A week's Ski Holiday in Zermatt and Verbier

Having worked in the ski industry since 2004, I've seen a lot of resorts. In fact, until last week there were only 2 major resorts in our programme that I had never visited. I won't tell you which one I'm still to experience, but Zermatt has now been ticked off the to-do list. The only question I was asking myself is why has it taken me until the age of 30 to get out there?

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Luxury ski chalet in Zermatt

Although we only spent 3 days and nights in resort, it was enough to open my eyes to what must rank among the most beautiful ski resorts featured on our programme, as well as one of the most extensive and high altitude ski areas and some of the best nightlife. The only drawback to Zermatt that I could think of was the prices, which were high at best and eye-watering at worst. That said, what ski resort isn't a tad pricey these days? One of Zermatt's most endearing qualities is that there's no traffic and resort access is by train. If flying, you arrive by coach from Geneva and change at Täsch (pronounced tesh) for the 10 minute train ride to Zermatt. From there it's an electro taxi to your accommodation. If you make your own way to resort, as I did, you might arrive by train from Geneva which is so simple and relaxed. I took an express from Geneva to Visp and changed for the hour long ride up the valley to Zermatt.

On the Italian side of the border with the Matterhorn behind us

Perhaps one reason for my superb impression of the resort was the quality of the Chalet Grace, our base for the first leg of the trip. The chalet was newly built a couple of years ago and is superb. The spacious bedrooms can be made up as twins or doubles and have widescreen TV, DVD player and Sky box. Each one has a lovely en suite (some with shower, some with bath) and most have spectacular views. The lounge and dining room are enormous and have jaw-dropping Matterhorn views, not to mention superb cuisine.

Attached to the lounge is the large games room with pool table, card table and cinema room with the biggest television I've ever watched; it made Notts County vs Bournemouth almost bearable. The pièce de résistance in the chalet is downstairs in the wellness area. A large yoga studio is discreetly lit to look like a night sky and off it is the 6 person hot tub on the terrace, the treatment room and the sauna, which was my favourite feature. One of the walls is glass and has a view of a huge TV, so if you simply can't go without your pore cleansing session but also need to catch that vital game, no problem. Get the right channel selected, crank the heat up and enjoy it from your sweaty perch!

The chalet is perched above the resort centre but only about a 10 minute downhill walk to the Sunnega or Gornergrat lift stations. On day one we strolled down to Sunnega and jumped on the funicular lift to the Sunnega Paradise section. Steep but well groomed pistes abound up here and we played around in bright sunshine before heading over to Riffelberg for a few more nicely pisted runs before lunch. The whole morning was made loads easier by our mountain guide, Matt, who showed us the best runs and the easiest routes around the different sections of the mountain.

After lunch we went via Furi to the glacier and Europe's highest ski lift on the Klein Matterhorn. Here in Zermatt the lifts go up to 3899metres above sea level, you simply can't go higher. It's bitterly cold up there (even in March) and before long we headed down for a well earned après beer at the Hennu Stall. Just off the piste as you come back to the main village, the bar blasts out a mixture of Euro pop, Swiss "oompah" music and also features a live band who play quite a mixture of tunes!


Not the District Line, but nearly as quick! The Gornergrat - Europe's highest railway

Back in resort in the evening, there's a huge selection of bars, restaurants and nightclubs. There's also masses of shopping and sightseeing. Zermatt has approximately 12,000 year round residents and has the feel of being a proper town, rather than simply a resort that only opens during the tourist season. Zermatt has been well thought out and strict planning and building regulations over the years have ensured that all properties fall under a certain height and are in keeping with the tradition chalet style.

It really is a pleasure to be in and around the centre and all amenities are easily walkable from all but the most remote corners of the town. The next day we were up early for more of the same, although this time we headed up from Gornergrat, which is Europe's highest open air cogwheel railway, going up to 3089 metres. There are higher railways, but these are funiculars and not open air. If you ask a proper train-spotter, the Gornergrat is Europe's highest train! It's also a spectacular ride up the side of the mountain, often scaling what feel like 45 degree slopes with apparent ease. 

Imagine a slightly older, only slightly slower version of the District Line and put it on a mountain, that's the Gornergrat. From the summit we again skied via Furi, up to the glacier and this time over to Italy. The slopes on this side of the mountain are a little bleak, and Cervinia is certainly less attractive than Zermatt. Anyone who's been to Les Menuires wouldn't bat an eyelid though. A cringe worthy mission to have a pizza for lunch in Italy was completed, and before we knew it we were back in Zermatt and thinking about the next day and Verbier.

Budget ski holiday in Verbier

Wednesday morning saw us bid a fond (hungover) farewell to Zermatt and the Grace, and gave us another chance to try out the Swiss railway system. Zermatt to Verbier is a simple trip. Rail down to Visp, change onto an express train as far as Martigny and then the mountain railway to Le Châble which is followed by a Postbus to Verbier. 

Three hours exactly and a different world. Our base was Chalet L'Epervier down near the sports centre which is comfortable and clean but certainly a shock to the system after a few nights in six-star luxury. The ski bus stops right outside though, giving easy access to the Médran and Savolyeres lift stations and the town centre with its bars and restaurants is a matter of a ten minute walk away. We had a gruelling schedule of chalet visits on Thursday (the joys of work!) but managed to power through them all in one go, leaving Friday free to hit the hill. Collapsing into bed before 11 we promised ourseleves that the next day would be one of the best of the week.

We rose early, wolfed down breakfast and were at the Médran by 9 for (almost) the first lifts of the day. The ski area was bathed in bright sunshine and we warmed up with a few pisted routes around Ruinettes, before we started towards Nendaz via some of the famous itinerary routes that are marked but not pisted. After a couple weeks with no new snow these routes soon become challenging and we came across some enormous mogul fields but managed to negotiate them and get down in one piece.

Nendaz is a sprawling village and wouldn't be my first choice of places to stay, but it does offer a cheap base for sampling Verbier's huge ski area and on a sunny day the vista along the Rhone Valley is superb, you can see from Visp all the way to Martigny. Sion airport's runway seems almost close enough to touch and the prospect of a 30 minute transfer certainly appeals if you've ever done the 4 hours from Geneva to Val d'Isere!

A warm and sunny day in Verbier - No hat needed!

On the way back after lunch we dropped in on the scene of the Verbier Extreme '10, a near vertical face beside Mont Fort with a multitude of rocky outcrops and, to the untrained eye, very few possible lines down. Check out the website for some of the incredible highlights. Back in resort and the scene for our last night was the Farinet après ski bar. Often known simply as "Après" this venue is always lively, always loud and always packed to the rafters.

Periodically during the evenings the roof has to be slid open to allow some of the heat to escape due to the intensity of the action indoors. We stayed on too late, predictably, and ended up not getting back to the chalet until well after dinner, but we were merry enough to simply hit the sack straight away before the dreaded 5am start on the way back home.

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