Let me preface this by saying that my heart goes out to all of you whose skiing plans have fallen by the COVID-19 wayside this winter. Here in the ski resorts we miss you and are feeling your absence: businesses, small and large, are wondering how they’re going to survive. So when our own holiday plans collapsed we decided to spend our money on a Swiss Staycation. We could have gone to our usual resort of Verbier where we have a place and all our kit, but the truth is, much as we love it, that didn’t feel like a substitute holiday.
I’m ashamed to say that, despite living in Switzerland, I have visited surprisingly little of it. My husband, Oli, and I decided that this was the time to visit Zermatt. He knows it well but I had never been. I cannot tell you how excited I was, this, for me, was way better than the heat of Dubai.
Bars and restaurants in Valais are closed for the time being but hotels are allowed to feed their residents, so we opted for a mid-week special offer at a hotel with half-board. Knowing that however much we spent it would be far less than the holiday we had planned, we went for the 4-starRomantik Julen with pool, spa and a room with a view of the Matterhorn. Lying in bed on the first morning with a cup of coffee in my hand, looking at that legendary peak, I thought I had died and gone to heaven – and that was BEFORE we hit the slopes.
The Indian summer means we are still waiting for serious snowfall: there is no snow on the lower slopes, but in Zermatt there is always the glacier… We had beautiful weather for our first ski and I was bouncing with childlike excitement as the gondola rose higher and higher to give me my first close-up view of the Matterhorn. The skiing, I discovered, takes second place on your first day in Zermatt: it’s initially all about the mountain. Taking photos of Switzerland’s most photogenic peak from every angle and then myself with Switzerland’s most photogenic peak from every angle seemed to take up most of the morning. But the skiing, when I finally got round to it, was glorious.
I found myself for the first time in my life with the fattest skis on the mountain! I had been advised by the experts to take my piste skis and I so nearly did; but I am happiest on my Factions – we’re a team, and I decided that my favourite skis deserved an outing in Zermatt as much as I did. As we bounced down the immaculate, long motorways together, taking as many turns as possible to make the most of every run, I was glad to have my old friends with me and felt mean that I had ever considered leaving them behind. I would never have been able to keep up with the locals on their racing skis anyway.
The lifties were ruthless on mask-wearing: anyone showing the teeniest bit of nose was quickly scared into covering up and the only queuing was caused by people carefully keeping their distance (it was also mid-week). I did not find wearing a mask while skiing difficult: it was just one more bit of kit and, when it was blowing a chill wind on day two, quite a welcome one.
The mountain restaurants being closed didn’t faze my Swiss husband in the slightest: on the contrary, it was an excuse to bring up the well-used burner and pan and turn out an awesome fondue for us and our travel companions with the mighty Matterhorn looking on approvingly.
It is a good decade since I stayed in a ski hotel, and I certainly don’t remember having my own locker with boot warmers in a ski room with a coffee machine in it: very pleasant. Swimming after skiing is also a luxury I am not used to but could easily become so: it certainly went some way towards compensating for the lack of après-ski.
Everyone wore masks, there were hydroalcoholic geI dispensers everywhere and, in the hotel, discrete plexiglass panels between tables. I will not go into the rights and wrongs of the Swiss resorts staying open: all I can say was I felt perfectly safe in the hotel and on the mountain. I was happy to be on my skis and in the high mountain and Zermatt was happy to welcome us.
I am told I didn’t see Zermatt at its best, the streets were quiet and I only saw a fraction of the ski area but, for a COVID-19 escape, it was just wonderful. Believe me, I know how lucky I am, but it’s not the same without you and I hope you can all get out here again soon.