Zermatt: The Alp's Ultimate Ski Resort

Ski underneath one of the most iconic mountains in the world without having to stress about skill level or snow

Skiing in Zermatt is on a vast scale, from its views of the world's most photogenic mountain, the Matterhorn, to its 29 peaks over 13,100ft these mountains are the highest in Europe (aside from Mt. Blanc). The reason Zermatt is a top ski destination has to do with the fact that its the highest ski resort in Europe with the longest winter season in the Alps, which allows its three ski areas to remain open from late November to the end of April, not to mention you can ski 365 days a year on Zermatt’s huge glacier area. Zermatt has 220 miles of runs, which include the linked resorts of Cervinia and Valtournenche in Italy, a slick and extensive lift system, and expansive backcountry skiing.  If you were to ski in one place in the Alps Zermatt is the place to go.

Village

Zermatt itself is a town of 5,700 people supplemented by the steady flow of visitors from around the world who come to climb, hike, bike, ski, and maybe just admire the scenery. Zermatt is consistently considered one of the more bourgeois places to ski in the Alps however this does not mean you can’t ski here on a budget. Modest bed and breakfast’s and hostels (The Matterhorn Hostel) sit among the palaces and designer hotels and ski rentals ( Julen Sport) are surprisingly comparable to anywhere in the Rockies. Lift passes are cheap compared to places like Vale, Jackson Hole, and Deer Valley and for young families, kids under 10 ski free.     

Skill Level

Novice skiers can find some safe and well-groomed areas that are ideal for learning. However beginner skiers looking to roam should be prepared to have their capabilities tested. There are hardly any beginner trails that link the mountain ranges. Zermatt is not ideal for shy or timid skiers but a novice searching for a place to get better will love Zermatt and improve quickly. For intermediate skiers this resort holds a wealth of terrain ranging from open bowls to steep narrow forest runs. Advanced skiers will be able to warm up with speed skiing before getting into some of Europe's most famous mogul fields. Mogul fanatics often enjoy the bumps of National, Gant, Aroleid, and most notably the Triftji which happens to be the site of the famed event The Bump Bash each Easter. The biggest and more advanced areas, Stockhorn/Triftji normally open in February, because of the required snow to conceal its rocky slopes. Thanks to Zermatt's abnormally high altitudes and loads of north facing slopes, fresh powder can still be found several days after it falls. It is cautioned that the best backcountry areas are a couple miles away from marked runs that are not easily found. If you want to ski off-piste then it’s advised to take a local ski guide who knows the avalanche danger, cliffs, and crevasses. Heli-skiing or ski touring is also possible and is best in March and April when crevasses are well filled on the glaciers.

Mountain

The three lift stations are the Gornergrat railway (next to the main railway station), the Sunnegga funicular a couple of hundred yards away on the far side of the river, and the Furi gondola, more than half a mile from the station. All three of Zermatt's ski areas are at least 10,200ft, which means excellent snow conditions and long runs to the village (5 to 8 miles). Lifts begin operation around 8:00a.m. and don’t close until 4:30p.m. in the midwinter and in April most lifts are open 1½ hours longer. One of the highest and most consistently open runs in the world starts from the Klein Matterhorn (highest lift in Europe 12,500ft) and goes into Zermatt with a 7,250ft vertical drop. At the top of the Klein Matterhorn you can stand above Europe and on a clear day see up to 126 miles over most of the Swiss, Italian, and French Alps. The slopes receive hardly any sun during midwinter and are bitterly cold but by spring its very pleasant and temperatures are around freezing when sunny. From the middle of March onwards there may be patchy snow close to town but at higher altitudes the snow pack does not even reach its greatest depth until March.  

If you visit Zermatt to ski you’ll also have the precious opportunity to ski over the Swiss border into Cervinia, Italy (Just don’t forget your passport or credit card). As far as skiing goes Monte Cervino (in Italian) contrasts and compliments Zermatt well with long superbly groomed intermediate runs and with hardly any steep trails or moguls. One of the best runs begins at the top of the mountain and runs for 7 miles into Cervinia, known as Highway 7 (run 7 on the Zermatt/Cervinia ski map). Cervinia is best suited for capable skiers who enjoy speed skiing (Cervinia holds a famous Italian race from the border to the village at the end of April) or those still learning to perfect their parallel technique. 

How To Get There

The nearest airport is Geneva, which is two hours and forty minutes away; Zurich is three hours thirty-five minutes, and Basel three hours twenty-five minutes, all by train. If you’ve never been to Switzerland I recommend flying into Basel and taking the train through Bern and Interlaken. Zermatt itself has a train station, from which you can walk to any part of town. For those driving, Zermatt is actually car-free due to its concern with smog and the very narrow streets lined with old weathered chalets. Cars can be parked 3.2 miles away at the village of Tasch where you can grab a shuttle that runs at all times of day and year. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Trey Brennan

The best adventures answer questions that in the beginning you didn't even think to ask