|I was lucky enough to exchange email information with others, who
have been to Zermatt. Most found me by discovering my online reviews
about North American ski resorts (Aspen, Jackson, Whistler, and Banff).
Some of their comments are included below and I'd like to thank them
for generously sharing their experiences and information with me and those
who visit this website.
From Regine of Germany who goes to Zermatt often:
The weather in January: the coldest month in European winters is February, especially around carnival-time, then it's sometimes -20 C on top of the mountains. January is not that cold, I would say it's normally around -5-10 C (15 to 22 degrees F) Some people don't like skiing in December and January, because some areas sometimes don't have much snow (Zermatt always has, because it's higher above sea level than other areas and it has glaciers) and because it's getting shady and dark relatively early around that time of the year. Most ski lifts and cable cars close around 4 - 4:30, it's getting dark around 5 pm.
Zermatt belongs to the southern part of the Alps ("Alpen-Südseite"), which very often has totally different weather than the northern part of the Alps ("Alpen-Nordseite"): whenever the northern part has bad weather, the sun is shining in Zermatt. The weather forecast always divides between northern and southern part of the Alps. Should there be really bad weather or high winds (which doesn't happen very often), you can always go by train to the top of the mountains, which is a Zermatt-special. There are two railways, one takes you through a huge tunnel, "Sunnegga", to the top of a mountain, the other one is the famous "Gornergrat-Bahn", which is a very comfortable rack-railway to different skiing areas of Zermatt and also very romantic.
The Nicoletta is very nice (like all the other Seiler-Hotels, all of them are owned by the Seiler-family) and a view to the Matterhorn is a MUST, it's pure magic - you did a very good choice. The Riffelalp-Resort is very special, brand-new, very good cuisine and has the best view to the Matterhorn. It is located outside Zermatt, in the middle of the skiing-area of Gornergrat, which you'll reach by the rack-railway. You can either go up by train in the evening (which is included in your ticket for the skiing area), the station is called "Riffelalp" - or you just stop there on your last ski-run, enjoy the sunset with a view to the Matterhorn, have a drink ("Glühwein" - a kind of red wine punch, hot and a little bit spicy)and have an early dinner before you go back to Zermatt-village by train. You will like it!
To hire a guide might be a good idea, but I'm not so sure if you will really need it. The different skiing areas are really huge, you can't do it in one day and you would have to decide, to which area to go. Another idea for getting an overview might be to do a trip by helicopter (you take your skis with you), they start in Zermatt-village and fly around the very top of the Matterhorn, which is really a thrill and drop you off at the "Klein Matterhorn" ("Small Matterhorn"), which is 3.820 meters above sea level. From there you can either ski the Swiss Matterhorn-area or you can ski to a village called Cervinia, which is the Italian "side" of the Matterhorn (if you are planning to do this, please make sure, that you'll have your passport with you and that the Italian area is included in your ticket and most important: check when the last cable car is going back to the Swiss "side", otherwise you have to stay in Cervinia over night!)
Christian LOVES the Zermatt helicopter rides, we do this every time, when we are staying there. It takes you to the top of the mountain in a few minutes and if you start early in the morning, you'll be the only people up there (before the crowd reaches the top by cable car).
Swiss people have a strange accent, Kenny shouldn't be disappointed
if he doesn't understand much! May be as a result of speaking that
different version of German, most Swiss people speak very good English.
From John & Judy of UK:
Zermatt - We have been twice, once just the two of us, and last year we went with our three mid-twenties kids, plus a friend-who-became-partner of one of them.
First time we stayed in a small hotel on half board, but this place has since become a 'club-hotel' and changed management - pity since the meals were superb. Last year we rented a big apartment a little bit out of the centre above the Klein Matterhorn lift. This was excellent - usual Swiss quality - but a little inconvenient for shopping as it was only accessible on foot. As you know there are no private cars in Zermatt, but you can walk end to end in 20 - 30 minutes. The buses finish by about 6pm and taxis are expensive. The three ski areas are quite spread out, with Sunnegga/Rothorn and Gornergrat base stations at one end of town and Klein Matterhorn at the other. Electric buses shuttle between them but still leave you with a short walk/climb to the station. If you are heading for Klein Matterhorn, don't take the Winkelmatten bus - it doesn't stop at the lift station.
As we were on either half-board or largely self-catering we don't have too much experience of dining out. Wherever you go, quality will be excellent - food, surroundings, service. You may pay a lot but will never think you have been ripped off. This is the same anywhere in Switzerland.
