This is an interview with Nicolas, the founder of Switzermatt, a company offering travel services in Zermatt including accommodation booking, ski instruction, shopping, and babysitting. Nicolas is that resource we wish we had in every destination — an insider with impeccable tips and advice.
Skiing nirvana in Zermatt
We found him during an emergency calling frenzy a few weeks ago when we realized we had to unexpectedly bring our dog skiing with us and needed to find a dog sitter. After about 30 calls that ended with “sorry we can’t help you”, we found Nicolas.
Nicolas got us out of our bind and then proceeded to give us priceless guidance on the best way to ski in Zermatt with kids.In a large resort like this where the terrain and procedures are unknown, struggle is likely without insight.
I’m excited to share Nicolas’ perspective. Before the interview begins, I want to note that I ask everyone where they love to ski in Europe and if they’ve skied in Zermatt, it’s always on the top of the list.
Zermatt is the highest ski area in Europe at 3′900 m/12,795 ft.
Bluebird morning at Riffelberg in Zermatt
When did you first fall in love with Zermatt and how long have you been living there?
I’ve enjoyed Zermatt for the past 40 years. NYC is exciting but draining. Paris is culturally rich but stressful. Hong Kong is amazing but I don’t want to live there. Zermatt has a balance I have not found elsewhere since 1969. I’ve spent the past 10 winter seasons here.
The Zermatt ski resort is vast. Is it a good ski venue for all ages and abilities? If so, why?
Zermatt and its ‘chocolate box’ look, brings people from around the world, both in winter and in summer. For as long as a ’ski resort top 10 list’ has existed, Zermatt has figured in those top 10 world wide (US ski magazines). The Matterhorn (4′478 m), towers over the town majestically, but is also one of the world’s 4′000 m most exciting climbs in summer. For the rest of us, there are some 400 km of stunning trails to be explored with some extraordinary flora and breath taking veiws.
The skiing domain (350 km of pistes), being split into three distinct areas, allows for a full range of skiing ability and levels. All three areas have their own “Park for beginners”. The Gant and Hohtälli areas concentrate the hardier skiing, while the Theodul glacier area leading to Italy has a greater variety of difficulty levels.
Klein Matterhorn cable-car ride will lead you to 3′883m, the highest cable car station in Europe. Between those two areas is the Gornergrat area with mostly intermediate slopes (est.1898 cog-wheel train) with splendid views on both the Matterhorn and the Monte Rosa (4′634m) which is perfectly suited for heli-skiing.
Spectacular views in every direction in Zermatt
Given the size of the skiable terrain, what is the best strategy to maximize the ski experience but minimize logistical hassles if you have 4-5 days on holiday there?
The long standing tradition is to cover all three areas/mountains in the day. In our day with the highly modern and efficient lift system, one does not even have to walk/push any more. This makes for the perfect ‘discovery’ day for newcomers with a certain skiing ability.
Furthermore, Zermatt has developed a sign posted route for the execution of this circuit. Like a sampler course, clients then choose the area they prefer and explore that ‘mountain’ further.
A trip to Italy is uncomplicated and the skiing varied and easy. It’s always fun skiing across the border having lunch and then to return to a different country.
You also specialize in helping people find accommodations in Zermatt. Over winter months what is the ideal area in town for accommodations?
I usually request a budget and the type of accommodation needed (boutique/groovy/kitsch/swiss standard/nature lover) and then try to prioritize to satisfy the requirements. Given the size of the village, with a few exceptions, most of the hotels are within a 10-minute walk of the Main street. There is a wide range of options from 2* to 5* hotels, apartments, and chalets.
Summer shot of one of the many chalets you can ski to for lunch
For us, stopping in one of the many chalets on the mountain is part of the fun of experiencing Zermatt. Do you have a favorite?
One of Zermatt’s appeals are the ‘mountain restaurants’ from the tiny wooden hut serving soup and bread (only) to the opulence of some restaurants rated 17/20 by some international food critics. Often booked long before one’s arrival in Zermatt, these restaurants produce daily miracles, given the logistics necessary. Some of these institutions also offer evening meals just so that one can sled back to town in the pitch dark, with little vision. The level of sophistication and reputation is such that on occasions one has to book one’s desert over the telephone, or go without.
What are some activities families may enjoy when they aren’t skiing?
The palette of activities is endless. Skiing can mean: downhill, boarding, telemark, cross country, nordic, up hill with ’skins’, summer or winter due to artificial snow. There are 2 snowparks for those looking for acrobatic sensations. Curling – ice skating – para-gliding – sledding – heli sight seeing – snowshoe walking; in summer hiking – climbing – mountain biking – golf – adventure course and no cars.
To use Switzermatt services, call +41 (0)27 967 7306.
Relevant Notes and Links:
I’m about to do a Where Can Kids Ski Free in 2011 article for Europe. Kids ski free until the age of 9 in Zermatt! In addition, I’m working on adding a few of the best hotels for families to the Ciao Bambino portfolio. We love the Riffelalp Resort for luxury in a special setting on the mountain (tradeoff is you need to take a train to town), Coeur Des Alps for a boutique, stylish-yet-kid-friendly experience, and Casa Vanessa for a value-oriented apart-hotel.
Photos courtesy of Amie O’Shaughnessy