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TR: Zermatt, March 11-12

post #1 of 2
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I was invited to speak at a symposium at the Univ. of Basel, so of course I had to arrive a little early and head to the mountains. This was my first time in Switzerland, and it is an amazingly beautiful country. We arrived in Zermatt by train to cloudy weather, but the skies cleared very briefly just as my son and I were about to board the tram to Schwarzee and the Trockener Steg.

Once we started up the tram the clouds rolled in and you could see very little. The tram above the Trockner Steg was closed, as was the entire Cervinia side (we had hoped to ski into Italy, but that was not to be) due to wind and poor visibility.

We had rented skis (brought our own boots, of course) but were unable to find anything wider than 75mm; these were described to us as "perfect for off-piste" (??). Both my son and I ended up on Volkl AC3's which we both found too stiff for our liking. We stuck to the groomed pistes, which in many places were quite icy. At the end of the day we were able to find a place that rented "freeride" skis and traded the AC3's in for Atomic Nomads (me) and Scott something about 86mm (my son).

The next day was socked in again, but we had arranged to ski off-piste with a guide, along with 3 others (arranged through the Alpin Center in Zermatt). It is really different than in the US- all of the non-groomed trails (except for some mogul runs) are essentially unmarked, both on the mountain and on the map. Most people stick to the groomed and marked trails. Thus, unless you know the mountain you will have no idea where you are going. Considering the size of the place (and the >7000 vertical feet) this could pose a problem. We wanted to ski the glaciers as well, which poses crevasse hazards, so we went with a guide. It turns out that this was the best decision we made and resulted in one amazing day of skiing.

We met our guide and the others in our group at the bottom of the Schwarzee tram, donned climbing harnesses and avy beacons, and headed up. Because of the weather the upper mountain, the Theodul glacier, and the Cervinia side were again closed, but our guide reassured us that he would find great runs for us, and he wasn't kidding! It had snowed at least a foot over night, and while there were no views, every run all day (except for one mogul run at the end of the day) was first tracks, often down a 30-40 degree couloir.

In some places the snow was bottomless (I stuck my ski pole in one place and it went down to my wrist). Virtually everywhere we went we were alone! Most of our skiing was in the Gronergrat and Rothorn areas. I could not begin to point out on the trail map where we skied, but every run was fantastic. We stopped for lunch at this very old inn on the mountain which was an experience in itself.

Zermatt is a beautiful town. It is car-free, but there are these little electric cabs that are driven by drivers who must have been trained by Boston cabbies- they zip around the corners of 500 year old cobblestoned streets like they are on the F1 circuit. There's a great little museum about the Matterhorn (they have the rope from the 1st ascent by Whymper there, at least the end that held, and you can see where it broke, sending the 4 climbers on the other end plummeting thousands of feet to their deaths). The hospitality at our hotel (the Metropol) was beyond wonderful, and everyone we met was hospitable and gracious, but boy, are there a lot of smokers there! We wanted to go out to the Mont Cervin Palace for a drink but I couldn't breathe there and we had to leave.

This was a fantastic experience, and if you go I highly recommend hiring a guide. We never would have found any of these places on our own, nor would we have had the nerve to explore the way we did. I only wish we had more time there!
post #2 of 2
Great Pix and report.

Thanks for sharing
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