ZERMATT, Switzerland -- You don't have to be an expert to ski by
the Matterhorn, at 12,530 feet, and take in its glory.
On a relatively easy, wide, smooth trail that fell 3,000 feet, I
was captivated by the famous peak in close view to my left.
Gazing over the edge and down at the clouds, my mind filled with
thoughts of Edward Whymper, who led the first summit of the
Matterhorn with six other climbers in 1865. The group reached the
pinnacle in 32 hours, but on the way down, one man slipped and sent
himself and three climbers falling 1,200 feet to their deaths.
Whymper and two others survived.
Climbers and skiers continue to seek challenges here, a
compulsion that seemed tangible as I whizzed by the famous peak.
This feeling was helped along, I suppose, by the fact that there
was not another skier in sight.
In early October I shared Europe's largest year-round ski area
with the professional ski teams of the U.S. and a few other
countries and just a handful of "amateurs."
In the valley it was typical autumn weather -- crisp and sunny
at about 50 degrees.
I took two gondolas and a cable car -- which travels higher than
any other in Europe -- and trudged in my ski boots through the
station's long, dreary, concrete tunnel, unprepared for what was
about to hit me. The brilliance reflecting off the expanse of white
stunned me momentarily, and I reached for my ski goggles.
But you don't have to be a skier to ride the gondolas and cable
cars and get these views. Another way is to ride the 100-year-old,
cog-wheel railway to Gornergrat, at 10,000 feet.
By midafternoon I skied to the bottom of a four-mile trail and
basked on the terrace with other skiers sipping wine and wheat
beer. The cable station cafeteria, the only option in the summer
and fall, had a vast selection of food and drinks, and I could only
imagine what awaited visitors here in winter, when 32 restaurants
Back in the valley, I steeped further in the mountaineering
ambience at the Whymperstube restaurant. As I drew open the plush
drape inside the doorway, the aroma of fondue pervaded the
Diners sat close, beneath the antique climbing equipment that
hung from the wooden beams. A waitress brought schnapps to a local
ski club at a table in the back room, and then the yodeling broke
I stepped out onto the narrow streets that were silent.
Cars are banned in the town, which is well served by the Swiss
rail system, hotels' electric carts and horse-drawn sleighs and
carriages. And because of the strength of the U.S. dollar in
Switzerland, the cost of skiing here is competitive with skiing the
Central Holidays offers a seven-night trip that includes
accommodations at the five-star Zermatterhof. Available Jan. 8 to
30, the price starts at $1,669, per person, double, and covers
breakfasts daily and roundtrip air from New York (Kennedy). From
Feb. 5 to April 2, the same package is $2,006 per person. A six-day
winter ski pass is $204.
Phone: (800) 935-5000
Fax: (201) 963-0966