Overview of Zermatt, Switzerland
Written by Greg and Heather Burke
Zermatt's Matterhorn is the iconic pinnacle of the Alps, the 14,692' peak beckons skiers to this popular ski village reached only by train. Zermatt offers unrivaled scenery, romantic Swiss chalets, and the highest elevation skiing with the longest snow season in the Alps - including year round skiing on the glacier. Zermatt is on everyone's list as one of the best places to ski in Europe. In addition to phenomenal scenery and skiing, there are over 50 traditional on-mountain chalets serving lunch. Zermatt village is more of a small city - offering upscale lodging - five-star ski hotels, dining, shopping, and a lively après ski bar scene.
Zermatt Skiing, marketed as "Matterhorn Paradise," is always in the shadows of the famous Matterhorn - but that craggy steep peak is reserved for reverent hikers. Zermatt skiing is vast with over 360 kilometers of marked pistes in four ski regions, Sunnegga/Rothorn, Gornergrat, Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (previously known as Klein Matterhorn), and Matterhorn Cervinia (Italy) all interconnected with amazing lifts - trains, trams, funiculars, gondolas, and chairs. The ski slopes of Zermatt are long, our average vertical was 4,000’ per run! Zermatt has a base elevation 5,314' and a summit of 12,791'.
Zermatt's Sunnegga/Rothorn ski region is the sunny side, accessed via funicular, followed by a chondola to Blauherd then a cable car to the spectacular Rothorn at 10,180'. The Rothorn summit offers a variety of cruising trails and steep yellow (non-prepared) all natural terrain. The Findeln area on your ski down has delightful chalets for lunch including the Adler Hitta.
Zermatt's Gornergrat ski region is reached by the Gornergrat railway - the longest highest train in the Alps for skiers, hit this first thing in the morning for the half hour ride up to the 10,134' peak (or stay at the incredible Kulmhotel at the summit with its own observatory for stargazing - pretty high hotel). Greatly prepared pistes lead you to the Rifflberg ski terrain and the Iglu Dorf village where you can spend the night "chilling" in your igloo. The huge Gant tram takes you to the Stockhorn T-Bar where you can find untouched off-piste powder and exciting all natural terrain.
The Matterhorn Paradise region, the southern end of Zermatt, is reached by a beautiful four section Schwarzsee gondola, from here you can continue on to the Klein Matterhorn - on the highest cable car in the world that enters this steep peak via a tunnel at 12,791'. From atop the Klein Matterhorn, you can ski an 8 mile run into Zermatt village, for an amazing 7,477' vertical. A new six-passenger lift is added to Schwartzee's north face terrain for 2016 winter.
From the Klein Matterhorn, stay left across the Mont Rosa Plateau to enter Cervinia Italy - no passport required, but it is suggested to do this on a clear non-windy day as the terrain is vast and you don't want to get stuck in Italy. Cervinia offers fantastic trail skiing that's gentler and more wide open terrain, and excellent Italian mountain restaurants for lunch like Chalet Etoile. Cervinia's base area offers none of the charms of Zermatt, just a large condo complex. Zermatt and Cervinia both have limitless off piste ski opportunities, hire a ski guide to do this safely.
The village of Zermatt has grown from a quaint Swiss village to a mountain metro (there is even a McDonalds) hosting over 2 million overnight stays a year. Visitors and residents are primarily Swiss, with Germans, Italian, and Japanese next. Everyone speaks German Swiss and most know English, but signs are quadrilingual - German, French, Italian and English.
Arrive in Zermatt by Train (which run with Swiss precision) from Geneva or Zurich airports. Zermatt has no cars, just electric shuttles, and buses throughout the town full of beautiful chalets, shops, restaurants and rather chic hotels. Along with pride in their ski terrain, Zermatt après ski is a big tradition, starting at lunch and going well into the night. Skiers may still be dancing in their ski boots at dark at one of five Post Hotel bars.
Lodging in Zermatt is plentiful, Zermatt has over 120 fine ski hotels (18,000 beds when you include private chalets and apartments), all walking distance to the ski lifts, shops, après ski bars and Zermatt's best restaurants. We stayed at The Hotel Alex in Zermatt - a four-star ski hotel with ornate Swiss décor, conveniently located a block from the train station and the Gornergrat ski train.
Other top Zermatt hotels worth mentioning include the historic Hotel Monte Rosa, Mont Cervin Palace, Grand Hotel Zermatterhof, or the unique Riffelalp Resort high above town reached by Gornergrat train. The Suitenhotel Zurbriggen Zermatt is a minimalist style hotel and spa, owned by famed Swiss ski racer Pirmin Zurbriggen. Another top new hotel is the Cervo, deer in Italian, this very chic chalet at the base of the Sunnegga slopes features modern alpine décor with a view overlooking the town and a convenient elevator down to the Zermatt village. Arrive here for après ski on the great sun terrace at the end of your ski day. Their cheeseburgers and truffle fries sprinkled with parmesan is a perfect après ski decadence.
The Matterhorn of Zermatt remains the focal point at every turn as you ski Zermatt – the most photographed mountain in the world. The first hiker to the summit was Edward Whymper in 1865. Today you must have a guide to hike the Matterhorn, at the cost of $2,000+ Swiss francs, with no guarantees. Over 450 hikers have died on their attempt - The Matterhorn graveyard is an attraction and testament. Instead of hiking, we prefer the swift lift service to the beautiful snowy sunny ski trails of Zermatt!
When you arrive by train, into a valley without cars, under the Matterhorn in morning light, you feel inspired to ski, as skiing was meant to be.
Whether you ride the téléphérique or take thé train (To different peaks), you wonder how vast these mountains actually are.
And they are vast; the Klein Matterhorn has a vertical drop of over 5,000 feet!
If you have a chance, and you are assured of stable weather, drop down into Cervinia, Italy, for lunch, knowing that, if the weather turns and those summit lifts are closed, you may either hike back, or take a very expensive international taxi ride to your hotel.
I've spent a total of 16 days skiing there, up until 8 years ago.
How good is it?
I would retire there.
Zermatt is one of Switzerland’s best resorts, very close to Verbier but on the Swiss-German speaking side of the mountains. They have great terrain and a world class ski school. You can even ski down to Italy for lunch and be back for dinner.