In January 2012 the Myslopes.com team visited Zermatt, the beautiful, authentic winter sports mecca in southern Switzerland in the canton of Valais on the border with Italy.
When you are a real "die-hard" winter sports enthousiast, you probably have heard about Zermatt. If not, you might have heard about the main mountain in Switserland, the Matterhorn, also known from the logo of Toblerone chocolate. We couln't have chosen a better time to visit this ski area, a week with a lot of sunshine as well as fresh powder snow.
You can easily fly into Geneva from many different cities in Europe. From Geneva you can take the train to Zermatt or rent a car. Coming by car from Holland, Germany or France the trip by car can be done in one day. Do bare in mind that you have to buy a road 'vignet' for about 30 euro's at the border of Switserland. Also, make sure your car has winter tires and that you have snow chains with you. This is required by law.
When you prefer to take it easy, you can also drive there in two days and spend the night somewhere on the way. There are many different options for this. We chose to sleep in the middle of the Elzas region in France and have a relaxing evening with a glass of wine in the historic town of Colmar. This town has an idillic center with nice old buildings, small canals and nice restaurants with good food and wine. All in all a perfect stop on your way to Zermatt, because the next day there is only 3.5 hours left to drive.
When driving to Zermatt you also have to take train. Going through Switserland, you will pass by the village called Kandersteg. Here, on an altitude of 1176 meters, you drive your car onto a train. This train will take you through a 14 kilomters long tunnel, right through a mountain to Goppenstein, which is located on the other side of Wallis on 1216 meters. The train costs about 25 euro and it is best if you have this money in cash, either in euro or in Swiss Francs in case the card system doesn't work (which is what happened to us). If you don't like trains or tunnels, then you can also take a route by the lake of Geneva passing Montreux. This will take 1.5 hours more, but is nice as well.
In Zermatt, caring for the environment is very important. The town creates it's own energy and has also arranged the ski area in a eco friendly way. For this reason the village is free of cars. This means that you can not drive to your appartment or hotel all the way by car. Down in the valley, in the town called Täsch, there is a large parking area from where you have to take the train and a luggage cart up to Zermatt. When you arrive there, there are electrical taxi's that take you to your accomodation. But don't be afraid, the trip from the parking area up to your hotel is perfectly organized and a nice experience of about 15 minutes through the mountains.
Starting with the first climp of the Matterhorn mountain in 1865, Zermatt quickly became one of the main centers for alpine sports. Since then, the winter and summer tourism, as well as the building of different accomodations has flourished. On the website www.zermatt.ch you can find a diverse offering of private chalets and hotels. Of course much is also bookable through for example Booking.com or other travel sites. Most of the accomodations are really nice and cosy so you don't have to be bored.
Zermatt is a unique village and can not easily be compared with many other ski areas in the Alps. It is authentic, with a nice chalet like building style and large hotels build in Victorian style. You will not find concrete building here, as they don't fit in the natural and historic looks of the village. Unsurprisingly, Zermatt is popular amongst Hollywood stars and the rich and famous. This doesn't mean that we 'normal people'are not welcome here. Because Zermatt is located very close to the 4478 meter high Matterhorn and is surrounded by 38 mountains which are higher than 4000 meter, all accomodations have beautifull views of the mountains that can not be seen elsewhere in the alps in the same way. Compared to many other ski areas, Zermatt is not cheap. For this price however you do get a very nice atmosphere, great views and beautifull accomodations. In most hotels and appartments you will find a ski room where you can leave your own or rented ski equipment.
The ski area
The compete ski area of Zermatt, which includes both Switserland and the Italian Breuil-Cervinia and Valtournenche, has 350 kilometers of diffent types of slopes. The area is mostly build for skiers. There are quite a lot of flat parts in between the slopes, which can be hard for snowboarding. On the other hand, there is a nice fun park for freestylers and boarders. When looking at the ski area, Zermatt holds several records. For example there is the longest descent of Europe, from the top of 3889 meter all the way down to the village on an altitude of 1620 meter. This slope is about 25 kilometers long. You will also find the highest slope on an altitude of 3899 meter.
The largest part of the ski area consists of red slopes, surrounded with black and blue slopes. This doesn't mean that the area is difficult, especially the red slopes in the Italian part are quite flat, wide and well maintained by snow canons. So don't worry, you don't have to be Bode Miller or Lindsey Vonn to get down. One of the nice and quite easy red descents runs by the top of the Matterhorn. This is easily the most beatifull and unique slope of the ski area of Zermatt. To get there, you take the lift to the Trockener Steck and from there the chair lift up. There you go down the red 71 and the red 69 and enjoy the great close up view of this incredible mountain.
When you are a good skier, you will definately have plenty of entertainment in this ski area. On the ski map you can find ski safari's; routes you can take without having to take the same lift twice. And if black descents are not challenging enough for you, there are several yellow slopes available. These are unprepared, very steep descents and there for the really experienced skier or snowboarder. It is safe off-piste skiing, because the slopes are made free from avalances and you can get there taking lifts.
