When you work as a product manager for a tour operator it does mean you get to visit and spend time in the resorts you look after. I’m just back from a tour of several Swiss resorts, which happen to be some of the best, snow sure resorts in Europe. Here’s my account of a few days spent on the slopes of Zermatt as well as exploring what the picturesque resort has to offer.
Before, I tell you about my couple of days in Zermatt. I’m going to dedicate a paragraph to Zermatt’s iconic mountain and then promise not to mention its name again. Zermatt is home to the inspiration of the shape of the Toblerone and probably one of the most famous and iconic mountains in the world, the Matterhorn. It really is spectacular, especially when on my last visit to Zermatt last summer, I had a helicopter ride around the summit before landing on the glacier and the summer ski slopes. The Matterhorn takes pride of place in the resort and also on the slopes, rather than being part of the mountain range its towering sides are framed by the sky and the other surrounding mountains.
Zermatt is a virtually traffic free resort which means the transfer to resort involves a train for the last stretch of the journey. On arrival in resort an electric taxi or if you are lucky enough to be staying in the Hotel Mont Cervin Palace a horse drawn carriage will whisk you away to your accommodation.
I’m in Zermatt for a couple of days and staying in the Hotel Ambassador. As in all the Swiss hotels I’m welcomed by warm, friendly staff. On my first evening I’m invited to eat in the Ambassador’s Chi-Ba-Bou, all you can eat fondue restaurant. I’m a sucker for anything that’s all you can eat, so I graciously accept the invitation.
To start the meal I enjoy a salad chosen from a selection of greenery and other healthy delights from the salad buffet. The waiter sparks 3 fondue burners on my table and then brings over 3 sauce pans and explains their contents and also the slightly bizarre name of the restaurant. The first pan contains hot oil, this is for cooking chunks of ostrich, lamb, beef and king prawns (with or without a beer batter); this is called fondue Chinois and is the ‘Chi’. The second pan contains a white wine fish stock that is ideal for cooking the barramundi, sword fish and salmon; this stock is called bacchus and is the ‘Ba’. The third pan is home to a boullion for cooking thin strips of beef and veal; and, you’ve guessed it, is the ‘Bou’ that makes up the restaurant’s name Chi-Ba-Bou. All the meats and the myriad of sauces I choose my self from the buffet and is washed down with a glass of Pinot Noir from the local Valais region.
Now let’s get to the important question. What’s the skiing like? Now with a 3 to 4 hour window for a spot of skiing I decide to opt for the Matterhorn Ski Safari. For today’s skiing mission I’m on a set of Atomic D2s and I’m taking to the slopes as a lone ranger. The Matterhorn Ski Safari takes you up and down over 10,000 metres of altitude without using the same lift or ski run twice. It takes in all 3 of Zermatt’s skiable mountains and if you’ve got the time it will also take you over to Cervinia and add another 2,500 metres of altitude onto the days skiing. For the Ski Safari and for general skiing in Zermatt starting on the left hand side of the map on Sunnegga and the Rothorn creates a very good linked ski area.
So I take the Sunnegga funicular and continue up to Blauherd, other than a bit of summer skiing and a couple of runs from a holiday I had on the Italian side of the ski area I wasn’t sure what to expect from the skiing in Zermatt. Now I knew that the skiing on the Klein Matterhorn would have good snow and that there were some good long runs to be had. As I was thinking about this vertical drop I realised I was stood at the top of the Rothorn at 3,103 metres and I was just about to descend to Gant at 2,223 metres. This is what makes Zermatt special, long ski runs which are perfect for intermediates wanting to put some skiing miles under their belts.
Moving onto the next mountain, Hohtalli, and onwards to my next destination Riffelalp, I pick up some speed and enjoy another thigh burning 1,000 metre in vertical descent. In the office I’m known as a bit of a train spotter; this is because I also manage our Switzerland summer product which includes some amazing train journeys across the Swiss Alps. From Riffelalp it’s all aboard the Gornergrat train to its summit. The Gornergrat Bahn was the first electric cogwheel train in Switzerland and was finished in 1898 and was an important development in making Zermatt such an important tourist destination.
The journey up the Gornergrat is an absolute must for any Zermatt visitor, if you have a camera the views across to that famous mountain I have promised not to mention will keep your finger clicking away.
Enjoy the views over to the Gornergrat Glacier before another superbly long run down Furi. As you get about halfway you will pass through Riffelburg and then onto Riffelalp. If your skiing with people and time is not so important I recommend stopping in one of the mountain restaurants for a relaxing drink or a bite to eat. I, however do not have the luxury of time on my side and keep pressing on.
Before I finish my skiing story I must tell you about a short book I was recommended. In the summer of 1878 Mark Twain stayed in the Hotel Monta Rosa (it’s still a superb hotel in the centre of Zermatt). During his time in Zermatt he climbed the Riffelburg with an entourage even Mariah Carey would have been proud of. Along the way a number of very funny things occurred, including a donkey accidently biting into a canister of nitro glycerine and instantly freezing and combusting at the same time.
Back to the biggest ski area of Zermatt the Klein Matterhorn Paradise. This is the highest ski area in the Alps and is perfect for the whole range of intermediate skiers. The slopes are wide and are perfect for carving, of which the Atomic D2s were great for. If I was in Zermatt for a week this is certainly where I would spend a good chunk of my time. If you are planning on doing the Matterhorn Safari Cervinia add on, it is from the top of the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise you access the Italian side (don’t forget your passport). There are a number of choices for you run back to resort and yes, they are all long and exhilarating, pure intermediate heaven.
At this point you will have had a good long days skiing but it must be noted that as you get to Furi there are a number of mountain hut restaurants. I fully recommend taking a long lunch for at least one afternoon of your ski holiday as some of these mountain restaurants are superb. Last summer I enjoyed one of the best mixed grills I have ever had and the Daily Telegraph has named two of these mountain huts in a recent article ‘The World’s Top 10 Mountain Restaurants’.
Zermatt is a special resort with a superb ski area. Yes it is one of the most expensive lift passes, but in my opinion it is justifiably so. The main reason being lots of high altitude, long and snow sure runs. It’s one of those resorts that every winter sports enthusiast should go to and I can guarantee you’ll want to go back.
By Richard Sills