Pros: Charm, beauty, groomed terrain
Cons: Getting there, pricey
My wife and I decided to celebrate a 10-year anniversary in Zermatt this year. We're from the Northeastern US and figured if we're going to take a ski holiday why not go big and go to Europe. Trip was in early March and we went without kids. Settled on Zermatt for the range of terrain and the sense that -- as posted by another here -- if you only do Europe once you should do Zermatt. We are 40-ish and both good skiers. I skied a lot when younger and I'm by far the faster/more aggressive of us; I'll seek out bumps and powder whereas she's content to stay on the groomers. With that as background, we were thrilled with our trip. Here's what made it special for us:
- The luxury. I tried not to think about money too much, which helps because it is pricey. We loved where we stayed and highly recommend it... Hotel Mirabeau. It's on the northern end of town close to the train station and convenient enough to everything that at no time during the week did we use a taxi. It was so nice there that we opted to spend a few evenings at the hotel's bars and restaurants instead of "out on the town" like we usually would.
- The international experience. You just can't get this in the States and we enjoyed being in the minority as English-speakers.
- The food. OMG, so good! I guess it's not surprising given the proximity to Italy and France and the resulting fusion. So many highlights but standouts were veal, raclette, risotto. Even the fruit spread for breakfast and salads impressed. And who knew that there were so many good Swiss wines?? There are loads of great dining options for every meal of the day but you mustn't assume you will stumble on them. Do just a bit of homework and you will be fat and happy. Pack it on and ski it off!
- The raw beauty of the surroundings. At any time from any place you could take a moment, look up and say, "I can't believe this place is my playground." Pictures do not do it justice.
As with any ski trip the conditions can make all the difference. We were blessed with not a single cloud all week until literally the morning we boarded the train to leave. However, that also meant no fresh snow. At the start of the week I was contemplating hiring a guide for some off-piste fun, but toward the end of the week there were enough rocks and craggs visible that I wasn't sure the effort would be worth it. All in all and for the kind of skiing we were looking to do Zermatt was great. That basically meant skiing from 9-2, stopping for lunch somewhere on the mountain (Chez Vrony is a must-try), then making our way home. If challenging terrain was more important to us (it wasn't), or if my body could take a pounding and recover quickly (it can't) like when I was young (I'm not) then I might have chosen something other than Zermatt. Nor would I choose it for a guys/buddies trip. An entire week mainly on groomers can get old... and Zermatt has a lot of groomers. Here's a hint to avoid the road-like ones choked with people lower down the mountain feeding into the village: Don't bother with them; as I realized a couple days in, anything you can take up (train, gondola, etc.) you can also take down, so just enjoy skiing the top half of the mountain and then catch a ride down to the village.
So here's the bottom line: If it's just the skiing you're after and that alone is your most important focus then I'd recommend you stick to the western US. There's plenty of challenge, variety, and snow out there and it's less about the charm and more about the party. If you're looking for a complete vacation experience, something different (for a Yank) and you're willing to pay for it, Zermatt is tough to beat.