The Resort Workers' guide to Zermatt

By adamrowden, 13 Dec '12 at 12:53

Zermatt is one of those rare ski resorts that has it all and, as such, is the favoured destination of many skiers from around the world. To begin with there's the huge ski area, with the world's second biggest lift-served vertical drop and skiing 365 days a year with a 1000 metre (9280 feet) vertical on its glacier even in the summer months.

Then there's the village itself, peaceful thanks to the absence of the combustion engine (only small electric vehicles quietly hum around the streets alongside horse drawn carriages), and picturesque with traditional buildings and many visitors arriving by the spectacular mountain railway.

Thirdly there is the international resort quality and variety of accommodations, restaurants, après-ski, off-slope facilities and shopping.

Fourth there's the sunny location, sheltered from the wind and finally there is the spectacular backdrop to it all - the 4000m full face of the Matterhorn, one of 38 mountain peaks surrounding the village.

The Gornergrat offers fantastic sights and insights. The highest rack railway in Europe to be constructed in open countryside ascends slopes covered in deep snow from Zermatt to its destination at 3100 metres: a winter wonderland of 29 four-thousand-metre peaks packed with ice and snow! Among them are famous giants like the Matterhorn (4478 m), Liskamm (4527 m) and the Dufour-Spitze (4634 m).

On the Slopes

If you like moguls then Triftji is the place to go – and that’s also where the famous mogul competition is – The Triftji Bump Bash. But if speed is more your thing then you can descend 2190m from the top of the Klein Matterhorn down to Zermatt, though due to people congestion some bits are faster that others! One of my favourites is from the top of the Rothorn down to Patrullarve – a descent of 1103m and its pretty fast and good piste, you can extend this to a 1483m descent by skiing back into town, however the last bit can be a bit slow.

Zermatt is not so great for snow parks in the winter, there is an area up from Trockner Steg, but its nothing special, there is a decent half pipe up the Gornergrat which is where all the 'Radical Dudes' hang out (so I'm told), - there is a good bar there too - The Igloo Bar! For the summer skiing there is a brilliant park up the Klein Matterhorn, rails, jumps, pipes its all there.

Off-Piste

Some complain the pistes of Z are bland, but nobody can even hint that the off piste doesn't boast truly awesome accessible pitches.

Zermatt has a lot of glacial skiing which should not be taken lightly. Crevasses are always a threat and, as with any off-piste riding, a guide is advisable. Play safe and get tooled up (which includes knowledge) and you will have day after day of untracked riding. The more well-off tourist, which the resort attracts plenty of, prefers the groomed carving lands so after a dump you have plenty of time to shred, unlike some other resorts.

The skiing in Zermatt is split into three areas. The Klein Matterhorn area centers around the Trokener Steg self service. Most of this area is glacial so take great care. Lower down towards Garten, start with itinerary runs and work over to the back bowls, days of fun to be had.
Gornergrat is now accessible by the new bubble from Furi, but don’t ignore the train on a sunny days its gives some views that have to be seen. Between the runs some great lines can be found, a great bit is from the top of the Gornergrat down the left hand side of 9a, and also down in between the K1 T-bar and the 9i run and to the left of that.

The Stockhorn area offers some advanced off piste when conditions are favourable. I never found a huge amount of good off piste up in the Sunnegga area - but as I said we had a poor season and that area loses the snow the quickest as well.

Its worth remembering that you are in Switzerland where heli-skiing is legal! There are several different set routes that guides will take you on, alternatively you can design a route and if a guide agrees that it is 'safe' they will take you down. Its not cheap but worth it just for the trip in the helicopter.

Living in Resort

Finding Accommodation in Zermatt during the winter is virtually impossible. If you are going out independently to look for work yourself try and sort out the accommodation before you go, and during the summer if possible (you can do this via the tourist office) - once the winter season has started you won't find anything. Every location has good and bad qualities, Winklematten and Moos are the worst places to live for access to town, however they are close to the Klein Matterhorn lifts. There is no particularly dangerous place to live.

Bars and Clubs
The North Wall Bar is the legendary worker's hang-out, but some changes have happened so we'll wait to see if the fickle workers can accept change. But cheap pizzas, ski movies and beers galore will always be present at The Wall.

The Pipe is more of an eatery than a bar, serving up a crazy fusion of foods - but don’t be scared to venture in for some toffee vodkas.

