by: Rob - 28th December 2008

  • 5
  • Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Expert
  • 5All-Mtn. Terrain
  • 5Family Friendly
  • 5Aprés Ski
  • Terrain Park
  • Overall Value
Wonderful village, incredible views
None

Full review

Visted Zermatt for the first time this past Thanksgiving, travelling with a ski club from a US military base in Germany. The Hotel. Awesome. Very nice old-world European feel but with modern amenities. Nice spa, with pool, sauna, and steam bath. Food was first rate...soups and desserts a high point. Very nice breakfast buffet, which catered to our American crowd with eggs, bacon, sausage, and ham, in addition to the usual euro-fare of yogurt, cereals, and breads. The Village. Cool town...only accessible by train, no cars in town. Good system of all-electric buses and taxis to get around. No "Aspen smog", a big plus. The Matterhorn dominates the scenery, and you can see it from pretty much anywhere. The morning sun hits the east face of it, and it literally glows. Very nice. Fairly small and easy to get around. Not a place to go shopping for bargains, but if you feel the need to buy a $30,000 Swiss watch, they've got you covered. These people clearly take their timepeices seriously. The Lifts. I've never seen such a broad array of mechanical vertical conveyance. T-bars, chairs, gondolas, trams, underground railroads, above ground railroads....it's quite an adventure getting to the slopes. Takes awhile to figure it all out, but once you do, it's pretty easy, and fun to ride some unusual transport. The main trams can get pretty crowded...nothing like sharing personal space with 140 of your closest friends. But for chairs and gondolas, I never waited at all. Of course, this was early in the season. The big tram stations are all adorned with 30' x 30' ads for Rolex, Breitling, etc, I referred to the midway tram station as "the land of the giant watches." The Mountain(s). The resort is really spread over about three mountains in two countries. The lifts, railroads, etc tie it together pretty well, but if you're not careful, you can get stuck on the Italian side after the lifts close, which means a 200 euro cab ride! Pretty good variety of terrain, both above and below tree line, and some stunning glacier views. There aren't as many "trails" as I would have thought....especially at the upper elevations, there are just a few broad pistes that get intermediates down the mountain. But conditions permitting, you can venture off-piste pretty much anywhere and find much more challenging terrain. This early in the season, you have to watch out for rocks. The Italian side faces south, so it gets more sun. The Actual Skiing. Day 1: Warming up to Spectacular Views. Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, was blue sky and beautiful. Just the tram ride up the mountain was pretty amazing. Warmed up on the major runs on the Italian side. Had lunch at a little restaurant with amazing views, and the visibility was great (pictures forthcoming.). Got a little lost finding my way back down to the town, though...had to ski a closed trail, and then detour for about 3 miles down an access road, past houses and restaurants. Good news was, when I finally had to stop at the edge of town and take my skis off, I realized I was at a bus stop, and the bus pulled up 30 seconds later. I'd rather be lucky than good. Day 2: Hunkering Down. Weather turned poor on Friday, with most of the resort, including the entire Italian side, closed for high winds and poor visibility. Skied anyway, but with only a few pistes open, there wasn't much variety. However, there was a silver lining. The storm that shut down the Italian side had been quietly dumping new snow all day long, paving the way for.... Day 3: Epic. The forecast for Saturday called for a repeat of Friday, so my expectations were low. Wasn't even sure I would ski. But looking out the window at breakfast revealed lots of blue sky. Scampered back to get my gear and caught the first train up to the Rothorn Paradise area. (Underground train, on a 30 degree incline, straight up the mountain!). After connecting via gondola and tram, I stepped off at the top with about 5 other skiers, and the tram operator said "enjoy the run...you're the first of the season.". YES! First tracks and bragging rights for an entire season!! Launched off into for awesome cordorouy, with views across the valley to a huge glacier. After a few runs, bumped into some young folks from our ski club. One guy was skiing Volkel Mantras, the other K2 Apache Recons. Clearly, my kind of people. Both Lieutenants and C-130 co-pilots from Ramstein. Two gals with them, both experienced boarders. They had been skiing together for two days, and had adopted the name "Team Elite", with a great motto: "If you suck, we'll leave you". I gathered a few of their friends had been culled out of the herd the preceding days. I skied a run with them, including a few detours into the powder. At the bottom, I asked if they'd mind if I tagged along, and the twenty-something boarder said "you've proven yourself worthy.". Nice to know this old man can still hang with kids half his age. :). The day just kept getting better...worked our way from one end of the resort to the other, bagging a few off-piste stretches of powder. Once we got over to the Italian side, we found the motherlode...hundred acre expanses of barely touched powder! I was knee-deep in a little bit of heaven. I didn't get any pictures that really do it justice, unfortunately, but it was amazing stuff. Bottom Line: I highly recommend Zermatt. It's a classic Alps destination, and for good reason!
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