Ben Holt and Sallie O’Connor descend the Unterer Theodulgletscher below the Matterhorn
Ben Holt and Sallie O’Connor descend the Unterer Theodulgletscher below the Matterhorn

Celebrating Fifty Years... The Zermatt Safari

Bill O’Connor remembers a trip to ski-safari paradise Zermatt. This short story is taken from the commemorative book Fifty Years of Adventure.

I have a passion for ski touring and love the fact that you have to ‘earn your turns’. That said, there are powder days, snatched between spells of poor weather, when you can earn your turns by paying for them. Zermatt is a skiers’ hub, an overgrown village at the foot of the world’s most recognisable peak, and the beginning and end of so many great skiing adventures. But don’t overlook its potential as a ski-safari paradise. By using its lift system, you can get the most ‘pow’ for your £ on a blue-sky day.

Push ennui aside and go for an early lift. Take the Sunnegga underground lift that links with the cable car to Unterrothorn (3013m) and let the skiing begin! Turn north into the Tufterchumme and descend 1100m in open and then wooded terrain between pistes to the Patrullarve lift, which will carry you back to the Unterrothorn.

The next stage is a descent by piste to Fluhalp, followed by plenty of off-piste action on the south-facing slopes of the Roter Bodmen.

Strong-willed safari aficionados whizz past Fluhalp, while wiser whizzers will stop for coffee and tarte aux myrtilles (blueberry tart) – after all, there’s a long way to go.

Refreshed and sustained, continue descending to Gant, with plenty of opportunity for fresh tracks either side of the piste.

Catch your breath while waiting for the lift to the Hohtälli (3286m) and then take the link to the Rote Nase. Those scouting for off-piste potential will have seen the vast slope under the lift, which offers stunning skiing after a fresh fall of snow. Early risers will have time to fit in its descent and return to the cable car. From the Rote Nase, you can descend the slopes alongside the Triftji piste and use drag lifts to gain Pt.3405m, which in the past was the end of the old Stockhorn lift. Now boot eastwards along the ridge for about 1km to the Stockhorn (3532m) itself – it’s well worth the effort. From the Stockhorn, turn north along a broad ridge towards Pt.3356m. Take the open, north-west-facing slopes of the Triftjigletscher, descending a full 1300m back to Gant. After a fresh fall of snow, this descent is as good as it gets.

Ben Holt and Sallie O’Connor descend the Unterer Theodulgletscher below the MatterhornSallie O’Connor and Ben Holt boot along the ridge from the Rote Nase to the Stockhorn

Having returned to Hohtälli, descend the piste to Breitboden. There’s plenty of untracked terrain either side of the piste, but avoid dropping to Grünsee. Continue descending via Riffelalp to Furi at 1864m.

The next stage of the safari is truly spectacular.

Various lifts follow to Trockener Steg and then Furggsattel (3351m). Take time to enjoy this belvedere – the views are among the finest in the Alps. Once off the chairlift, descend 100m or so to traverse under Pt.3384m. Traverse the open slopes of the Oberer Theodulgletscher north-west towards Pt.3181m. Bear west to traverse south of a rock island and continue descending the delightful slopes of the Furgggletscher under the east face of the Matterhorn before joining a piste at Hirli to Furgg (2432m) – spectacular. For the leg-weary, it’s possible to descend by lift or on piste to Zermatt.

You are now on the last leg of your safari. Take the lift to Schwarzsee and then the piste to Stafelalp as it arcs below the north face of the Matterhorn, offering glorious views of Dent Blanche, Obergabelhorn and other 4000ers. For lovers of tree skiing, given the right conditions it’s possible to turn northwards off the track and descend steeply through wooded slopes to join the piste to Furi. From there, the piste descends directly to Zermatt at the end of a spectacular day’s skiing, giving close to 7000m of descent.

This short story appears in the commemorative book "Fifty Years of Adventure". A must for any Cicerone fans, you can find out more here: Fifty Years of Adventure.

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Oconnor Bill

Bill O'Connor

Bill O'Connor is a mountain guide with extensive winter ski mountaineering experience and is an author of books to trekking in Nepal and Lakeland Scrambling.

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