Zermatt

Switzerland

Set against the iconic Matterhorn, Switzerland’s Zermatt is one of the best ski resorts in the world combined with a picture perfect, happening village.

Scout Loves

  • The un-missable and unforgettable sight of the Matterhorn that dominates the views from the ski slopes and much of the village.
  • The pedestrian-friendly, car-free village with a mix of old and new buildings.
  • Skiing across the border to sunny Cervinia in Italy for a pasta lunch.
  • A wide variety of excellent shops, restaurants and bars make it a great place to wander around.
  • Reliable snow thanks to its altitude. The majority of the skiing is above the tree line.

Scout Tips

  • Most things are expensive in Zermatt.
  • The car-free environment is disrupted by electric taxis, buses and hotel shuttles constantly whizzing around.
  • Zermatt is not the best choice for beginner skiers and boarders.
  • Due to valleys, the mountain is spread into sectors, some of which take a while to transfer between – meaning you generally stick to one area each day.
  • The access points to Cervinia and the upper glacier via cable car are prone to closures in bad weather.
  • Sit on the right of the Gornergrat train for best views.
  • Get the 8am Gornergrat train with the lifties and restaurant staff to get early tracks before the hoards.

 

Scout Review

Zermatt is one of the world’s best ski resorts thanks to an extensive and excellent piste system coupled with a charming and vibrant ski village, all set against dramatic scenery with the Matterhorn front and center. It should be on the bucket list of every skier in the world.

The only way to arrive at this car-free village, situated at the end of a long narrow valley, is via a picturesque train ride. Anticipation builds as you wind your way up the base of the valley (having either parked your car at Täsch or taken the train via Brig or Visp) with the mountains looming larger the further you get. The train station lands you right in the heart of the town and an electric taxi or horse-drawn carriage will take you and your luggage to your hotel.

The small center of the town is made up of cobbled streets, with big hotels, restaurants and bars. As you get farther from the center the snowy lanes become narrower and century-old wooden barns are interspersed with more hotels and chalets, many set along the fast-flowing Gornera river that divides the village in half.  One of the lovely things about Zermatt is that it is a real, functioning village so it’s not unusual to see school children running along the snowy streets and people going about their daily chores. Most of the residents, though, are supporting the tourist industry.

It is easy to get around Zermatt on foot, and all of the scenery and historic buildings makes it all the more pleasant. Any walk in the daylight will be punctuated with numerous stops for photo opportunities capturing different views of the Matterhorn.

Zermatt has countless great restaurants, on and off the mountain and quite a happening nightlife. Whether you’re part of the fur-wearing, stylish clientele or at the opposite end of the spectrum you will find something to suit your style. However prices are definitely at the high end no matter which you choose.

Zermatt Skiing

Zermatt has some fantastic and spectacular skiing for intermediates and advanced on four distinct ski “sectors”. Whether skiing the extensive 360km of on-piste runs (marked blue, red and green) or exploring the off-piste “itineraries” (marked yellow) you will not get bored. Advanced skiers also have the option of adding heli-skiing or guided adventures to take the experience beyond the boundaries on some excellent backcountry terrain and glaciers.

The four sectors are Rothorn (including Sunnegga), Gornergrat (including Riffelberg  and Stockhorn), Matterhorn Glacier Paradise and Schwarzsee. Each has unique qualities and it’s worth concentrating time on each one rather than trying to move around them all each day. Advanced skiers may find the Glacier Paradise area to be a bit flat – and it does take a long time to get there, either by queueing for the cable car or via a series of long T-bar lifts. We found the Gornergrat and Rothorn areas to be the best fun and have the most variety of terrain. These two areas are also connected via on and off-piste runs and two lift stations.

There is no one distinct base area and access up to the different sectors will either be via the Matterhorn Express Gondola at the southern end of the village, a funicular train to Sunnegga from the eastern side of the valley or the 30-40 minute train ride to Riffelberg, which departs from the center of town. Depending on where your accommodation is will mean some sectors may be easier to access than others, but since the different access points are fairly spread apart you will undoubtedly be using the ski shuttle bus to get to the train or gondola at some point. These shuttle buses can be crowded during peak hours. You can ski all the way back to the village from any of the sectors, though in poor snow conditions these runs can be tricky or closed.

Of course one of the great benefits of skiing Zermatt is its connection with Cervinia in Italy, whose runs are handily covered on the Zermatt piste map. The south-facing slopes are a great place to ski in the sun and enjoy a delicious lunch. Access to Cervinia is via the Theodulpass (fine for intermediates) or Plateau Rosa (more challenging). Cervinia is not ideal in poor conditions, either due to sun-affected snow or since the connection between the resorts is often closed due to winds or low visibility.

