Traveling through Europe on limited funds doesn't mean that skiing in the Swiss Alps is an impossibility.
Two free publications, available through the Swiss National Tourist Office, offer information to help the budget traveler determine what ski rentals and lift fees will cost, and which resorts offer low-cost accommodations geared to young, international travelers.
"Swiss Youth Hostels" is a detailed map of the country that indicates the locations of and facilities available at 87 international youth hostels in Switzerland. This year, the hostels have been providing men's and women's dormitory accommodations for about $5 to $19 per person per night.
The other publication, "Winter Switzerland 1990/91," provides details on which resorts have hostels, rates for ski lifts and equipment rentals, plus a calendar of events that can help in planning a visit to coincide with special activities, from ski competitions and balloon festivals to winter carnivals. It also includes information on cross-country ski trails--an economical option for budget travelers.
For example, a day of Alpine skiing can cost about $35 for a one-day lift pass to the Engadine region (which includes St. Moritz), and $32 for the ski, boot and pole rental, according to "Winter Switzerland."
But many winter resorts also have cross-country skiing. St. Moritz has about 240 miles of trails. And on March 10, the Engadine region will be host to about 10,000 skiers for its annual cross-country ski marathon.
Even though St. Moritz has a reputation for catering to the elite traveler, it also has a youth hostel with 190 beds available to young travelers for about $15 a night.
And St. Moritz is only one of 14 Swiss resorts that have youth hostels open in winter. The others are Arosa, Chateau d'Oex, Davos, Engelberg, Grindelwald, the Gstaad region, Interlaken, Klosters, Lenzerheide, Meiringen, Pontresina, Saas-Fee and Zermatt.
Swiss youth hostels are open to all guests holding valid international youth hostel membership cards. Although there is no age limit, preference is shown to travelers under 25 during busy periods. Those who are not members of local youth hostel associations will be charged a small fee for an international guest card.
Another advantage to using the youth hostel system is that members have economical dining options. Many Swiss hostels offer breakfast for $7.50 or less. Most hostels also have kitchen facilities that cost about $1.65 per person.
Keep in mind that not all hostels are conveniently located. Thus, it may be a good idea to consult the guidebook "Let's Go: Europe," by Harvard Student Agencies, for comments on specific locations. "Let's Go" is available in many libraries and most retail bookstores. To further pinpoint the locations, "Swiss Youth Hostels" indicates the distance between the hostels and transportation services.
Be prepared for curfews, which are imposed at some hostels, and extra fees sometimes charged on mountain railways. Those traveling on Eurailpasses should find out at the train station in advance of travel whether the mountain train route is included in the Eurailpass system. If not, an extra fee will be charged.
For more information or copies of the free publications, contact the Swiss National Tourist Office, 222 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Suite 1570, El Segundo 90245, (213) 335-5980.