The mountain restaurants are a rather mixed experience. The huge cafeteria mountain top places are purely functional - you go in, eat, get out. Sit out on the terraces if is half-way decent weather - it usually is. Much better are the 'stubli' bars half way down the mountain at places such as Furgg or in the woods at Patrullarve. At the end of the day these places become very lively - and smoky.
Nightlife is not one of our key skills! As a couple of 50-something year olds, our taste is towards the quieter end of the musical scale. Most years we go to Grindelwald and always enjoy the classical concerts in the village church - we were disappointed that nothing of this kind was happening in Zermatt - but mid January (when we were there both times) is very low season. Other than that there is ice skating, curling, night-tobogganing (great fun - you carry burning torches) or the cinema (English language most days
But of course you are really going for the skiing - you will not be disappointed. Don't worry about the lines (queues) in mid Jan - apart from maybe the Furgg mid station at 9.00 am you will not have to stand in line for more than a few minutes. In Europe there is however no line discipline, so expect some jostling and line cutting, especially if there are any kids around! (If there is a big bunch of people at Furgg for the tram to Trockener Steg, step around them and take the chairlift to Theodulgletcher instead). And there is a new lift under construction at Furgg, which may be ready.
On your first day you will be anxious to get onto the slopes as quickly as possible - I suggest you head for the Sunnegga/Rothorn funicular. This is the quickest way up the mountain. It links with a gondola then a cable car (tram). We enjoy all the runs in this area - mostly 'red' or blue on your system. From the top of Rothorn you can go either left or right - the right side seems to be favoured by boarders, (our kids!) who of course generally take all the wrong lines - strangely they say the same of skiers!. You can ski on down past Blauherd and Sunnegga to Patrullarve, on either reds or black - either way beautiful runs into the trees. Taking the left run from Rothorn is less used, and you can be on your lonesome if you ski on down past the Kumme lift and on down to Patrullarve through a short mogulled section.
Should you get bored of this area (unlikely) you can connect with the Gornergrat area by skiing down to Gant (passing through a little village which is a good lunch stop) and taking the cable car to Platte. If you are into steep moguls this is the area of the black Triftji Bumps - closed at the moment as it needs lots of snow. From Platte you can connect to Gornergrat, which is the top station of the railway from Zermatt. It's mostly fairly gentle cruising in this area. There is a dedicated sled (sledge) run here though, which looks fun, though we haven't used it. Unfortunately you can't connect to Klein Matterhorn area from here without going back to town, which you probably wouldn't want to do on the same day as the full journey would be 2+ hours top to top.
The biggest area is Klein Matterhorn, with the possibility of skiing to Cervinia in Italy. Unfortunately we haven't achieved this yet as we are still exploring the Swiss side, but everyone seems to recommend the trip. Be careful, though, lots of people get trapped on the wrong side if the weather closes in - take your passport, toothbrush and credit card. On the return trip you can't ride any lifts down from the border station at Testa Grigia back to Zermatt - you have to ski down the glacier to Trockener Steg at least. The glacier is great in good visibility but I have nightmares thinking about what it's like when the cloud comes down - it is wide open with no land marks for miles. From the top station at Klein Matterhorn you can ski a mix of reds and blacks all the way to town - vertical drop about 2000 metres - over 6000 feet, and probably 10 - 12 miles non-stop. It's fantastic! The top station, probably like the Rendezvous tram, is very vulnerable to strong winds and is often closed. If it is, you still can get access to Cervinia via a series of long and tiring drags (surface tows - T-bars and buttons/pummels) from Trockener Steg. Our favourite run is from the Furgsattel drag back to Trockener Steg - just the perfect gradient!
So we won't meet in either Zermatt or Jackson in Jan, but it will be interesting to compare notes. One of our concerns is about the cold. Even at the top of Klein Matterhorn it is rarely below zero F. Today it is unusually warm at 32 F - more commonly about 5 - 10F up there. We are not accustomed to the fierce sub-zeros of Jackson!
If you need to buy any ski gear, I have found that in Europe hardware (boots, skis, boards) is cheaper than USA, but clothing tends to be more expensive here. If you can, try big sports shops in France such as www.au-vieux-campeur.fr If you rent in Zermatt you don't need to shop around as it's the same price everywhere.