Novice skiers and boarders are catered for by way of ski schools and small areas of gentle slopes on each of the four areas - the main beginner area (with magic carpets and play equipment) is below Sunnegga. However Zermatt is not ideal for beginners partly due to the chore of getting up to the ski sectors, but also because many slopes for progressing to intermediate are quite challenging.

Zermatt For Families

Zermatt makes a magical choice for families – after the fun of arriving by train it’s almost Disneyland-like in its charming car-free village, horse-drawn carriages and majestic Matterhorn backdrop.

The main drawbacks for families are the expense, the (un)practicalities of getting to the slopes and the lack of easy intermediate terrain.

If your kids are real first-timers who won’t go much beyond beginner slopes or are competent intermediates or above, and you’re able to cope with the drawbacks then it’s certainly worthwhile considering.

The nursery ski area is called Wolli Land. To get there you have to catch the funicular to Sunnegga and then a shuttle. Kids who ski only this area can use a Wolli Pass which costs half the full Zermatt ski-lift pass.

Zermatt Accommodation

Zermatt has plethora of hotels and chalets to choose from, across a range of budgets – though like everything here it is more expensive than most other resorts. There are a few apartments with self-catering facilities.

Of course one of the big reasons for coming to Zermatt is the views, particularly of the Matterhorn. There are many hotels that boast rooms with Materhorn views - some views are better than others. Of course these Matterhorn view rooms command a premium so be prepared to pay for the luxury, but if you can afford it, it's worth the extra.

One part we loved about Zermatt was that many of the hotels are owned by the same families, some of which have been around since they were farmers - well before Zermatt became a tourist destination. The surnames Julen and Perren are synonymous with the town. All of this makes for a friendly and authentic atmosphere.

On the mountain there are a few refugios with overnight accommodation or even an igloo hotel – perfect as a short, unique add-on to a longer stay.

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Resort Activities

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Scout Field Guide >

One of the highlights of a visit to Zermatt is the opportunity to capture incredible photos of the Matterhorn from all different angles, in varying light conditions. The beauty of the ski areas is that most runs see the mountain from slightly different angles – for example from Schwarzsee you have a more up-close view from underneath, while Gornergrat has incredible panoramas.

Other fun side-activities include helicopter trips around the Matterhorn, heli-skiing, cross-country skiing (with 25km of courses), snowshoeing, ice-climbing, paragliding and a fast and furious toboggan ride (called sledging) from Rotenboden to Riffelberg that takes 10 minutes from top to bottom. Right in the center of town there’s a big curling arena and ice-skating rink.

And if you’re lucky to time it right you can have a dinner at restaurants at Rothorn, Gornergrat or Matterhorn Glacier Paradise followed by a moonlit ski down to the village with ski patrol. Available once a month at full moon only. Gornergrat also serves dinner with visits to the observatory to see the stars. The Zermatt Scout Field Guide has more details about activities in Zermatt.

Getting There and Around

The closest airports to Zermatt are Zurich (3.5hrs), Geneva (4hrs) and Milan (3.5-4hrs). The easiest way to get to Zermatt from the airports is via train. Each airport has fast rail links to Brig or Visp which have connecting trains to Zermatt.

If you want to drive you can do so to the nearby town of Täsch and from there take a short train shuttle to Zermatt.

If you have time, a wonderful way to see some of Switzerland is via the Glacier Express which is one of the most scenic train routes in the world. It takes 7.5 hours from Zermatt to St. Moritz/Davos crossing 291 bridges and traversing 91 tunnels and includes the UNESCO World Heritage Albula-Bernina Railway. You don’t have to take the full journey into St Moritz.

Getting around Zermatt is easy – most hotels have an electric buggy that will pick you and your luggage up from the train station. After that it’s easiest to make your way around the village by foot, or on the public electric buses. 

When To Go

Zermatt is one of the few resorts in the world to offer skiing on 365 days of the year with a few runs on the glacier open in summer. It’s also one of the first resorts to start operating for the winter ski season – towards the end of October (though some runs aren’t open until November). The resort operates fully until the end of April with many runs remaining open into early May.

January is the coldest month. Thanks to its high elevation and dry climate snow conditions can be generally good, however it doesn’t get as much powder as other resorts. Good quality snowmaking can make up for the lack of fresh snow.

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