When it comes to unusual airports in mountainous area, Saanen comes after Sion and before Samedan. You probably don’t know where Saanen is, but you certainly already heard of the nearby town of Gstaad, in the Berner Oberland. The approach to Saanen is unusual because of the surrounding high grounds. The runway length is not an issue as it is an ex-airforce base. Because of the intense VIP activity in Gstaad, you’ll see many turboprops and even some light jets in Saanen.
Saanen is an un-controlled airfield which requires PPR. Practically, you have to call (+41 33 744 40 25) before flying there. The AFIS is almost always active and will inform you about the runway in use… most of time it is runway 26. What makes Saanen a bit tricky is that there is no room to fly a standard pattern. The approach for runway 26 starts with overhead, flying away from the airport on the runway axis…
The “pattern” then includes a right turn above a crest, and a loop around Gstaad, before coming back on final. Do not overfly the town, as there are many VIPs relaxing there. Describing this approach is not easy, so I built a Google Earth picture of it…
The airport plate says that an initiation is recommended, due to the particular approach. The biggest trick is is to manage descent while on the extended base leg, because the runway comes back in sight only on final. The unpublished tip to make it easier is to aim at the white church located right of the threshold. The end of base and begin of final must be flown relatively low over ground to avoid coming high on short final. In summer, intense glider and para-gliders makes the thing even funnier. The good thing is that the AFIS makes a great job at informing aircraft about each other.
Compared to the approach and landing, departing Saanen is really a non-event. The airport has no IFR procedures at all. If you want to file a Y or Z flight plan, a good joining / leaving point is the Fribourg (FRI) VOR, a few miles away on the G5 airway. During my last visit to Saanen, I made this video guide which showing approach and departure.
Saanen is not really a golf destination, but it is great for skiing in the winter, but don’t forget to call before you fly in, it could be that the runway is not clear of snow… During your stay you will have to eat at least one “meringue” with double cream. The best hotel in Gstaad is the “Gstaad Palace“, which is easy to spot while you fly the pattern: it is a square-ish castle with a single tower. You can reserve the cheapest room for 410 CHF per night, but the Penthouse Suite will cost you 9’700 CHF per night.