Is This The Year? Switzerland’s Zermatt Beckons
Is this year for that ski trip to Switzerland? Then consider Zermatt located in Swiss Valais and dominated by the Matterhorn.
Zermatt claims the longest winter season in the Alps, opening in late Nov. and continuing until early May. The glacier provides summer skiing as well. It’s the largest and highest lying summer skiing region, and used by many national ski teams for training.
“How many ski areas are over 2000 years old? None is the correct answer,” writes Paul Hand in the Blue Book of European Ski Resorts. “But today’s famed year-round resort Zermatt was first settled by farmers that long ago.”
The longest run is from the Klein Matterhorn into town, a total of 8 miles and 7,250 vertical feet. The region has 360 km (about 224 miles) of pistes in three varied ski areas: Sunnegga-Rothorn, Gornergrat-Stockhorn, Schwarzsee and Matterhorn glacier paradise.
All Ability Levels
Beginner, intermediate, and advanced skiers can find terrain suited for their ability levels. Beginners who are up for a few challenges will find the slopes to their liking; intermediates discover long and varied runs, and advanced-expert skiers can enjoy the mogul fields, chutes, and steep gullies. American visitors – as they are virtually anywhere in the major Alps resorts -- will be just fine speaking English, though Zermatt is a German-speaking region.
Snowboarders can find superb open terrain with 2 parks and 2 halfpipes – one at Blauherd, the other between Trockener Steg and Furgg. The Gravity Park freestyle fun park is where many Olympic hopefuls train.
The more daring among us go paragliding or off-piste heli-skiing with an experienced mountain guide. You can also pursue other tamer pastimes like ice climbing, ice-skating, cross country skiing, and curling among other activities. One of the nicest features of Zermatt is its picturesque traffic-free village.
Things to see and do in town include riding the Gomergrat, a cog railway that goes up the mountain to 3089 metres (about 1.9 miles); visiting the Matterhorn Museum in which you find equipment used during the Matterhorn’s first ascent in 1865; visit the Glacier Paradise/Klein Matterhorn, the highest place in Europe, that can be reached by cableway with a viewing platform at 3883 metres (approx. 2.4 miles); and the Village of Findeln is the original Valais settlement.
“From the groomed cruiser to the off-piste cliffs, Zermatt has every type of skiing you could desire. What it also has is the most unique collection of lifts in the skiing world,” says Bob Dever, also writing in the Blue Book. “There are the requisite T-bars, pomas, and double, triple, and quad chairs. There are four-person gondolas and teleferiques that hold dozens of people. There is a surface train that takes you up about 4,000 feet from the town of Zermatt to Gornegrat.
“And, what may be one of the most unusual lifts anywhere, there’s a subway, that runs completely underground and almost straight up inside the mountain.
Getting to Zermatt is convenient, choosing from international flights that arrive at either Zurich or Geneva. Check your luggage and skis directly to Zermatt and board the train. Simple as that. Train travel time from Geneva to Zermatt is 4 hours; and 3 hours from Zurich. Airlines like Swiss, United, Delta, British Airways have regular flights from U.S. to Geneva and Zurich.
Photo: Zermatt Skiing (Switzerland Tourism)