Skiing perfect pistes in Zermatt

26th January 2013, by Abi Butcher

The Matterhorn is beautiful from wherever you see it: here from Riffelalp

The Matterhorn is beautiful from wherever you see it: here from Riffelalp

Every time I visit the Swiss ski resort of Zermatt, I like it better and better. For a start there is the Matterhorn — which of course I have to photograph several times a day, from several angles, because it never, ever looks the same — then there’s the extensive, good, skiing, really fabulous mountain restaurants, pretty village, romantic Gornergrat mountain train, efficient lift system, lovely hotels, friendly locals…need I go on?

As if to prove a point, my trip there this week was one of the best yet. The cold from last week (see my Klosters blog) had tempered a little, to just -8c, and the sun was out. The pistes were in excellent condition and I stayed in a wonderful, family-run 3*** hotel right near the centre that proved yet again that you don’t have to splash out to enjoy really good Swiss hospitality.

I skied Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and the runs were all in great condition — though some were prone to getting a bit icy in the chilly afternoons, such as the reds down to the village from Trockener Steg and Rothorn. Although I was reliably informed that the yellow off-piste runs from the top of Rothorn were in great condition on Tuesday, I didn’t venture into the powder myself, especially when skiing alone. Though I did pop into the yellows at the bottom of Schwartzee and can say that, unless you love skiing huge bumps, they’re really not worth the effort — the pistes are much nicer.

I arrived in Zermatt on Sunday after taking the Glacier Express from Klosters. I had a lot of work to catch up on, so 7.5 hours on a train seemed like a great idea. The views were breathtaking, we went right up over the Oberalp Pass, which, at 2033m, is the highest point of the trip, and through Andermatt, unbelievably laden with snow. I recommend everyone should do this train journey once if they can.

Here to research the Zermatt chapter in the book, as well as interview local avalanche dog handler Philipp Imboden for a couple of national UK publications, I had a fairly packed itinerary.

Perfect then, that I was staying in the Hotel Continental, tucked away on a quiet street about three minutes’ walk from the station. Half board in this 3*** hotel is CHF135-160pp per night, roughly £92-110 calculated on today’s exchange rate of £1= CHF 1.46. Many of its 36 rooms were renovated in 2009, and have everything you need. Breakfast and dinner are both magnificent — only boiled eggs by way of cooked for breakfast (which is perfect for me) and five courses for dinner, including a glass of wine. I think it’s excellent value and readers should always consider two- and three-star options before writing off a ski resort such as Zermatt for being too expensive.

On the other end of the scale, the magnificent five-star superior Mont Cervin Palace reopened in December after eight months of renovations. I stayed here about five years ago and found it slightly old-fashioned, so I was keen to see how it had changed. In 2013, the hotel is transformed. Each of the elegant, calm rooms is tasteful, modern but Alpine, retaining the feel of the old hotel but definitely appealing to younger tastes. Cherry wood and smoked glass, granite sinks in the bathroom and touch control showers have been used throughout with thoughtful touches such as mini bars placed at eye level so you don’t have to stoop to select a drink (soft drinks are free), and an espresso machine with wide selection of coffee in every room.

The Mont Cervin Palace now has 150 rooms — it lost 15 single rooms in the renovations, enlarging the suites — and a newly refurbished lounge and smokers’ area. The hotel’s Capri restaurant boasts the resort’s only Michelin star, of which managers Karen and Kevin Kunz are quite rightly proud. Booked in for my last night, I can only say that the impeccable service from five years ago is now exceptional. After a night on crisp, heavy cotton sheets and a swim in the Mont Cervin’s huge and immaculate pool, I enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast while reading The Times. How great is my job, I mused.

One more tip — WTSS readers’ favourite mountain restaurant Chez Vrony in the Findeln area has been extended for this season, adding a third floor and new section to the second. Despite the extra 45 seats, you must still book. Zermatt was relatively quiet this week, at the end of January, but Chez Vrony was still full, with many sitting outside in the cold. You have been warned!

Next week, I’m off to the little-known Swiss resort of Anzère and hopefully on to Chamonix with the British Telemark Team.

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