Going Euro: Andermatt

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Going Euro, Feb 2005

Top elevation:

9,721 feet

Vertical drop:

4,974 feet

Marked trails:

435 miles

Population:

1,319

Six-day ski pass:

$188

More info:

+41-41-887-14-54; andermatt.ch

The Resort:

Nestled at the crossroads of three major Alpine passes-St. Gotthard, Oberalp, and Furka-tiny Andermatt was once a place of such strategic importance that even neutral Switzerland took precautions to defend it. World War II-era bunkers hide everywhere in its expansive, treeless valleys, and Swiss troops have come here for decades to train in the art of mountain warfare. Drop onto one of the glaciers below 9,721-foot Gemsstock and you pass soldiers in groups of 20, floundering in the deep snow with skinny skis and camouflage packs. Aside from a cadre of ski bums who've made Andermatt the Alps' newest off-piste destination, foreigners are damn scarce-perhaps because military officers once monopolized so many of its handful of hotel rooms. Powder, on the other hand, has never been scarce: Storms hit Andermatt from all sides, consistently blanketing it in Switzerland's deepest fluff.

On-Piste:

Andermatt native Bernhard Russi-an Olympic gold medalist and downhill-course designer-has left a mark on his home mountain. His namesake run snakes two and a half miles down the middle of the Gurschen Glacier, letting you drop 2,788 vertical feet at skinsuit speeds.

Off-Piste:

Three broad, open, and endless valleys-Felsental, Unteralp, and Guspis-are all accessible from the Gemsstock tram. The latter two are best explored with a guide from Bergschule Uri (bergschule-uri.ch). The fall line gullies of Gallierie-a locals' secret-drop to the cross-country track from the Winterhorn T-bar.

Aprés:

True to its off-the-map reputation, Andermatt is more about skiing than partying. Have a beer at the Hotel Aurora's sidewalk café or in the rustic Restaurant Ochsen-both are downtown. After dark, head to the Café-Bar Gotthard, a smoky and crowded joint that hosts out-of-town bands of every ilk. Past favorites include eerie female Swedish crooners who sing solely in robotic English.

Shelter: Andermatt's cheapest lodging is in private apartments; Gotthard-Homes (andermatt.ch/gotthard-homes) has two- to six-person options starting at $30 a night. The three-star Kronen Hotel (from $65; kronenhotel.ch), run by friendly Astrid and Andreas Gerber, is right on Andermatt's main street.

The Tip: The slices at Spycher Pizza are said to be the best within a hundred kilometers-no small feat when Italy's only 20 clicks away. Most of the young staff is English-speaking, and they make a mean panini with prosciutto crudo (cured raw ham), tomatoes, and fresh bread.