Zermatt ski holidays…
Thanks in large part to its spectacular location beneath the magnificent Matterhorn, Zermatt is one of the world’s best-known and most-loved ski resorts.
Most people who visit feel special just being in the village, with its pedestrianised streets and the spectacular backdrop of that mighty mountain. The good news is that skiing is as incredible as the view. The inter-connected ski areas above the village form a ski region marketed as the Matterhorn Ski Paradise which has 360km of runs crossing the border to Cervinia in Italy. That’s one of the world’s biggest ski areas. There’s a vast variety of terrain and one of the biggest lift-served verticals in the world opening up superb descents, some more than 10km in length.
Zermatt’s snowsure conditions are another big selling point of a holiday here. The ski lifts climb to the highest lift-accessible point in Europe, a shade under 3,900 metres. The highest lifts serve glacier skiing that’s open 365 days a year – you can’t get much more snow sure than that.
SKIING IN ZERMATT
What to expect…
Although Sunnegga, Gornergrat and Trockener Steg were once separate areas they are now all inter-linked by lifts and runs to create a world-class region with 200km of piste and there are several cross-border connections to Italy, almost doubling the terrain. With such a huge area there's terrain here for all abilities, but good intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders will get the most from the area.
"Zermatt is a large resort with three main sectors – Sunnegga, Gornergrat and Trockener Steg which all have at least 1,500 vertical metres of skiing, each stretching up above 3,000 metres. "
LOCAL SKI AREA - ZERMATT
Zermatt’s local slopes are accessed by a collection of cog railways and gondolas departing from different points in the village.
With a fleet of 10 electric buses connecting the slopes and other key points in the resort at the base, and ski lifts making the connection above Zermatt is a very well-connected resort. This is plenty of ‘beginner-friendly' terrain but it is rather spread out across the different sectors. However, the general consensus is that the Gornergrat, accessed by the historic cog railway from the resort centre (or you can arrive via the fast gondola from Furi) is the best place to start. The Sunnegga sector also has an organised area of nursery slopes and if you fancy heading up to Europe’s highest slopes, some of the runs up on the glacier are wide and gentle too.
For intermediates, as at most big ski regions, the world is your oyster with a vast choice of blue and red graded terrain. These include what is believed to be the world's longest lift-served piste at 25km. Of the many memorable runs here, recommended areas include the descents below Trockener Steg whilst the gondola up to Swartzsee accesses the Stafelalp pistes which takes you under the dramatic north face of the Matterhorn.
Zermatt is a great choice for experts too of course. Challenging black pistes include an often icy descent from Furgg to Furi (usually best tackled later in the day if you don’t want the added challenge of ice). Good freeriding terrain that guides are likely to lead you to include the north face of the Stockhorn and you’ll find particularly good itinerary runs on the Rothorn and descending Schwarzsee.
WIDER SKI AREA - ZERMATT/CERVINIA
Zermatt’s shared ski area with Cervinia is one of Europe's (and thus the worlds) biggest with 360km of slopes.
It's a little different to most of the other big ski areas in that a lot of the terrain is quite spread out over what is a vast area of mountains so it is worth studying the map a little more carefully than you might otherwise. Or better still employing a guide to show you around on the first few days if your budget can stretch to that. That's essential advice though if you're heading off-piste of course.
In fact a version of the regional pass is available which also includes smaller areas a little further away in the Aosta Valley than Cervinia, taking the total skiable to more than 600km, if you invest in that version and are prepared to take a ski bus once you have crossed the border and skied down to the base on the Italian side.
The run down into Cervinia from the Klein Matterhorn, Ventina, is one of the world’s longest and best and was chosen as one of the 50 runs in the best-selling guide book “Powder: The World’s 50 Greatest Ski Runs”. Whilst other skiers will swing right back down on to Zermatt’s slopes you swing left on to glorious wide, high, open slopes and from there there are about 10km of fast cruising slopes below you with a choice of routes, and spectacular Matterhorn views ahead of you (or Monte Cervino as we must now call it having entered Italy). The longest to the village of Valtournenche is 25km long, all on piste, and has a vertical drop in excess of 2300m.
The slopes on the Italian side are generally sunny, snowsure and best suited to intermediates with lots of great long green and blue slopes all well above the treeline. The huge drop in prices in the mountain restaurants is a relief for many too.
