Just as I was getting a grip on the most romantic of the romance languages, we crossed some sort of imaginary line that runs halfway down the Valais region of Switzerland and, poof!, all German (Swiss German). All I can say is, “I’m hungry,” which I’m not, because one can eat pretty well in and around Zermatt; Rosti, which is basically a plate of tricked-out hash browns is the local specialty and really filling.
I left Jason and Christian in Verbier and headed for Zermatt on the sixteenth (what is it now?), picking up Shannon Melhuse at a train station on the way. It’s amazing how easily you can travel Switzerland by train, straight to the resorts. Anyway, I dropped two traveling partners with the baggage of one, and picked up one with enough luggage for two–going light is not a Melhuse trait.
Our three week road trip came to an end, though, just three miles shy of Zermatt–an hour or so from Verbier. The crown jewel of the Matterhorn State, and the home of the Matterhorn (never been snowboarded, don’t even think of it), is refreshingly car free. I had read “car-free” in a brochure, but thought it was just another English-as-a-second-language typo for “carefree.” Now I know.
A train (10 dollars, round trip) gets you the rest of the way to Zermatt where you’ll see that the cool little village (would say “charming” if I wasn’t so tough) isn’t really car-free, but really internal combustion, gasoline engine-free. There are cars all over, they’re just these little electric things–quiet and nonpolluting. Sixty grand for a battery powered toy of a car that runs for six hours before needing to be recharged and maxes out at 20 kph. Other transportation options include: horse-drawn sleighs, and sleds. All the kids get pulled around town on sleds instead of in strollers (Older kids can be seen skeeching behind electric taxis.). We walked everywhere.
Zermatt definitely has a family, or at least couple, atmosphere (I guess you could consider Shannon and me a couple, but we always sleep head to toe). The streets are lined with nice shops–mostly Swiss army knives and watches–but look out for those electric cars, they’re dangerously quiet. Some locals say that there aren’t a lot of snowboarders around because it’s too expensive, but it’s doable for a couple days.
Three resorts make up Zermatt’s riding; the word is that Rothorn-Sunnega is the best for freeriding. Rothorn was also right outside the door of our hotel, so that’s where we rode. The lower half of the mountain is treed (accessed by a train through a tunnel), making it possible to ride during the continuing bad (good for snow) weather. The upper part of the mountain takes a lot of coverage to get rideable, so the pistes are a smart option and really popular–lots of Alpine riders here, also because it’s not such a steep mountain.
By the end of the week, the snow was filling in some of the chutes and we lapped some pow under the Rothorn tram until everyone saw the tracks we were making and decided to join in. Some killer, long lines, though. Still couldn’t really open it up for fear of lurking granite, but pretty fun.
It didn’t stop snowing during our whole stay in Zermatt so, needless to say, we never saw the Matterhorn except for a brief moonlit glimpse one night and postcards. We did see a lot of other Euro phenomenons: like Moon Boots and avalanches. Moon Boots are still pretty rockin’ over here. I looked into getting a pair, but they were 115 francs.
All day on Friday they were doing avalanche control by helicopter–lofting bombs onto the peaks around town. I stopped riding to watch a bunch of big slides come down the other side of the valley, quieter than I thought they’d be for their size.
On a sad note that I wasn’t sure how to mention before (still not), our friend Davide Marcianandi from Italy died in an avalanche last week around Courmayeur. Davide was a great rider, racing on the boardercross tour, and a fun, good-hearted person that everyone will miss.
From Zermatt, we’ll continue our tour of the Valais region’s finest. On deck, it’s Saas Fee, where I’ll be trying to coax Shannon out onto the crevasse-ridden glaciers just so I can get a cool powder shot (maybe even in focus!).