ZERMATT OR BUST
26th February 2020 | James Cove, Zermatt
Last modified on March 4th, 2020
PlanetSKI went to the Swiss resort from Italy for a 24-hour visit. It turned into 72-hours as a big storm hit. There are worse places to be stranded but the journey back wasn’t quite as planned.
The forecast was not good as we considered leaving our base in Aosta in Italy to head over to Zermatt via Cervinia.
It is possible to access the Swiss resort with a supplement of €35 to the pass from the Italian resort.
We planned to ski the resort and stay one night.
Should we risk it with storms forecast?
This was the advice from my good friend Fraser Wilkin from weathertoski.co.uk:
“Still looking bad later today and especially tomorrow.
“There will be blizzards on the main Alpine ridge between Cervinia and Zermatt , including storm force winds.
I would be very surprised if much was open at altitude tomorrow when you plan to come back.”
We threw caution to the wind (more about the wind later) and decided to go.
The first glimpse of Mt Cervino/the Matterhorn from Cervinia looked good.
And it didn’t disappoint once in Zermatt.
The resort goes up to 3,883m and the views from the top of the resort at the top of the Klein Matterhorn back to Italy remain as impressive as ever.
And rather tasty in other directions too.
It is one of the best viewing platforms in the Alps in my opinion.
As well as being the highest.
At the moment it is only possible to access the peak from the Swiss side, but a new lift is under construction from Cervinia.
In Zermatt a new 3S gondola has been recently installed – the highest 3S lift in the Alps that can run in high winds.
I wondered if it would it be able to function in the storm that was due.
The answer to that question is at the end of this article…
And, what of the approaching storm?
I posted a weather report for the main snow report on the web site:
And afterwards things actually improved.
After skiing I set out for a quiet night in Zermatt.
Is there such a thing?
The Papperla was still rocking.
And it would have rude not to pop into The Cable Car for a nightcap.
My mate Mark, AKA Pocket, runs the bar and another great Zermatt friend, Sparky, popped in for a drink.
I am not sure what the guy on the TV thought of us.
A quiet night turned into quite a night – as it does in Zermatt.
The following morning the storm had arrived.
This was the view from the Hotel Bella Vista where I was staying.
And this was the state of the lift system.
Not a single lift or run open in Cervinia and all the connections shut.
We would not be going back to Cervinia anytime soon.
There are worse places in the world to be stranded than Zermatt.
Every cloud has a silver lining… do check back on what my extended stay involved.
UPDATED: WEDNESDAY 26th FEBRUARY
Well, some skiing to start with.
There were a few lifts open so it would be silly not to go and ski.
It was a bit bleak but there was 10cm or so of fresh snow and not many others around.
In town the clearing up operation and disposal operation was underway.
And with so many ski resorts trumpeting their ‘green credentials’ it was good to see Zermatt banned the internal combustion engine many years ago.
There are just electric vehicles in the village, and that includes the buses.
So, well when will the linking lift to Cervinia open so we can go home?
To be honest I don’t really care… do check back for a Zermatt update.
UPDATE, THURSDAY 27th FEBRUARY
It looked good first thing.
Perhaps the connecting lifts to Cervinia would open?
Once again it was the lull before the storm.
Another storm with high winds was forecast and the high-altitude lifts weren’t going to open today.
Oh well, might as well go skiing in the trees and do another snow report.
The pistes were pretty deserted.
And then, as forecast, the snow became heavier.
And by lunchtime?
The lifts remained firmly closed on the way up to the Klein Matterhorn and over to Cervinia.
We just cruised the slopes enjoying what was on offer.
Unlike many of the high altitude resorts Zermatt is a good place to be on a bad weather day with plenty of sheltered areas, tree skiing and lifts that can run.
There was over 100km of slopes on offer.
And we then headed inside for a well deserved drink and warm-up.
And as I stepped out of my skis after another fabulous day in Zermatt I noticed a poster.
The Zermatt Unplugged Festival is my favourite of all the music festivals in the mountains and I have been many times over the year.
I was last at the event in 2018, writing about it all in a daily blog:
I must check my diary for the middle of April.
If you can get here for Zermatt Unplugged I thoroughly recommend you do.
I am told the weather lifts tomorrow and the links back to Cervinia will be open… we shall see.
Best to head back to The Cable Car.
It was rum night after all.
And I needed to ask the locals about the possibilities of hiking back to Cervinia if the lifts didn’t open – yes, really.
It certainly looked promising at breakfast, though the snow coming off the Matterhorn showed the wind was still blowing hard.
We checked out and went for a ski, waiting for the connecting lift to Cervinia to open which we were assured it would do.
Zermatt was on its finest form.
I bumped into another old friend out on the slopes – Paul who runs Summit Ski School along with some other friends of mine, Henry and Erica, who I had seen the night before in the Vernissage.
Paul and I hadn’t seen each other for years.
Turns out we still had much in common – including the same goggles.
The ‘MW’ on our goggles stands for MessyWeekend, and we have had a few of those over the years in Zermatt.
See here for a PlanetSKI review of the MessyWeekend goggles
So, what about getting back to Cervinia?
We headed over to Trockener Steg where we could see the new 3S lift working.
When we got to the lift there was, er, a small problem.
It was only taking pedestrians to the top as the authorities claimed it was too windy for people to ski the slopes.
Now I won’t bore you with the details but we (myself, my son and his girlfriend) pretty much had to get back to Cervinia that day.
There was only one way back.
Two and a half hours later we reached the top.
We had hiked from 2,920m to 3,304m – a vertical rise of 364m and a distance of 4.62kms.
Cervinia was a welcome sight indeed.
Now I should stress immediately that no-one should do such a hike unless they have the correct experience, training and equipment for high-altitude ski touring.
It is not walk in the park when you are hiking at over 3,000m with storms threatening.
I have passed the European Mountain Safety modules of my ski instructor qualifications, that includes leading groups on day tours.
I actually did the course in Zermatt and know the terrain we were hiking very well.
My 25-year son, Alex, is a Canadian Level Three ski instructor.
He has extensive off piste and touring experience and his girlfriend, Marie, matches this level of ability.
We are all pretty fit.
I have done several hut to hut tours over the years and do plenty of day tours each winter.
We set off with plenty of time in hand and always had an exit strategy if we needed one due to the weather closing in – ski back down on the piste to Zermatt.
We had all the correct safety equipment (avalanche beacon + shovel and probe) and we are practised in using the gear.
We had plenty of food and water, had studied the weather forecast and alerted people in resort that we may be doing this.
We had special backpacks to carry skis and had this in plan as a ‘last resort’.
That said it was a fitting way to end our enforced 3-night stay in Zermatt.
It was definitely the most memorable way I have left my favourite resort in the world.
Goodbye Zermatt, you always provide me with adventures and new experiences.
See you later this winter.
Lets hope the new 3S lift will be taking skiers next time…