Zermatt: Classic week in a classic resort

11th March 2008, by Chris Gill

Well, we certainly racked up the distance in Zermatt: the GPS recorded over 300km. Couple that with the huge vertical, big altitude, fine dining and a charming Alpine resort and it was a pretty good combination for an adventurous bunch of skiers and boarders.

The area may not have had as much snowfall as forecast last week, but we were compensated with lots of blue-sky days to appreciate this classic mountain town at its best and cover all of its varied ski area - including a short rendez-vous with Cervinia, across the border in Italy. Fortunately, those mid-week arctic temperatures were short-lived - but with most of the slopes above the tree-line it can get pretty chilly up there.

One of the most difficult decisions each morning was whether to turn left or right out of the chalet: Zermatt’s two main lift stations are set at either end of town and we were in the middle. It didn’t really matter because once on the slopes, you can now connect all four sectors to give a good end-to-end outing or explore the different terrain that each mountain has to offer.

The new lift in the pretty Findeln valley, serving both sides between Rothorn and Gornergrat, is super efficient, can be ridden both ways and was largely deserted on our visit - but this could be because the section serving the Gornergrat side stops too low to make the best traverse. The higher link at Gant requires a busy cable-car ride to Hohtalli - fabulous for observing the extreme terrain on the Stockhorn - not so fabulous for dumping 125 people at the top to pile down the narrow, red run. After the initial narrow section, an new section continues left towards Gornergrat, eventually meeting the runs from Gifthittli and joining the one that heads back to Riffelberg.

Where the connections work really well is at Furi, the newish gondola to Riffelberg a delight. We repeatedly skied our favourite run of the week here: a lovely, interesting red that follows the railway line in its top section, then sweeps down a sheltered valley, where there are several good restaurants for lunch. Snowmaking helped to keep it open all week, though by our last day small rocks and thinning slush made the descent less pleasant.

Our preferred dining spots were at Findeln though: the sunny village below the Rothorn’s quieter pistes, wonderfully scenic and very relaxing. We enjoyed traditional dishes at Adler’s on our first day then treated ourselves to a ‘last’ lunch at Chez Vrony’s - a cute place beside the gentle blue run from Sunnegga and a WTSS favourite. Judging by the number of skis ‘parked’ outside - it’s popular with most visitors. I don’t normally take a long lunch, but nearly two hours later was only just planning the afternoon’s skiing.

Nothing can quite beat the exhilaration of skiing beneath the Matterhorn though, especially when making the continuous descent from the exposed glacier runs at 3820m to the town at 1620m, all temptingly close to the mountain’s famous Hornli ridge and increasing in difficulty the lower you go. It’s a bit of a trek to get up there, but well worth it on a sunny day. Just when your legs are screaming out to stop for a beer, you tackle a more challenging (and very busy) black run - aptly named the Gunbarrel, which winds its way down a series of narrow ledges to the valley bottom from where you can reach Zermatt’s answer to Tirolean après-ski - the Hennu Stall and it’s welcome cold beer.

I wonder if the fur-clad guests staying at the five-star establishments found their nightly passagiatta (evening stroll through town) as satisfying?  Probably: Zermatt is a great resort for that too. 

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