Why we love Zermatt
by Fraser Wilkin, 13th September 2013
Nowhere is perfect, but for us Zermatt comes closer than most to staking a claim as the world’s best ski resort. Here’s why...
Zermatt may no longer be the simple farming community it once was, but it does retain a unique charm and vibrancy that draws a well-heeled international clientele back year after year.
Lined by quirky bars and luxury boutiques, the busy main street is the perfect place for an early evening promenade. Just off the main drag, however, you'll find a maze of narrow streets and back alleys, many with century old wooden barns and chalets. Christmas and New Year are the most magical times to visit - the air is crisp, the light is low and the snow covered streets are a hive of festive activity.
The diversity and beauty of Zermatt’s ski area is second to none. There are three main mountains, each with a distinct character of their own and enough to amuse most levels of skier for days on end. For the most classic (pyramidal) views of the Matterhorn, head for the Sunegga-Rothorn area, home to one of our favourite pistes in the Alps, the Kumme. This wild and beautiful 5km red plunges off the top of the Rothorn, and out of sight of the lift system, before emerging at the bottom of the Patrullarve chair.
The Gornergrat sector is also an intermediate’s paradise, but experts will be drawn to Triftji, home to some of the most epic bumps in the Alps. It can take until February for there to be enough snow to open - such is the rocky nature of the terrain – but for mogul connoisseurs, this is the stuff of dreams.
The largest ski area is Schwarzsee-Klein Matterhorn with its cross border links to Cervinia. The glacier area at the top may be relatively flat, but it is fabulously scenic and offers a much more angular view of the Matterhorn. The snow here is also nearly always in pristine condition – indeed these are the highest pistes in the Alps and it is possible to ski all year round.
From the top of the Klein Matterhorn (3820m) you can ski all the way down to Zermatt in one fell swoop, a descent of 2200m - the biggest on-piste vertical drop in the Alps.
At 3820m (3899m in summer) Zermatt boasts the highest piste in Europe. Not only that, all three of its main ski areas top 3000m with lots of shady north-facing runs and extensive snow-making to boot.
Granted, Zermatt doesn’t have the highest snowfall average in the world, but any snow that does fall tends to stick around, and in the middle to latter part of the season there are few more reliable resorts in the Alps. And just in case nature doesn’t deliver early in the season you always have the glacier to fall back on, with year-round skiing possible on the Klein Matterhorn.
Nothing quite prepares you for your first sight of the world’s most iconic mountain - the Matterhorn. It may not quite be the highest summit in the Alps, but it’s undoubtedly the most beautiful, with a variety of moods and personas, depending on the weather and the angle from which it is viewed. Even without it Zermatt would boast some of the most spectacular scenery in the Alps, with soaring 4000m peaks and dramatic glaciers everywhere you look.
The mountain restaurants:
And then there are the mountain restaurants… simply the best in the Alps. Ok, it helps if you have deep pockets, but for those who take lunching on the mountain seriously, Zermatt is second to none.
One of our favourites is Chez Vrony in the rustic farming hamlet of Findeln. Here you can gaze at the Matterhorn all afternoon from the comfort of your sofa on an immense south-facing terrace. We also love Zum Zee (just below Furi), an equally charming but altogether more sophisticated dining experience.
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