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Domain: Matterhorn Ski Paradise (Zermatt, Switzerland and Cervinia/Valtournenche, Italy).
Date: 30/1/05 - 3/2/05
Our holiday: Me and the missus on a flying 4 night, 4 day break while Gran/Grandpa looked after the wee ones.
Website : official website http://www.zermatt.ch
lift company - http://bergbahnen.zermatt.ch
webcams - http://www.snoweye.com/cgi-bin/pagegen3.cgi?page=ch-uppervalais&detail=zermatt
Basics : Zermatt is in the Swiss-German part of the Valais canton, just across the border from Italy. We flew easyjet to Geneva and hired a car (as we were arriving too late for a train). Since Zermatt is car-free (apart from electric vehicles, more later), we parked the car at Taesch and got a taxi up to Zermatt. Airport to hotel took just under 3 hours in total.
Lift system : The Zermatt lift system consists of 3 quite separate areas, Sunegga/Rothorn, Gornergrat and Schwarzsee/Klein Matterhorn. The latter links to the Italian resorts of Cervinia and Valtournenche, but the link is over a very high alpine pass at 3500m so is often closed due to the wind. The lifts are mainly cable cars with some surface lifts and a few newer quad chairs and gondolas. Gornergrat's main access from the village is by a scenic but slow cog railway while Sunnega is accessed via an underground funicular. The 3 areas are not very well linked, although some new lifts are planned to improve this situation somewhat.
The terrain : Klein Matterhorn has a glacier, so mostly gentle with flat bits but snow sure. Further down this area and around Schwarzsee there are some big long reds and some unpisted "downhill runs". which are marked and opened/closed as safety dictates but not patrolled. The descents to the village get a bit crowded/scraped at the end of the day (and that was in great snow conditions) and involve a fair few flat pushing/walking bits so the option of jumping in the gondola to come down from Furi is probably a good one.
Gornergrat has a generally easy area of cruising blues which is awkward to get to without using the aforementioned railway or taking a circuitous route via Rothorn involving up and down cable cars. It's connection to Rothorn involves a glorious, north facing 1000m of vertical down to the junction at Gant via a couple of classic long reds, the Kelle and White Hare, or unpisted routes including Mittelritz and Triftji. The Triftji run forms a big bump field but unfortunately was only barely opening while we were there so not really going yet.
Sunegga/Rothorn has some nice easy blue runs around Blauherd and Findeln plus some super long descents from the top of the Rothorn. The Fluhalp was a particular favourite of ours, a big long red taking a route past the Fluhalp restaurant, more of which later. Runs down to the village are a couple of decent reds through the trees, ending up on the Riedweg road which returns to the Sunegga funicular station or on down to nearer the village centre (but watch out for the pedestrians!).
We were only over in Italy on day 1, but the Cervinia skiing seemed to be big wide cruising pistes, good for letting rip on the run down for an Italian lunch.
The snow : The snow was fantastic, we skied four days. We arrived about a week after a major snowfall in cold conditions so the pistes were all well covered and in good nick. Overnight and the morning of day 2, it snowed, giving about 4-5 inches in the resort and more higher up, probably 8-10 inches of fresh stuff on lee slopes. Absolutely superb skiing from then on.
Off-piste : Opportunities: as much as you want. Since fresh snow fell, I contented myself with the opportunities close to the pistes, the White Hare and Fluhalp in particular, as well as the unpisted runs from Hohtalli down to Gant and on to Findeln. The resort was fairly quiet so easy to get fresh stuff this way for a couple of days. Guides and helicopters available should conditions dictate going further afield.
The resort : Zermatt is a lovely town full of chocolate box chalets, big posh hotels and pretty tasteful, for the most part, appartment blocks. It has a busy main street of shops with numerous bars, restaurants etc. spread out all over town. The resort is about a mile long along the valley with the Klein Matterhorn cable car station at one end and the main railway line to Taesch and the Sunnegga and Gornergrat stations at the other. It's car free, so getting around in ski gear is either by long trudge, electric ski buses or little square electric taxis. The buses are reasonably frequent but can get crowded. Beware the taxis ! You can't hear them coming and they're generally driven by nutters.
Food : On the mountain, we ate at the Fluhalp which has an excellent reputation that it fully lived up to, great food and reasonable value as well. Cervinia is well set up to catch the day trip lunch market for typical Italian food and we also ate at the big self service at Riffelberg (nice plate of charcuterie and pretty decent chips) and a smaller place at Tuftern (hearty soup and bread/cheese/ham). There are loads of other good restaurants with reputations up there with Fluhalp around Findeln, Zum See, etc. Booking is advisable at these, especially if it's too cold to sit outside.
In the resort, there's everything from creperies, rustic Swiss Stuebli , right up to Michelin starred restaurants. Local specialities are the ubiquitous fondues, potato roesti, wuerst, etc. You could end up seriously lardy if you stay for any length of time !
Our best evening meal was up at the Hotel Olympia which is on the Riedweg run/road above the Sunnega station. Its Suntrap bar is a great place to stop for a beer at the end of the day and excellent food too.
Accommodation : We stayed at the 3* BellaVista in a double room with balcony and Matterhorn view, ¬£50 pppn B&B. It's small and family run and was generally excellent. It's also right on the Riedweg run/road back into Zermatt so you can ski back to the door. Breakfasts were a superb buffet, loads of home made yogurts, jams, breads, pastries, honey, cheeses, hams, eggs, etc. The only downside is remembering to leave enough room for lunch. The hotel also does evening meals (except on Wednesday) consisting of fondue nights, grill nights, etc. limited choice but good food, we did the fondue thang in-house.
Costs: For flights, car, petrol, garage, taxis and 4 nights B&B we were approx. ¬£350 each. Dead cheap easyjet flights helped keep this down. The Geneva-Newcastle route is good as the return flight is 9.15pm, meaning we could ski till 3pm and leave bags of time to get back to Geneva on our last day.
Costs in resort are comparable to big French resorts, ie. not cheap, but not desperate either. ~¬£3 for a large beer, ¬£1.50 for smallish glass of wine. A decent dinner with wine not much more than you'd pay here in Edinburgh.
Conclusion: Fantastic skiing, fantastic eating, fantastic scenery, fantastic holiday. We skied ourselves too tired to stay out too late so not sure how lively it gets, but I can't imagine anyone visiting Zermatt could fail to be at least a bit impressed. I can't wait to go back.
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A few pics:
Here comes the sun.
View from our balcony
Top of the White Hare, looking towards Findeln.
Panorama through the trees to the Weisshorn.
Panorama, Matterhorn round to Rothorn.
Me and the Matterhorn await a beer at the Suntrap on the run home.