Switzerland’s best-known resort brings together every Alpine cliché, from its views of the world’s most photogenic mountain, the Matterhorn, to its narrow streets lined with wonky, weathered chalets.
Zermatt has 200km of pistes of its own, and is also linked by lift and piste to Cervinia in Italy, providing another 160km of pistes. For families, intermediates, experts and ski tourers, it sits up with the best resorts in the world.
Stay on track with the essential facts from the resort below, and scroll down for our insider guide to a day on the pistes, expert ratings and advice. For further Zermatt inspiration, see our guides to the resort’s best accommodation, restaurants and après ski.
Inside the resort
Surrounded by 38 summits above 4,000m, Zermatt’s car-free town is full of life all year round. Its population of 5,500 is supplemented by a steady stream of visitors from all over the world who come, year round, to climb, hike, bike and ski the surrounding mountains or simply to admire the scenery.
Strolling around the car-free town is a pleasure, though there are bicycles and electric buses and taxis to watch out for. There’s a busy, prosperous feel to Zermatt’s centre, with ambling fur-coated couples and Japanese and Chinese tour groups rubbing shoulders with purposeful mountaineering types. Particularly lovely is the Hinterdorf area with its narrow lanes behind the Monte Rosa hotel on the main street, lined with a jumble of blackened, weathered, wobbly-looking chalets, some dating back to the 16th-century.
There’s often good natural snow cover in the resort’s ski area from early December, but the main ski season is from around the end of November to the end of April. Because the slopes open all year round on Zermatt’s glacier and thanks to artificial snowmaking, there’s no official “opening”. The resort hosted the first cross-border World Cup races in November 2023.
Zermatt comes into its own from February onwards, when the sun is higher, the challenging slopes of the Stockhorn open and the restaurant terraces beckon. Heliskiing or ski touring are good to try in March and April, when the crevasses are well filled on the glaciers. Spring also brings Zermatt Unplugged, the resort’s music festival, which takes place in April each year.
Zermatt has snow-sure slopes, several high-altitude top stations (Matterhorn glacier paradise at 3,883m is the highest station accessible by cable car in Europe), 360km of pistes facing all aspects (counting the linked resorts of Cervinia and Valtournenche in Italy), a slick lift system that improves every year, extensive off piste, outstanding mountain restaurants and a buzzing, cosmopolitan town.
The 25-cabin gondola lift linking Trockener Steg to the Klein Matterhorn is one of the highest of its kind in the world, climbing from base station (2,923m) to mountain station (3,821m) in nine minutes and making short work of any queues – each cabin seats 28 people and boasts and panoramic views.
July 2023 saw the opening of the new Matterhorn Alpine Crossing between Zermatt’s Klein Matterhorn in Switzerland and Cervinia’s Testa Grigia in Italy at a cost of around CHF45 million. The ten-cabin cable car takes an hour to complete the 1.6-kilometre journey and allows pedestrians to cross the alpine border (before it was only possible by skiing or snowboarding to Testa Grigla).
On the slopes
From satisfying reds and undulating blues to acres of off piste, Zermatt has it all. The resort has 200km of pistes across three linked sectors – Sunnegga-Blauherd-Rothorn, Gornergrat-Stockhorn and Matterhorn Glacier Paradise-Trockener Steg-Schwarzsee – with top stations at, respectively, 3,103m, 3,286m. and 3,883m.
Zermatt’s 200km ski area is linked to that of Cervinia in Italy, and there’s easy access to the Italian side, although it does take time to get over there. While it’s important not to miss the last lift home – the return is a very long way by road – allow a whole day to make the most of Cervinia’s 160km of pistes. It’s also handy to have some euros, since paying in Swiss francs will negate the cheaper prices on the Italian side. All Zermatt’s sectors are well linked, and there are two routes into Italy, the ridge at Testa Grigia and the Theodulpass.
However, all this changed in July 2023 with the opening of the new Matterhorn Alpine Crossing between Zermatt’s Klein Matterhorn in Switzerland and Cervinia’s Testa Grigia in Italy at a cost of around CHF45 million. The ten-cabin cable car takes an hour to complete the 1.6-kilometre journey.
At first glance, Zermatt’s slopes are not ideal for beginners and small children, with nursery slopes spread far and wide over various parts of the mountain. However, there’s a beginners’ ski park at Sunnegga and, on the plus side, the slopes are high enough to offer reliable snow and great views; they are well separated from the main slopes and close to restaurants for meeting friends or family; the ski park has moving carpets, tunnels and lots of fun obstacles; and the glacier runs are a good place to get some near-flat (though sometimes chilly) mileage. Best of all, children under 10 years old don’t pay for a lift pass.
For intermediates there are plenty of long, scenic, satisfying runs, plus lots of challenges and areas of easily accessible gentle off piste. Two thirds of runs are red; some, such as the red off the top of Hohtälli in the Gornergrat sector, are tough enough to be described as “dark red”. All of Cervinia makes an intermediate paradise, with wide and usually deserted pistes, including the long run down to Valtournenche village which, when freshly pisted, makes you feel like a downhill racer.
The main attraction for experts is the off piste and yellow itineraries (runs that are avalanche controlled but not checked by ski patrollers). The usually deserted Stockhorn section is often mogulled and opens from February (it needs better snow cover than other areas). The forest itineraries on Schwarzsee, and two from the Rothorn, are similarly testing.
Off-piste opportunities are extensive with a mountain guide; more so for those willing to hike up using touring skins or splash out on heliskiing. Beyond the lift system there are mountain huts for overnight or hut-to-hut tours, such as the shiny modern Monte Rosa hut (viewable from the Gornergrat), and the traditional Schoenbiel, a few hours’ hike up the valley from Stafelalp.
Who should go?
There are not many boxes Zermatt doesn’t tick – the resort suits almost everyone. The high-altitude slopes are ideal for an early– or late-season trip and the resort’s elegant charm captures the hearts of those in search of luxury and gourmet dining. Experts and intermediates will enjoy the ski area most but at the other end of the spectrum there is plenty for non-skiers to do, including a museum, spas and shops (don’t miss Fuchs Bakery with local specialties such as the Walliser Roggenbrot (bread) and Swiss chocolate).
Know before you go
- British Embassy/Consulate: 00 31 359 77 00
- Ambulance: dial 144
- Police: dial 117
- Fire: dial 118
- Tourist office: See zermatt.ch, the website for the Zermatt Tourist Board, for weather reports, lift status, webcams, traffic details and local event listings. Pick up maps, leaflets and other information from the office next to the train station.
- Currency: Swiss Franc (CHF)
- Telephone code: from abroad, dial 00 41, then leave off the zero at the start of the 10-figure number.
- Time difference: +1 hour