Lastly here a couple of links if you have not already found them. www.bergbahnen.zermatt.ch/e www.ski-zermatt.com/winter www.zermattaktuell.ch/zaktuell/d/home (German only)
WALKING AROUND ZERMATT - everyone seems to complain about the long walks, but I've read that most everything is within a 15 minute walk - maybe people walk fast! The town is fairly flat north to south, so getting between Sunnegga and Kl Matterhorn lifts is easy. However, if you take the bus to Klein Matterhorn, make sure you follow the crowds into the elevator near the bus stop or you will have a steep hike to the lift! Some hotels are on the steep valley sides, but often have an elevator from street level via a tunnel. The Winkelmatten area where we stayed last year is on a hill, but its not likely you will need to go up there. It is true that if you are in the centre of town everywhere will be within 15 minutes walk. Sidewalks are not cleared and walking in ski boots can be tricky. There are lockers for skis and boots at all stations (cheap) but do not make the mistake we did one year and leave boots in the cold overnight - it takes all day to warm them again! When you get to the top station at Klein Matterhorn you are nearly 4000 metres (13000 feet or so). The air is a bit thin, so take it easy! There's a nice ice cave to visit (free) and there's an elevator to a viewing platform if the weather is clear.
You can buy a lift ticket which includes Cervinia, or you can buy daily add-ons. It depends how often you might want to ski over there. Tickets are electronic 'hands free' and you will be charged a deposit - remember to turn them in at the end of your trip to get your money back! Talking of money, which I usually am, the currency is still Swiss Francs, though everywhere displays prices in Euros too. This makes it easy for you because a Euro is pretty well exactly a dollar at the moment.
Weather in Zermatt: The coldest during January that we have experienced in Switz is -28 C (-17f I think) on the Jungfrau. Usually it is not colder than -18 C (about zero F).
Renting ski equipment should be fine, and cheaper than USA. Quality is excellent, and skis should be in good condition this year as there is good snow cover from the start of the season. Shops will exchange of course, and you can swap boards for skis and vice versa usually. If you go to Julen Sport www.julensport.ch (they have two shops, one just by the Kino) they may give you 10% discount if you mention you found them on the www.ski-zermatt.com website. Another handy place to rent is the shop at the Klein Matterhorn base station, as you can leave your stuff there overnight free. I think our son found their overnight tuning service very good too. Everyone speaks excellent English.
From all this you may think we are severe 'Swiss-o-files' and wonder
why we want to go to Jackson, Wyoming in the States this year. Well,
it is true we have skied in Switzerland for the last 12 - 14 years and
never been disappointed. In fact, I am having another short trip
to Wengen (Jungfrau area) in March because I can't bear the thought of
a whole year without visiting our second homeland!
From Michael of Austria, Netherlands, and British Virgin Islands:
As far as skiing goes, Zermatt rates as one of the top five in the world as far as vertical feet/meters hence the incredibly long runs. Zermatt the village is relatively flat, within the town centre. As it sits within the end of a valley, the flat areas are obviously all built up, with the village starting to expand up the steeper sides of the mountain (i.e. the Relais & Chateaux property Grand Hotel Schonegg was recently built on the side of the valley... when I was there in 1987, they did not allow development on the slopes but I guess money talks).
As you know, the village is all pedestrian, with you having to arrive by train (there are electric buggies that carry your luggage) and the larger streets have horse drawn sleighs. Hence walking around will be great. In terms of size, I would say it is much more compact than Aspen. You really can not compare a US resort with a European resort, especially as the old village of Zermatt (at the top of the valley) is about 200 to 300 years old (and they didn't build for SUVs in those days).
The skiing is located, if I recall correctly, on three or four different 'mountains', which unfortunately do not connect with each other (Zermatts one disadvantage). Hence you have to decide which mountain to ski in advance and stick with it for that day. But their big advantage is also their altitude, with Zermatt being somewhere around 1,650 meters. So snow should be great.
As for information on the internet, your best bet is to get onto the
websites of specialist British ski tour operators that feature Zermatt
in their programme. Having left the UK almost eight years ago, I
am a bit rusty with who goes were but the UK search engines should be able
to point you in the right direction. Then again Lynn, let the spirit
of adventure take over and you will have plenty of time to rummage through
the various nooks and crannies that Zermatt is famous for. The most
famous hotels are the Mt. Cervin and Mont Rosa (both owned by the Seiler
family) and Zermatterhof.
From a UK newspaper, published January 2003, written by a Zermatt restaurant owner, who has lived there all his life.
Best Piste: Klein Matterhorn