There are fairly advanced plans to create lift and piste connections to other Aosta Valley ski areas on the Italian side which will take the region towards the biggest in the world over the next 5 – 10 years. There’s also talk of a connection to neighbouring Saas-Fee on the Swiss side with one of the world's highest gondola lifts, but that is currently looking less certain.
Saas-Fee, along with Chamonix, can be reached by ski touring if you can't wait for that lift to be built, with the famous Haute Route starting here. Heliskiing is also permitted and popular in the wider area.
Min Ski Elevation:
Max Ski Elevation:
Gondolas / Cable Cars:
Approximate transfer times:
- BERN: 2½ Hrs
- geneva: 2½ Hrs
- BASEL: 3¾ Hrs
Like Chamonix, St Anton or St Moritz; Zermatt is one of the world’s true classic ski resorts.
For many it is the world’s greatest with the Matterhorn, arguably the most amazing mountain view on the planet, giving it that edge over all other contenders.
But the resort is special in other ways in which even the most famous competing resorts cannot compare. It has remained car-free, at least in terms of vehicles with an internal combustion engine which must park up well outside the village. But it's wrong to assume that means Zermatt is an entirely tranquil, monastic place. In fact, it is home to hundreds of mostly small electric vehicles, mostly the size of an old-fashioned milk float, which have been built in the village for more than 50 years. So no noisy petrol engines but lots of electric humming – perhaps it's a vision of future streets across the world as electric cars take over.
Perhaps because of the resulting comparative tranquillity, and despite the burgeoning size of its ski area with ever more hi-tech, high-capacity lifts opening in the mountains above, somehow the resort has managed to maintain its traditional village feel. There may be classy restaurants and five star chalets and hotels discreetly located throughout the resort, but turn off the main streets and you'll quickly find yourself walking between ancient wooden barns, raised off the ground to stand above the snow or visit the mountaineers' cemetery to pay respects to the climbers who never left the Matterhorn and you'll soon feel the timelessness of Zermatt. It's no surprise that so many people want to visit here, year-round, skiers or not.
RESTAURANTS & BARS
There are more than 100 restaurants, bars and cafes in Zermatt offering a very wide choice of cuisine.
Whether you are looking for traditional Swiss dishes, sushi, barbecue or even South American there is something for everyone. There is even a special organisation, ‘Taste of Zermatt' which oversees initiatives including local food festivals.
A common theme is lots of outdoor dining, with many of the restaurants having terraces from where you can view the Matterhorn on good weather days. Local specialities, of course, include raclette and fondue served with Valais wine but most restaurants also have vegetarian and vegan options.
Fuchs Bakery and Bistro is a Zermatt institution and a ‘must visit’ during your stay. Originally opened in 1965 it has three locations in downtown Zermatt hand-making fresh break, bakeries and chocolates daily. Specialities include handmade Chocolate Matterhorns and ‘Mountain-Guide Bread’ intended as a tribute to Swiss mountaineers, a sweet fruit bread is made with fresh apples, figs, and nuts to an old family recipe which can be taken away or eaten in the shop with coffee and fine Swiss cheeses.
Another famous Zermatt establishment is Chez Vrony, a mountain restaurant within a small, renovated farmhouse that dates back more than a century. Famed for its traditional recipes, passed down through the generations; and for using locally-sourced organic ingredients in its rustic, but gourmet cuisine, it is also known for excellent service. The icing on the cake are the spectacular Matterhorn views from the terrace.
Zermatt is a true Mecca for mountain foodies with no less than 47 restaurants on the slopes.
These vary from homely, intimate, family-run establishments to large, plush, cafeterias within the lift stations of some of the resort's big gondolas and cable cars. Wherever you go and whichever type of eatery you opt for, the establishments ooze quality and almost all offer magnificent views, often from a sun terrace if the weather is good. Unfortunately, though they're also famed for not being cheap, although holders of the international pass of popping over to Italy for lunch where there are plenty more homely, family-run establishments serving meals (with great coffee) for a fraction of the price.
Saas-Fee has a fairly low key and generally refined apres-ski scene with plenty of relaxed hotel bars to relax in.
Should you be looking for a night on the town there are some livelier options available in Saas Fee. Many are to be found on Gletscherstraße, beginning near the bottom of the slopes. Here venues like Rudi’s Snowbar in the Mistral Hotel has a reputation for good music, drinks and food if you want it, with the option to sit out on the heated terrace above the slopes.
The nearby Skihütte is a little more sophisticated with a great wine list. In the resort centre, the Metro Cocktail Bar often has live music but otherwise, there are music or sports videos on the big screen TVs. It's open to 1 am. If you want to go on later still the Poison night club opens at 10 and stays open until after 3 am.
