Zermatt and the Matterhorn

Three days, three visits to Zermatt – with very different views of the Matterhorn.

There are few scenes more glorious than the Matterhorn seen from the ski slopes of Zermatt, under sunny skies the day after a snowstorm.  I snapped more than five hundred photos in under three days, and was spoiled by some of the best skiing I’ve ever encountered.  Read on and check out the photo gallery for more.

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On the day after Christmas we all hopped on a train out of Zürich, with a plan to visit the famous skiing and mountaineering town of Zermatt. We had booked rooms in Brig, a larger valley town about 90 minutes away from Zermatt. Brig itself is a charming little town, and our hotel was located on the main square, complete with a seasonal skating rink, with its own impressive view of the Alps.2019-12-26-77995.jpg

The weather forecast indicated clouds and snow for the next day.  Thinking we should visit Zermatt before the clouds rolled in, we checked into the hotel, filled up with a hearty lunch at an Italian restaurant down the street, and snagged the local train from Brig to Zermatt.  After a scenic ninety-minute ride up the Mattertal valley to Zermatt, we crossed the street to board the Gornergratbahn, a historic cog-railway train that delivers tourists to 10,151′ near the top of one of the neighboring peaks.  Although we had fine views of the Matterhorn and surrounding peaks on the way up, I watched with dismay as the clouds rolled in.  At Gornergrat we were engulfed in clouds, with no view.

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A light snow started to fall, and continued as darkness set in.  In Brig the next morning we boarded the same train, under a steady wet snowfall, and wound our way back up the Mattertal valley toward Zermatt.  As we climbed, the snowfall became more intense, and the trackside snowbanks ever deeper.  Despite the lack of mountain views, we were entranced by the snowy scenery. 2019-12-27-78065.jpg

It was our plan to ski today, but with a heavy snow falling and the mountains enshrouded in cloud, we decided to postpone that until tomorrow and, instead, to head for the nearest fondue restaurant and stuff ourselves with bread and cheese.  Good plan! As we ate, the sky cleared.  We walked a few blocks and bought tickets for the Sunnegga funicular railway – an amazingly fast, underground train that whisks guests halfway up up the mountain to a slopeside restaurant and ski lift.  We emerged into a scene of blue skies and wispy clouds, as the snowstorm dissipated and the Matterhorn emerged in full glory, with an undercast of clouds still smothering Zermatt and the valley.

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Despite the stupendous views, the forecast hinted at an even better morning to come.  As we returned to Brig, and the sun set behind the Matterhorn, I was determined to return early the next morning to capture the earliest sunrise views.

Unfortunately, the pre-dawn train struggled to make it from Brig to Visp, losing power three times in the first ten minutes.  The conductor moved all three passengers – the early trains are pretty sparse! – to the next train, a delay of 20 minutes that caused me to miss the first Gornergratbahn at 8am.  As it happened, I also missed the next Gornergratbahn and the following Sunnegga bahn due to incredibly slow/long ticket lines in Zermatt, but I finally made it to Sunnegga a little before 9am.  It was absolutely worth it, as the first rays of the sun illuminated the Matterhorn and surrounding peaks.

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I stayed here for an hour, watching the morning light steadily creeping down the slopes, watching the skiers unfold off the lifts and onto the slopes, and watching the paragliders drift silently overhead and across the valley toward the peaks beyond.  Eventually, I reluctantly took the underground funicular back to town, warmed my hands over tea and a croissant, and met Andy and Mara as they arrived from Brig.  We rented skis and headed back to Sunnegga, ready to test ourselves on the Alpine slopes.

We made it less than one hundred meters (literally) before we encountered ski patrol tending to two injured skiers, both bundled into stretchers, and a helicopter swooping in to whisk them off to a hospital.  I crossed my fingers and hoped none of us would need this service.

We spent the afternoon enjoying the slopes of Zermatt – including a return trip to Gornergrat – and briefly going “off piste” to ride through patches of untouched powder from the day before.  Wow, this is not New England skiing.  It is quite a different experience to ski through a treeless terrain, with 52 lifts at your disposal. We’re not in Lyme anymore, Toto.

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We ended the day at about 4pm, as the sun sank over the high ridges and the lower trails turned into gentle traverses that allowed us to gently glide back down into the village of Zermatt.  In the final kilometer we passed the “Veuve Clicquot” champagne bar and numerous smaller slopeside bars, each doing steady aprés-ski business among tired skiers.

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We returned our rental equipment and stopped into the Grizzly’s Bar for a burger (Andy) and a sweet-potato masala (Mara) before catching the train back to Visp and on to Zürich.  After a day like this, we are excited to get back onto the slopes soon!

Although I had only my iPhone for most of this visit, the scenery was so stunning I was still able to fill a small gallery.  Enjoy!   and if you want to keep up with our adventures, please “Follow” this blog at right – either via RSS or email.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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