I just got back from skiing in Zermatt this weekend. (12/11&12). I never skied in Europe and because my ski buddy is retraining because of changing times I thought this was a good year to use my frequent flyer miles to Europe, instead of the usual late Feb trip to SLC and "mother Snowbird". To ski most of the Alps you fly into Geneva and I had a direct flight from Newark, just 2 hrs from home in the Poconos. After flying 7.5 hrs on an empty plane I arrived in Geneva at 7:30am and hopped on the train right at the airport. I was on the train for 4 hours(one change) and arrived in Zermatt a little after 1 PM.
My original plan was to ski either Chamonix or Verbier which about two hours from the airport giving me the chance to ski a half day upon arrival. When I got the lay of the land in Zermatt, I found I could have literally walked across the street from the train station and hop on a special ski/tourist train to 10,000 ft.
I only stayed for 2 nts in Zermatt for two full days of skiing. I remember hearing that in Europe they ski groomers and cruisers and I certainly found that to be the case. In fact, I skied most of the entire mountain, I wouldn't doubt 100 miles of skiing, and didn't see one single mogul field. I basically skied on well groomed cruisers all day long. In fact I have never been at a resort where there was so little advanced terrain to ski. The runs were all marked with orange poles, but there were literally very, very few tracks that just went off the edge of the cat tracks which is so typical and customary in the US, both west and east. I think the problem is that much of the mountain is glacial, and the glacial retreat we've had the past 150 years has left rock, rock and more rock. The big rocks suck up the sun, and seriously, I would not want to be skiing off groomed in powder conditions on that mountain unless I was following a local guide. (not 3 guys from Atlanta who jumped off somewhere who were followed by 3 sports from Baltimore, followed by 3 dudes from Jersey). Also, only a relatively small percentage of the entire mountain is really skiable by anyone, it is full of dead ends and no way out places.
But, I totally enjoyed my trip and my skiing and running all over the mountain taking the 4 cable cars and numerous gondolas. The snow was actually pretty good. They had a solid foot in town and reported 60" on top, which appeared accurate. Everything was well-covered on the trails. They call that on-piste, while outside the orange trail poles is off-piste. Again, there were hardly any places that went off-piste and even though at Snowbird my modus operandi is to follow the tracks anywhere, here I was very cautious because I didn't want to get stuck someplace and I was skiing alone.
I originally planned on going to Verbier and or Chamonix, but the snow had not yet piled up there and little was open at either. Zermatt had gotten a pretty good storm the week before which covered the hill all the way down to the base and they are the highest resort in Europe. (apparently).
Since I was skiing alone and had no one to share my experience with, I took a bunch of pictures and a video to share with those back home. the pictures are best viewable NOT in the slideshow(you can't read the comments) but move down a bit and click the right arrow key to go through the pics.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulNiZomT2PM youtube video 4:19 minutes
I am going to try to get to Europe again. I alway tell people to get those freq flyer airline credit cards and always get your miles when flying. By using a card for 9 months or so and then cancelling and renewing again a year or so later I have been able take literally a couple dozen of free trips over the years. I went in December because I love the feeling of having that early before xmas ski trip, it seriously makes the holiday just better! And most years I sneak away for a couple more days in Febuary.
Culturally it was a tremendous trip. The town was lovely and the food was Fantastic! It took 18 hrs of door to door traveling to get to Zermatt and that was wearing. But I was able to ski just fine and enjoy my trip in spite of constant tiredness, excitement and jet lag all combined.
I only talked to one American during my stay and he seemed to have some extensive Europe and US skiing experience and he confirmed that in general the skiing is much better in the states. Like I said the trouble is you have to stay on the trail due to various dangers. One of them is falling into a crevasse because up high some of the resort is on a glacier.
Check this out. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crq-NKrGaFE&feature=related
The scenery was spectacular. There were no lift lines whatsoever and the vertical was 7,000 ft! I took many many 4 to 5,000 feet downhill runs. The weather was cold just how i like it for skiing. (i don't like skiing if temps are >32F). In researching my trip I did find that many of the resorts in Europe are just plain ugly. Many are above treeline and are stark with lifts running all ove the mountain, but they need all those lifts because the mountains are all jumbled up. Fortunately there were some trees on the lower part of the Zermatt mountain. The first day was bluebird but windy, and I skied with the Matterhorn as my backdrop all day.
The people were very nice, welcoming and helpful as much as possible. You could feel that the Swiss are quite organized. Most of them could converse in English. There was one experts area, around the Stockhorn area above Gornergrat, but it wasn't open. I asked a tram operator near there and he told me, the 1500 ft drop is so steep and never sees the sun in mid-winter so they don't open it until late January until it loosens up. The ski patrol can't get down there because it is "powder or moguls" he repeated to me 3 times emphatically, Power or Moguls. Well, isn't that what skiing is about? I'm no super expert but am athletic and nothing is more fun to me than making my way down Snowbird ungroomed the entire way. That is NOT DONE in Zermatt! After skiing my last day, I took a train down the lower part of the mountain, crossed the street and changed, doing what I call the SLC shuffle, quickly changing and packing my bags for the 4 hour train ride back to a hotel in Geneva airport where I flew our early the next day.
I forgot to mention that Zermatt, Switzerland is connected at the top to Cervinia, Italy ski resort. Cervnia is even harder to get "off-piste" than Zermatt, it is a big rockpile that reminded me of a moonscape, but I did have some awesome pasta at the bottom of the hill. Cervinia is the second picture above.
Edited by SnowbirdDevotee - 3/15/10 at 4:49pm