Whether it’s the glamour of Gstaad and St. Moritz or the dazzling vision of the Matterhorn towering above Zermatt’s classic chalets, every skier has dreams of skiing the Swiss Alps. Contrary to what you may have heard, not everyone here skis like James Bond, and these majestic mountains are not just for experts. Most resorts have easy cruising terrain and excellent learning programs. Many have dedicated slopes and lifts just for learners and beginners. And while après-ski may be lively in some larger ski centers, Swiss ski resorts are equally well tuned to the needs of families, with family-friendly lift passes, lodgings, and packages.
Some skiers love first tracks in fresh powder, others prefer groomed trails, but whether it’s the adrenaline rush of a narrow piste at dizzying heights or a broad cruiser with a panoramic view, you’re never far from a mountain that offers it. Everyone loves great scenery, dependable snow conditions, and a good network of lifts; Switzerland promises all these and a choice of resorts to appeal to every taste. Caution: Backcountry terrain is unpredictable and should not be attempted without a qualified and well-equipped backcountry guide.
The highest winter sports area in the Alps, with ski terrain at altitudes between 2,500 and 3,900 meters and more than 2,133 meters of vertical drop – Switzerland’s greatest – it seems almost unfair that Zermatt should also have Europe’s most iconic mountain. The bold pyramid of the Matterhorn rises directly behind the town and is visible from much of the mountain’s 360-kilometer trail system that connects two countries and three resort towns. The other side of the Matterhorn is in Italy, and one of the greatest moments in a skier’s lifetime is skiing over the Theodul Pass and down into the Italian trail system. New for the 2017 season is the six-seat Hublot-Express chairlift, between the Gornergrat and Rothorn pistes. Under construction and expected to be open for the 2018/19 season is the world’s highest 3S Lift, which will carry 2,000 skiers an hour to the 3,883-meter altitude of the Matterhorn glacier. A free Zermatt Skiguide app uses GPS to help skiers navigate between mountain locations, with time and routes adjusted to the user’s skiing style, safety concerns, weather, and the currently open lifts and pistes.
Along with offering skiing and snowboarding 365 days a year in a postcard setting, Zermatt is famous for its long ski runs, with terrain for all skill levels. Beginning skiers and children will find non-threatening terrain at Wolli’s Park, at the top of the Sunnegga funicular. From here, experienced skiers can access the gondolas, chairlifts, and a cable car up to the Rothorn’s trails and snowfields or link to the Gornergrat ski pistes. The Gornergrat can also be accessed by a rack-railroad that climbs up the slopes of the Riffelberg, where the Riffelhaus 1853 hotel has a restaurant and a terrace, all with superb views of the Matterhorn. Children up to age nine travel free on the mountain lifts, as long as they are accompanied by an adult with a multi-day pass, and the free Wolli Card, valid for one year, gives them access to the Gornergrat Bahn and free lodging in some Zermatt hotels. All skiers pay only for the mountain areas they ski, with the new Easy SkiCard that bills only for actual rides taken.