Here's a TR from my trip to Zermatt, Switzerland back in March 2014.
- Day 1: Saturday, March 22
Stayed at the Grant Hotel Zermatterhof. Amazing hotel, great location right in the middle of town. All the bars and restaurants were right there. I caught a good last-minute deal which ran around EUR 300/night including breakfast.
Weather conditions were spring-like. Snow quality was extremely poor down below 8000 ft. The pistes up high were showing the effects of the freeze-thaw cycles from recent days, so you had to be careful to avoid icy patches.
Apres ski was incredible. Got started around 3:30 at the Champagne Bar down near the bottom of the Sunnegga area. Met a lot of interesting folks, including plenty of Brits and a few Swiss. It started snowing heavily around 5 p.m. which made for an incredible scene, coupled with the growing excitement at tomorrow’s snow conditions.
- Day 2: Sunday, March 23
I woke up to snowy and stormy conditions. Everyone was unsure about the exact amount of snowfall, but I headed up early to find out (was 3rd or 4th group on the Schwarzsee gondola up the mountain). I estimate the top ½ of the mountain received 25-30 cm, with much more in certain spots. I took the gondola up to Trockner Steg (elevation: 10,000 feet), and felt the first brunt of the storm taking place. Winds were incredibly strong (25-30 mph sustained) and sideways snow coming down. I took the 6-pack chairlift up to the top of Furggsattel (11,000 feet) where conditions were even worse. It was all you could do to head down the nearest piste in white-out conditions.
First run involved a lot of poling as the pistes had 4-5 inches of powder on top. Flat run-outs became poling expeditions. Finally got about ½ way down where you could see about 20 feet in front of you, and the slope became steep enough to head off piste. Here I found fresh powder anywhere from knee to thigh deep. I laid down some good powder turns off piste, carefully picking my way through the near whiteout conditions and with no tracks to follow, I was unsure of any large rocks looming ahead. At that point, you just trust your instincts and try to be as careful as you can.
Finally made it to the bottom of the Furgg gondola, and headed up again. Made about 3 laps before meeting up with 2 guys from Norway who were making the most of their last day in Zermatt. We joined forces and made a lap off piste, including one incredible untracked pitch we found of about 35-40 degrees. I was last to go, and linked about 8-10 turns in waist deep powder, snow flying up to my chin. Absolutely amazing stuff!
After learning the Schwartzsee area was finally open, we proceeded to hit the Schwartzsee trees. At the top of this area was a wide open bowl where we found nice knee-deep powder, before descending into some thick trees. The Norwegians led the way, and after making it through a pretty steep area that was very tight, it opened up into some nicely spaced trees. This area was good, but had a few bumps under the powder. It was a good 500+ feet of vertical in the trees, and I was thoroughly worn out after that run. I told the guys I needed a break and they headed off without me. I proceeded to the Schwartzsee restaurant for a much needed lunch break.
After lunch, I started to work my way across to the other side of the resort. The Gant and Stockhorn areas were closed due to high winds, so I ended up taking the rest of the day easy, staying on the pistes and heading to Apres Ski around 3:30. A few beers, then down to my hotel for some much needed rest. At the bottom of the resort, I checked the resort map and saw they finally opened up the Gant and Stockhorn areas late in the day. I guessed that these areas saw very little activity, so I planned to head up there first thing tomorrow.
- Day 3: Monday, March 24
I caught the 2nd train out to Sunnegga (missed the 1st train by 3 minutes – the Swiss have very strict timetables). Caught the Sunnegga-Blauherd gondola, then the Blauherd-Rothorn tram to the top (10,000 ft). Conditions were partly cloudy but very nice. Hurried down the piste run over to Gant and caught the tram to the top. I saw very few tracks under the tram and scouted my line on the way up. Took the piste down a few hundred meters then dove in off piste to some of the best, steepest terrain found in the Zermatt resort boundaries. For those that have skied the Snowbird tram, that is the closest comparison I could make. The tram here runs 1,000 meters from top to bottom, so you get over 3,000 feet of vertical overall. And today, it was 3,000 vertical feet of powder!
The top 1/3 of this area was the steepest, and I was fortunate enough to find some untracked snow just to the side of the tracks from yesterday. I didn’t want to venture too far off course due to the unknown rocks hiding underneath, so I picked my areas carefully and took my time. Fortunately, I was the only one coming down the tram line off-piste so I was able to take plenty of breaks and pictures.
The powder here was knee high for the most part, with some pockets of deeper stuff about thigh deep. I made one lap on the tram and was absolutely wiped out at the bottom. 3,000 vertical feet of powder and my legs felt it. I headed up the tram again and this time headed over to Stockhorn. To get there, you take a very short gondola ride to the top of a poma lift. The top of this area was a bit tracked out, but I still found some nice untracked areas to the side. I skied the top 1/3 before heading skiers right to the bottom of the Stockhorn poma. Took that lift to the top, and noticed there hadn’t been very much traffic. There were only 6-7 of us on the lift so everyone made the most of it by laying down tracks side by side to preserve the freshies.
I decided to ski past the poma and head back down to the Gant tram as I was wiped out and there was little untracked snow left after my run. By this time, the area was filling up with skiers who made short work of the area. There is some hike-to areas at the top of Stockhorn, but I was not comfortable going over there alone and without any avalanche safety gear to speak of. The avy danger level was listed as 3, which is pretty high for Zermatt, and there weren’t any tracks in that area so I thought the better plan was to eat some lunch, rest, and live to ski another day.
After a quick bite at the Grunsee restaurant (great food and great views by the way), I made my way over to the other side of the mountain where I had skied the day before. By this time, the skies had cleared and we had blue-bird conditions which allowed me to see how the Trockner Steg area was completely tracked out. I made my way to the top of Furggsattel and took a moment to look into Italy. I headed down Run 20b which is a very nice off-piste tour that takes you right past the base of the Matterhorn. At the start of this off-piste, there was one nice pitch of fresh powder where I laid down 10-15 turns in knee high powder. Another incredible run that was very memorable due to the scenery and surroundings. The off-piste run has a very long run-out past the Matterhorn, then one final steep pitch down before the run-out to Furgg.
I decided to call it for the day, and took one last look at the Matterhorn before taking the gondola back down into Zermatt village. You can ski down, but the mass of humanity and the long run-outs didn’t sound too inviting.