For the past few years I have been going skiing with my father to Zermatt, Switzerland. When it comes to the time to book our holiday, every year we say “shall we try somewhere different?” and every year we end up going back. The reason for that is not simply that we are stuck in our ways; there genuinely are no other ski resorts that come even close to offering what Zermatt does, both in terms of skiing variety and adventure, and also in terms of the food, the people and the stunning views of the valley and, of course, the mountain that stands pride of place above the town: the Matterhorn.
I rarely come across any sights on my travels that come even close to beating the beauty of the Matterhorn, bathed in sunlight, glistening with snow and shimmering glaciers. I never fail to be amazed and filled with awe when the clouds part and there it is, basking in the glow of the alpine sun.
Zermatt is perfect for any serious skiers out there, but also very good for intermediates. If you are a beginner, I would recommend going to the 3 Valleys or other French resorts before Zermatt; the only way to ski down to the town from the mountain is via either winding red runs through tall pine trees or a steep black run from Furi that becomes treacherously icy in the afternoons. Coincidently, this is actually one of my favourite runs…you can probably tell from that that I am one of the more serious skiers!
My idea of a good skiing day is being up for the first lift at 08:30, stopping for a steaming mug of hot chocolate circa 11am, snacking on marmite sandwiches and raisins, then continuing to blast down the slopes till the last lift of the day. It’s pretty intense, but when you can only be there for one week every year, you need to grab hold of every moment so you won’t regret not getting that last hours or so’s skiing.
Once a week, my father and I treat ourselves to the perfect swiss lunch: spicy apfelstrudel with zimteis and smothered in vanillesauce. Pure heaven on a plate. Served at various little chalet restaurants, the best by far is at the cosy Chämi-Hitta, near Riffelalp. Perfect for warming you up on an especially cold day, with beautiful views of the Matterhorn. I like to sit outside and bask in the sun, but the rustic and traditional interior is lovely also.
One of the best things about Zermatt is the enormous range of pistes and ski areas. There are 3 main areas, all easily accessible from both the town and from the slopes, all completely different and full of surprises and challenges. The smooth slopes of the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise and Schwarzee Paradise take you right beside the Matterhorn itself, whilst the Rothorn Paradise on the opposite side of the valley takes you to a height of 2350 meters, and boasts a spectacular range of pistes, some long and winding, some powdery and peaceful, and some with unexpected turns that bring you to perfect places for a fuel stop and panoramic view of the scenery. From all areas you can ski right from the top of the mountains to Zermatt, with different options and combinations of slopes from lazy blues to crazy blacks; this is my favourite thing to do, just non-stop action with the adrenaline pumping.
If, however, you aren’t as crazy as me when out comes to your ski holiday, there are great places to relax and enjoy big lunches and coffee breaks. I’ll put a link to a few of my favourites below!
Beware Patrullarve. Certainly the most challenging piste in the resort in my opinion, and not for the faint-hearted. A steep and icy black, with strange yet subtle turns and mounds, this is best tackled before midday as soon the fine layers of powder shift to show pure ice. You’ll definitely need your skis sharpened before this one! Nonetheless, the sense of achievement one feels on reaching the bottom in one piece is worth it- take it slow until you’ve mastered the techniques needed and get to know the pattern of the slope.
There are lots of opportunities for fun nights and days out also. The igloo-bar near Riffelberg hosts fondue nights which is a great way to enjoy Switzerland’s finest food and drink with your family, or to meet new people. The skidoo ride there is also pretty exciting..
Paragliding is available from the top of the Rothorn- it is very weather dependent, so make sure you book for a clear day! In Zermatt itself, there are lots of restaurants and bars; the Hotel Post has 3 different clubs as well as an amazing Pizza and Spaghetti factory and various posh restaurants. I would definitely recommend skipping dessert when out for dinner and heading to Stephanie’s Crêperie on the main street- enormous pancakes smothered in gorgeous apfelsauce, sprinkled with cinnamon and tripped with banana is a personal favourite- just be prepared to want all the different flavours they offer!
Zermatt is one of the most memorable places; it has such character and is home to lovely people. It is pricey, yes, but worth it for the Swiss ski experience. I would take this ski holiday over traveling anywhere else.