Zermatt!!! A place steep in mountaineering history and one of the most popular tourist attraction. It is also the terminal of ski mountaineering Zermatt-Chamonix Haute-Route.
The family was leaving Lyon today; wife and kids were taking the TGV train to Paris and flying back to Canada the next day. Earlier that morning, I hoped on my own train in the neighbouring town from my in-laws towards Geneva and Zermatt. It had been 4 weeks since we landed in Paris, the rest of the family were heading back for work and school while I was extended my stay in Europe to get a few more turns.
A few hours later I got off the train and walked into a postcard. No artificial Disneyfied pedestrian village with typical faux-Swiss Chalets; this was the real deal with spectacular scenery with the Matterhorn in the background and you’ll understand why there are so many tourists roaming the streets.
All good things for tourists, but for myself, Zermatt is first and foremost one of the most extensive summer skiing destination in the World. Skiing starts at 7am, but the gondola ride open at 6:30. I bought a 2-day combo ticket that is also good at Saas Fee in the next valley. The ticket set me back 129 CHF. A single day pass for Zermatt cost for one-day was 80 CHF making it probably one of the most expensive ski passes all season combined on the Planet. Walked in sandals from the hostel to the gondola terminal and hoped on at 7:30. The ride from 1600m edge of town to the 3800m summit station was made via the bottom gondola then followed by two trams.
For some reason, we ended up waiting in a closed trams for what seem a longtime. People were hot in more ways than one. The weather forecast was uncertain as T-Storm were forecast later in the day. The Matterhorn was partially clouded off for part of the day. The temperature at the top terminal at 3883m was 0 celsius, the snow was refrozen and hard. There was a long cat-track starting from the summit terminal building and descending where the majority of the skiing was happening. There was even a tunnel to avoid skiers training Super G or Downhill. Once on the other side of the short tunnel, a multiple of teams had divided the hill in lanes for training. Conditions were hard and fast which was perfect snow conditions from running gates for teams from Ontario kids to the Austrian ski team. These conditions prevailed until 11:30.
In this last week of August, the skiing was serviced by 5 T-bars covering a vertical drop of almost 500 meters. Skiing is possible for an extra 500 meters on the Oberer Theodulgletscher earlier in the season.
The morning skiing wasn’t for the uninitiated: it was like a first year driver on the Autobahn. The terrain accessed by the two 280 meters Zermatt parallel T-Bars started steep only to conclude in a long run off at the end down to 3400 meters. A number of courses were set to the skier’s right and two on the left side of the trail. The gateless skiing was in the middle. At the bottom left side in the run out, there was a few park features. You could access the park via a shorter T-bar that ran 75 meters, but the snowpark was clearly not the focus of the Zermatt skiers. Some skiers were arriving from Cervinia on the Italia of the border via a lift arriving to the Plateau Rosa which you could ski to and from.
As skiers running the downhill course from higher up, I noticed a T-bar higher not visible from the top of main T-bars. This lift ran along the ridge that also served as the Swiss-Italian border and climbed an extra 160 meters. The top of the T-Bar was approximately at same altitude as the Summit building (3899m). On the plateau in between, a T-Bar assured the liaison. Although the Downhill run was off-limits, there was a gentler run between it and the cat-track from the morning. The excursion was better with snow that was soft and edgeable. It made for a pretty long run with almost 500m vertical: wow! It was impressive.
Clouds started moving in at noon when most of the racers were gone. I asked if it was okay to run that was previously used to train downhill. The answer was “yes” and it ended up being the run of the day. I keep bumping into this French skier. He initially approached me and asked if I was American. He mentioned that he recognized me by my skiing. We took the T-Bar together a few times. He was instructor from Chamonix in Zermatt on a daytrip. When we talked about age, he says that he mentioned that he was “48” to the ladies. Turns out that he was actually 78 and had been an instructor for the last 60 years. He worked for a number of years in Tahoe and spent one year at Mammoth during their third year of operation in 1960-61. This man was full of stories and was the definition of the classic French skier from the 1960s in the way I would imagine in term of personality. He lived just off Argentière next to the lift.
Ended up milking out the last run of the T-Bar, skied the previous closed lanes due to the various training courses. The flatter bottom of the slopes was pretty mush, but it still fun to ski if you don’t mind that thing of snow.
We downloaded off the mountain together. He shared some of his bottle of cider and sandwich. He didn’t want to have anything to do with my Mars chocolate bar. The ride down was longer as we used the top tram then transferred to the two stage gondola. Not the fastest way down, but still incredibly spectacular.
The French skiers removed his ski boots at the top while I put my sandals. I was waiting for him to put his shoes only to find out that he didn’t have any. He told me he never wore shoes unless he asked for a loan at a bank. :O Telling you, classic. As we walked down the streets of Zermatt, me in my sandals, him barefoot, he offered me a ride down the valley with his car parked lower in the Valley (Zermatt is car-free). I had to decline as I needed to get my stuff back from the Hostal and transfer via Train and bus to Saas Fee. I was really a pleasure to share part of my day with him.
Zermatt is really spectacular. The scenery and the size of the summer liftserved skiing are pretty impressive. Definitely an all-round classic!!!
Monday Mad Addict’s Attic : Zermatt (Trail Map)