Potter’s Bar is the best lazy day hang-out you could ask for. The food is great value and the full English with real builder’s tea is something you just need sometimes. All the big sports events are show here and the rugby always has a great atmosphere.

Nelly’s Bar has some awesome food and offers a very varied selection of meat from kudu (a large antelope) to wild boar and a few snappers thrown in for flavour. The bar is always a laugh - Stu’s knowledge of fine shots and the piranhas eyeing you up for their dinner makes it a must booze at venue.

The Papperla Pub has fantastic apres ski, lethal shots and live music. Pocket and Stuee working the outsid ebar always create a party and walking past is not an option.

Schneewittchen is below Papperla and kicks off later in the evening. The fireman's pole has gone but the legendary Hughie and Gee make up for it.

Z' Alt Hischi gives the biggest measures of spirits you've ever seen! If you can't find it, just ask.

The Country Bar has pool tables and fussball.

Vernissage features in The Times top 10 of best European Apres Ski bars. It was designed by Heinz Julen (famed local architect) and is a cinema/lounge bar/nightclub - it has to be seen to be believed. And it's a completely different cinema experience, with meals served in the interval (yes, they have an interval!)

Some others include:

The Hotel Poste is made up of four bars and has undergone a massive re-furb.
The Brown Cow is popular with workers, has live music, sky TV and great burgers!
The Broken – Cheesy but popular nightclub - make sure you dance on the barrel.
The Village – Another cheesy but popular night-club.
The Pink – Jazz bar with great live music. Pricey but worth it once in awhile.

Eating Out
Blauherd Restaurant, at Blauherd - it has a bar outside on the sun terrace, which also serves hot dogs etc, its main attraction is its handy location and that it usually has live music as well.

Chez Vrony, at Findeln - Not the cheapest mountain restaurant in the world but must be visited at least once during the season. It has possibly the best sun terrace ever and the chocolate brownies are something else!

Zum See Restaurant, at Zum See - Not far from Zermatt so you can stop on your way home, the food is the main attraction there - especially the homemade desserts!

Events
There are loads of events in Zermatt during the winter. One of the most famous is the Luttman-Johnson race, this is run by the Ski Club of GB - basically you are required to check into as many mountain restaurants as possible and spend as long as possible in each one - definitely my type of race.

Another is the Chinese Downhill - a downhill race down the Klein Matterhorn, boarders are at a bit of a disadvantage with this one as you have to start the race out of your bindings! There is also the Triftji Bump Bash which is a big mogul competition during a week in April.
There is also the Boss de Bosses - actually taking place in Chamonix - but teams are entered every year from Zermatt, Courchevel and Meribel (& Chamonix), it involves seasonal workers in a variety of events - a great day out!

There are many other events going on throughout the season - boarder cross, big air etc which anybody can enter. As for events off the piste there are too many to mention; there are regular curling and ice hockey matches, a mountain film festival, numerous parties at the pubs and bars, just to name a few.

Away Days
That's the problem with Zermatt you do tend to feel slightly trapped, almost like being in a col-de-sac. The only way out is by train (as you can't drive up to resort unless you've got a special permit) so it can get pricey.

Saas Fee is only an hour and a half away, although its more of the same, (ie mountains and snow) they do have some good shops and bars and it's a change. You can also catch the train down to Brig, which is the main town in this canton, for some bigger shops. Alternatively you can upgrade your ski pass and ski over to Cervinia, in Italy, for lunch.

Transfer Day
The majority of guests come in via Geneva airport which is about 3 hours away. There are often delays, but there are some decent shops and loads of other reps to talk to if you get stuck there for a while.

Guests sometimes come in to Sion airport which is about 1 hour 20 minutes away. They pay more to fly to Sion for the benefit of a shorter transfer. Sometimes, due to bad weather, flights can be diverted, causing chaos. However if planes are delayed at Sion there is an amazing restaurant in the airport. Suggest to your guests that they start eating straight away, and after a few glasses of wine they will no longer be shouting at you.

Après-ski Options
The most popular après ski event that our reps organised was tobogganing. You take the last lift of the day up and toboggan down pisted tracks stopping at various different mountain restaurants for vin chaud on the way down. Other popular ones were curling and bowling, and for the more daring parapenting and helicopter rides!

Thanks to BG John for putting the majority of this Guide together.

For more resort profiles click here. Or, to find a good transfer company to take you to Zermatt click here.

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