The Heart of the Matterhorn: MOUNTAIN TOUR

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The Heart of Matterhorn, March 2005

VITAL STATS

ACRES

More than 8,800

LIFTS

62, plus 30 on the Italian side

VERTICAL DROP

7,520 feet

TRAILS

236 miles

AVERAGE ANNUAL SNOWFALL 220 inches

LIFT TICKET

Adult $63, five of seven days $293; children ski free through age 9

CONTACT

Switzerland Tourism, 877-794-8037, info.usa@ switzerland.com; Zermatt Tourism, 011-41-27-966-8100, zermatt.ch

Zermatt's slopes are above treeline, forming a semicircle around town. There are three points of access: Telestation Rothorn, the Gornergrat Railway and the Klein Matterhorn tram station, or Furi.

Start at the Telestation Rothorn to take the funicular to Sunnegga, then continue ascending chairlifts up the ridgeline to Blauherd (which is wind-protected and a good choice on blustery days) then up to Rothorn. Broad pistes for intermediates drop off either side of the Rothorn summit. (Avalanche-savvy experts can follow the spiny ridgeline down from the summit then go off-piste toward Tuftern.) Descend facing the Matterhorn to get to Gant, where an interconnecting tram goes to the resort's Gornergrat-Hohtà¤lli-Stockhorn section.

Advanced skiers will want to start their day on the Gornergrat Railway-be certain to catch an express, not a local-which takes some 40 scenic minutes to wind its way 4,620 feet up to Gornergrat, where an observatory and hotel proffer stupendous views of the Matterhorn.

Skiers of all levels can start their day at the Klein Matterhorn station, taking either gondola or tram up to Furi. Experts will want to go directly to Schwarzsee; everyone else should continue up, up, up to the Klein Matterhorn. Beginners and intermediates can spend all day cruising Cervinia's spacious basins on the Italian side, though there is an added cost to the lift pass. You'll need your passport, too.

For experts, Zermatt's true bounty lies off-piste. Weeks with a guide will not even begin to exhaust the possibilities. Glacial crevasses and avalanche danger means that off-piste is truly dangerous, however, so don't try it without a guide.

MARCH/APRIL 2005