paradise caters to all ski and snowboard levels, with over 300 km of pistes spread across six sections in the Grisons Mountains. Parsenn and Jakobshorn are the two biggest and most popular, but a ski pass will also allow you to ski on the Rinerhorn, Pischa, Madrisa, and Schatzalp mountains. Cross-country skiing is big here, too, with over 100 km of trails throughout the region.
Ski Pass Splurge
I walked about five minutes from the train station to a local shop called Parsenn Sports. My plan was to rent a locker and store my backpack in the village, however, the staff were so friendly that they kept my bag behind the counter without charge. After gearing up for my first snowboard in over a year, I strolled across the street to the lift office at Parsenn Promenade. It was all too convenient.
The sun had risen hours before, at around 7:40, but the town was still in the shadow of the towering mountains. Things were quiet, and it was clear that Davos was just waking up. The lifts here open at 8:15 daily, and I reached the lift office just after nine. A ski pass today costs CHF 81 for a day pass and gets progressively more affordable per day if you buy a week or two-week unlimited pass.
There are also half-day passes available, which allow you to go up the mountains either in the morning before 12 pm or after 12 pm until closing. However, these passes aren’t half the price of a normal day pass, so I recommend opting for the full pass.
I chose to ski at Parsenn Mountain, the biggest ski area to the west of the town. This terrain stretches across the Weissfluh and Gotschna mountain peaks, connecting Davos with the neighboring village of Klosters.
When time is on your hands, you can even ski into Klosters and take the train back to Davos for a change of scenery.
All Aboard the Funicular
Once I had secured my ticket, I scanned my pass and waddled my way onto the Parsennbahn funicular, an alpine train that makes its way up the steep mountain incline.
Skiers need to change funiculars at a mid-station, climbing 8743 feet to the peak of the summit. While it’s a bit of a hassle changing trains on the way up, this mid-station comes in handy on your way back into the village, where one can ski halfway down the mountain.
During a good season, you could even ski all the way into the village, but this wasn’t the case for this early December day trip.
Gliding Through the Alps
After being awake for hours, I was finally able to see the sun peek out from the top of the Parsenn Bahn. The soft sunshine covered parts of the mountains while leaving others in dramatic shade.
I’m a confident snowboarder, so I typically hit just about every open run that I possibly can, taking as much advantage of my expensive day passes as possible. Depending on your capability, Parsenn offers tons of terrain for beginner skiers and riders.
Slopes are divided into three categories of difficulty: blue being the easiest, red being moderately easy, and black being advanced. Be sure to check out a piste map before heading up to make sure you don’t find yourself having to take any black runs down.
Since it was still early season, there were no crowds and only a handful of open runs. My favorite blue (easy) runs include Hauptertali, Meierhofertali, and Weissfluhjoch-Parsennhutte, a long and wide trail that leads to a great restaurant. For the more advanced skiers, Kreusweg – Klosters is a long red run that winds its way all the way into Klosters Village.
Peaks and Eats
With only a train croissant and a coffee to keep me going, lunchtime could not have come sooner. Being familiar with the restaurants on the mountain, I chose Mungga Hutte – a cozy and affordable spot – to settle in for a bite. I ordered a hot dog and a classic Caotina hot chocolate (Switzerland’s famous chocolate drink) and sat in the morning sunshine on the terrace, watching the few other skiers swoosh past me.
I headed back to the slopes to get a few more hours in before stopping for a late lunch at Bergrestaurant Hohenweg, at the mid-station overlooking the funicular. One of my favorite mountain-top restaurants, I remember stopping here as a kid for hot chocolate on our way back into the town.
At this stage of the day, the weather suddenly changed. From a sunny bluebird day, a low-hanging cloud engulfed the mountains and turned the sunshine into an eerie darkness.
I was able to watch this dramatic change of weather with a panoramic view of Davos and its surrounding mountains as I sipped my goulash soup.
Initially, I thought this would be my last run, but after an energy-packed lunch, I was buzzing for more. I caught the chairlift back to the high station and did a few more runs.
Catching the Sunset
An hour later, the mist had dispersed into a few dramatic clouds. As the sun began to set and cast shadows onto the slopes, I enjoyed a few windy laps before stopping at the Totalp Bar for a late afternoon boozy hot chocolate. With a gusty windstorm brewing, I was more than happy to spend some time indoors without being ice-blasted.
Just in time to catch one of the last lifts down the mountain (at 4 pm sharp), I made my way back to the front side of Parsenn and down towards Davos. At this point, I was well-fed and exhausted from a day on my feet.
I knew I had a long journey back, so I didn’t spend any time in the city. After collecting my bag from the ski shop and sliding my feet into my comfortable sneakers after hours of constricting snowboard boots, it was time for the journey home.
I walked to the train station with my snowboard in hand, bought a cup of tea from a kiosk at the station, and waited for my train. I watched the sunset from the station around 4:45 pm and hopped on the same train I had come on. Safe to say, I was exhausted and quickly fell asleep on both sections of the train ride.