There are lots of activities available on Zermatt’s mountains that don’t require skis or snowboard on your feet.
There are 70km of cleared winter hiking routes and you can also sign up for snowshoe hikes organised by the skis school. Paragliding is offered down from the peaks and winter mountaineering and ice climbing are also offered. There is also a glacier ice palace to visit up by the Klein Matterhorn, located a 15-metre lift ride down inside the glacier.
Busy year-round, the vast majority of Zermatt's visitors are non-skiers and there are dozens and dozens of things to do.
Just wandering around Zermatt’s streets is pleasant enough. There’s a good range of shops to pop in and out of, and dozens of cafes and bakeries to enjoy a coffee in, all with the mighty Matterhorn above.
Getting up to the mountain peaks is easy for non-skiers and indeed there’s a special ‘Peak Pass’ available to cover lifts up. The Klein Matterhorn, Europe’s highest lift-served point, is a major attraction complete with Glacier Palace to visit. The Gornergrat, accessed from the village centre via Europe’s highest open-air cog railway, and complete with observation platform 3,089m up, is another big draw. There’s a shop and restaurant at the top too and you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Monte Rosa Massif, with the Dufourspitze (highest peak in Switzerland), Gorner Glacier, and of course the Matterhorn.
It’s easy for skiers and non-skiers to meet up at these locations for lunch or just a coffee. There are numerous sports activities available in and around the resort including various toboggan runs (and various types of tobogganing too), sleigh rides, ice climbing, snowshoeing, paragliding, ice skating, curling, 50km of scenic winter walking paths and even indoor golf.
A visit to the Matterhorn Museum Zermatlantis is also well worthwhile and there’s a full programme of organised activities and events each week and through the season including music concerts and guided tours.
WHO IS zermatt SUITABLE FOR?
Here are the highlights...
Zermatt is one of the world's great destinations for advanced skiers with more than 50km of terrain rated either black or ‘yellow' itinerary trails.
Although only five runs are officially rated black, sixty per cent of Zermatt's terrain is graded red, with many skiers feeling that a lot of the reds would be black at some other resorts. Some of the toughest terrain is to be found on the Stockhorn section whilst Schwarzsee, which has tree-skiing below the 2,300m treeline, is also very testing. There are another nine black runs on the Italian side of the mountain. The itinerary runs extend to nearly 38km with 16 different routes to explore on the Zermatt side alone. Off-piste is big in Zermatt with a large mountain guiding operation based here and for the well-heeled, it's possible to go heli-skiing from here. The village also has a long-standing reputation with ski tourers with the option of heading hut to hut to other classic resorts in the Alps.
Zermatt is home to the highest ski lift in Europe and has year-round snowsports on 21km of piste on its Theodul glacier.
Unless the lifts are closed by extreme weather, there’s always skiing here, a claim only one other ski resort on earth can make, and you can’t get much more snow-sure than that. The resort has a good snowfall record receiving an average of 3-4 metres (10-13 feet) of snow each season, and thanks to its altitude most of the snow that falls stays until the late spring thaw after the main ski season is over, except upon the glacier. Artificial snowmaking to build bases and provide back up to Mother Nature in low snowfall years is also extensive. 160 km (that's 80% of the slopes above Zermatt) are covered and for the wider area shared with Cervinia, it's another 80 km giving a total of 240 km or 67% of the international ski area with snowmaking cover.
Zermatt is a large, pedestrianised resort in a breathtakingly beautiful location with a great range of things to do, so it's an excellent choice for groups with non-skiers in the mix.
The resort's gondola, cable cars and mountain railways are a major draw year-round for non-skiers seeking to reach the heights. The lift network also makes it easy for skiers and non-skiers to meet up on the mountain at lunchtime or any time of day. Back in resort window-shopping is a popular pastime on the pedestrianised streets with around 100 shops to browse, just under half of the sports and fashion stores. But there are also jewellers, homeware shops, a book shop and plenty of tempting delicatessens and bakeries. If that's not enough there are dozens of activities to try more in and around the resort, from a visit to the local museum to paragliding from the peaks or from a gentle snowshoe hike to an indoor tennis match. In short, non-skiers won't get bored in Zermatt.
Keep an eye on the weather conditions...
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MAP OF ZERMATT
Find your way…
Here's our map of Zermatt showing you the key hotels and apartments as well as some of the main points of interest.