Visted Zermatt for the first time this past Thanksgiving, travelling with a ski club from a US military base in Germany.
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.
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
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 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
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!