South of Zurich and northeast of Zermatt, the Saas Valley (Saastal) has become world-renowned as a mecca for the youthful and young at heart semi-pro snowboarders. There are three related, but not interconnected ski areas in the valley: Saas-Fee ski area, Saas-Grund Ski area, and Saas-Almagell ski area. While one may not choose to explore more than one of these in a given day, these ski areas combined have 145km of pistes served by 38 lifts. While there is a combined lift pass covering the Saastal region, you would need to take one or more Post Buses from area to area, so you may wish to just get a single area lift pass.
The Saas-Grund ski area has 35km of pistes divided into 6 runs that are served by 7 lifts. Generally, the runs get more challenging as you go up the lifts. For the most challenging runs, you will want to be on the Hohsaas gondola (which closes during poor visibility or avalanche conditions) and come down the Triftgletscher. The maximum vertical could be 1,650m, but the runs on the lower half of the mountain are pretty easy with many traverses. So many, you will be using the runs on the upper half where the maximum vertical is 800m.
It is important to keep in mind that there are plenty of glaciers, cliff, rocks and avalanche zones within these ski areas. Therefore, unless you really know where you are going, you should stick to the marked, groomed pistes. When off-piste, the hazards such as glacial crevasses, rock faces and rocks will most likely not be marked and are extremely hazardous. If you really want to go off-piste, there are many local guides who will gladly share with you their favorite runs - this is highly recommended.
In light of the avalanche hazards, the Saastal ski safety staff takes snow safety very seriously here. As they should with the huge peaks and big snowfall you will find here. Therefore, if you find a lift or piste that is not open at the start of the day, it will most likely not be open that day. Also, if it is snowing heavily in the morning, you may find that lifts start to close early so watch your exits, especially in Saas-Fee.
To reach this area by train, plan to take one of the many international connections to Birg or Visp, which is south of Zurich or southeast of Bern. From Birg or Visp, transfer to the Post Bus heading to Saas-Fee. This bus will make numerous stops along the way in Saas-Grund and in Saas-Fee. Saas-Grund is located about 3km from Saas-Fee Tip: If you are flying into Switzerland and planning to take the train, you may want to look into the Swiss Transfer Ticket (swisstravelsystem.ch) that is an inexpensive way to get round-trip from the airport to one ski area.
If you are looking for a rowdy, Austria-style apres ski scene, this is not the place. For the most part, the Saastal is very family-oriented, and the towns have a significant year-round local population which includes many children. There are a few places in each town that you can find some people celebrating the days runs, but you will most likely not find them dancing on the tables and doing shots. What nightlife can be found, will definitely be found after 11pm.
Note: If you plan to head to Saas-Grund for snowboarding by train, here are two great options offered by the Swiss train system SBB. First, there is the discounted Swiss Transfer Ticket which provides a round-trip train ticket from an airport directly to the town near the ski area, plus 50% off any additional train or bus tickets. Second, there is the Snow-N-Rail ticket which provides a round-trip ticket from anywhere in Switzerland combines with a ski lift pass for as long as you need at a total 20% discount (see: http://www.sbb.ch/snownrail ).
Overall, Saas-Grund is the 17th most popular snowboard & freeride destination of all 68 snowboarding resorts in Switzerland.