The ski pass
Because of the weak euro (at the time this article was written) and the fact that Switserland isn't the cheapest country for a ski holliday, the ski pass compared to other ski areas in the Alps is a bit more expensive. For a six day pass you pay about 398 Swiss Franc (about 360 euro). For this money you do get an enormously large, nice and well kept ski area with modern lifts, wide slopes and snow guarenteed until the summer. You can even take a subway in the mountain (Sunnega Express) or take the train on the mountain up in stead of the regular free ski bus. Also, all the slopes in the area are connected.
Besides the ski bus you can also take the electrical taxi's to or from the lifts. These taxi's are not free like the busses, but you can share them and cost only 3 francs per person. During rush hour this can be nice because you don't have to wait for a crowded bus. If you are not an experienced skier or when you don't need so much kilometers, you can also conisider to buy a pass of only the Swiss ski area. This still has plenty of slopes, about 190 km. Another option is the so called Wolli pass for 189 Franc.
Restaurants and apres-ski
When looking at restaurants and apres-ski options, Zermatt really differentiates itself from other Swiss ski areas. On both the Swiss as the Italian side, there are plenty of options for good food and drinks. Perhaps it is less wild than apres-ski in Austria, but it has a little more class.
For lunch we went to the restaurant 'Fluhalp' in the Rothorn area. We can really recomment you to try the Bruscetta and the Rösti here. In the connected Murphy's bar you will enjoy Live Music and great views. When you like fish, you can go to the 'Othmars Hütte' in the area called Sunnega Paradise. They serve salmon from Alaska as well as Asian noodels. Do you prefer Italian and terraces at the slopes? Check out the Cervinia at La Grotta, down by the lifts and the village. The atmosphere here is easier with nice Italian sun, cappuchino and pizza. The food is also more affordabe. A pizza will cost about 15 euro here, compared to 30 euro in Switserland.
When you feel like a drink after skiing, there are two places where you can go in your ski outfit to drink a beer or a glass of prosecco: Cervo, at the end of the descent of the Sunnega Paradise. This is a more trendy bar, but very cosy. Do you prefer a more pub-like setting, then you can go to the apres-ski bar in Zermatt village called the Papperla Pub, with live music.
Ski lessons & daycare
There are several ski schools in Zermatt. The traditional Schweizer Ski and Snowboard School offers lessons, but you can also take lessons at the local ski schools' Stoked 'or' Adventure Zermatt'. Would you like back country skiing with an instructor or guide? Take a look at European Snowsport (and ask for the philosopher / instructor Thomas Digby) or at the Zermatt Alpine Centre. Most ski schools also offer child care and kids lessons on the Wolli slopes (baby slope) of Zermatt. Key element in the lessons for kids is that they see it as entertainment and enjoy themselves. This makes sure mom and dad can go skiing or snowboarding feeling assured their little ones are at ease and are having fun.
Zermatt is a fairly large village compared to most ski resort. It has a luxurious and authentic atmosphere that is seen amongst others in its shops. You'll find sportswear, Swiss chocolates, souvenirs and lots of possibilities to buy very expensive watches and jewelry. Small bakeries, shops with skior snowboard clothing and gear and souvenir shops are also in abundance. If you like shopping, then you are in the right place in Zermatt. Want to change you ski boots? Then stop by the store 'Stoked'. There's a professional ski boot fitter, where you can buy custom ski boots and if necessary drop in during your holiday to adjust the boots until they fit perfectly. It's practically impossible to find better fitting shoes in Zermatt.
After you've have had a shower and are ready to continue the evening, there are plenty of good restaurants in Zermatt. It's worth going into the village Zermatt in the evenings with a large selection of great dining, whether this is relatively cheap fastfood at McDonalds or some of Zermatts 5-star hotel cuisine. After Dinner, there is the option of going to 'Papperla Pub' with live music, or clubs such as 'Schneewittchen' or ' Hotel Post'. Most of the clubs attract people 21+, whereas the pubs usually have a crowd that is a bit younger.
Zermatt, for a Family holiday, groups of friends or a Romantic getaway
Zermatt really has something to offer for everyone, and every purpose. You could come here to ski with family and friends just for some incredible skiing, but a crowd that is a bit older could also enjoys the sights, museums, the charming old town centre and can take beautiful long walks. Kids could try their first skiing with the local Mascotte Wolli, and go swimming in the afternoon, while mum and dad are enjoying a massage or head into town for some shopping. More experienced skiers and snowboarders can go on skisafaris, passing through the yellow runs or go off-piste with a ski guide. There are plenty of possibilities for a Romantic dinner, or to go out 'clubbing' all night if thats what you're after.
All in all Zermatt is not a cheap destination, but you it boasts quality in every aspect. Whether it is its skiing, incredible panoramic views or fantastic snow conditions. A winter wonderland, that can be as lively or full of cultural and culinary delight as you want!
More information on Zermatt can be found on: www.zermatt.ch