Last year I turned 25, a quarter of a century, which for me felt monumental and needed to be memorialized. Celebrating this important life event meant doing something quite crazy to commemorate it properly. Thus what better way to celebrate than jumping off the Matterhorn, the “Mountain of Mountains”?
Straddling the border between Switzerland and Italy, standing at 4,478m, the Matterhorn is the 6th highest Alpine peak. Its north face is considered to be one of the three hardest to climb among Eiger and the Grandes Jorasses becoming known all together as “the Trilogy”. The first ascent of the Matterhorn was accomplished in 1865 and marked the end of the golden age of Alpinism where for a decade most of the peaks in the Alps were summited. The fame of the Matterhorn drew countless people over the centuries, and now, finally me.
My adventure began on a chilly, February evening, as my night train steadily climbed the Swiss Alps, gaining elevation as it meandered around bends. Although complete darkness prevented me from catching a glimpse of the landscape as I was traversing it, that didn’t prevent me from plastering my face onto the window trying to sneak a peak, my hot breath fogging up the glass. Once arrived and standing outside, I saw through the damp, hazy night, white winter lights strewn above shop windows, dangling around trees, twinkling and illuminating the charmingly romantic Zermatt, the Swiss mountain town famously known for the Matterhorn mountain and the glamoratti who show up to vacation and ski there. As I wandered through the sleepy streets at such a late hour, I felt my raw and flushed cheeks, my red nose, and my lungs filling with the crisp, stingingly icy February air while snow crunched deafeningly under my boots. As I recalled James Joyce describing, “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling”, I too felt my spirit gently succumbing to the magical stillness of the snowy town and fell in love immediately.
Täsch, a nearby town, offering an easily accessible 15 minute train ride into the car-free Zermatt, serves as the base to many skiers, mountaineers, and tourists. I too made Täsch my base as the accommodations are much more reasonable than the fashionable Zermatt. The morning after I arrived, I awoke to a cloudless, eggshell-blue sky and peering out my hotel window, I was amazed to be nestled in between impressive snow-spotted mountains, some only a bare rock face while evergreen pine trees speckled others. After having breakfast among the charm of typical Swiss chalet decorations of hardwood and fur rugs, I boarded the train to Zermatt. Lugging my ski gear wearing my bulky ski boots, I ungracefully clunked and stamped my way off the train to where the Zermatt station opened up onto a quaint square. Contrasting the previous hypnotically calm, deserted night, now electric ski taxis greeted fellow travelers with the accompanying commotion from tour operators, group meeting points, and open-air restaurants. Swimming through the messy crowds with my skis hoisted over my shoulders nearly missing the faces of many tourist, I hobbled onto a shuttle bus (green line) which take skiers, snowboarders, or snowshoers to the chairlifts and gave me a chance to compose myself again. I could enjoy the journey to the top of the Klein Matterhorn (3,883m) a roughly 20 minute lift ride, stunningly beautiful especially on a sunny, blue sky morning such as this was with 360o of panoramic mountain views.
Hidden behind houses or under the covers of night, the Matterhorn still remained just a figment of my imagination. I had pictured this iconic, intense massif, a quirky witch hat, a thousand times, with its detailed features only visible to the daring mountaineers. However, once on the chairlift and hoisted into the air, a few moments later, I was face to face with the giant, the Mountain of Mountains. I wasn’t sure if it was collective altitude sickness or just my view through a minds eye giddy from the low level of oxygen or the excitement of being on an actual glacier, carved from the ice age, but it was an odd sensation to feel a mountain observing me, stoically overlooking all the skiers as they threw themselves down the adjacent pistes.
Following the long walk from the lift to the pistes through a dark, cement tunnel, breathing heavily and suffering bad altitude sickness, I quickly strapped on my skis and began the decent. The sky was cloudless, the air crisp, the sun reflected off the glistening white snow, and spots of dark grey stones peaked out through the frozen glacier as I negotiated the mountain, my skis carving into the packed powder. After a few hours of glacial skiing and exploring Cervinia, the Italian side of the Klein Matterhorn which is included in the international ski pass, I decided to splurge a little and dine at the Paradise Restaurant at the top of the Klein Matterhorn for lunch. With a range of options from Valais specialities and Alpine classics to Italian pastas, the food was good, yet the prices were not so good but average for Switzerland especially at 4,000m. However, the view was spectacular, and the main reason to dine there with the 360o Alpine vista definitely worth lightening my wallet for.
After a few more hours of skiing, my day concluded with a stroll through Zermatt, window shopping, and of course, devouring classic Fondue, which is a dish originating in the lowlands of western, French-speaking Switzerland. The first known written recipe for cheese fondue appeared in a book published in 1699 in Zurich called “Käss mit Wein zu kochen” or To Cook Cheese With Wine. Swiss cheese such as Gruyère or Emmental are melted with white wine, Maïzena or cornstarch, and kirsch, a dry brandy of double distilled Morello cherries. The combination is heated in a communal pot called a caquelon above a small flame, which is then shared among a group of people by dipping pieces of cubed bread using a long-handled fork. Having visited Gruyère a few months prior and knowing the kind of cheese-aholic I am, I was already prepared to gorge myself silly. Completely stuffed, I rolled myself back to Täsch, hoping I could fall asleep with pounds of cheese reposed in my stomach. After all, I needed to rest for my big day: jumping off the Matterhorn.
Paragliding was a unique opportunity to see the Matterhorn and the surrounding area from a wholly different perspective and thus, one of the main reasons driving me to visit Zermatt. Having arrived to the paragliding office run by an international team of Swiss, Australian, and American paragliding instructors, we immediately set out in cable cars traversing the snowy mountaintops of the Valais Alps to reach Rothorn Mountain, the base for my jump. Finally atop the 3,103m peak, the guide laid outstretched over the snow the wings of the parasail and began assembling the strings and attachments to the seat while a crowd of onlookers gaped at our presence. The wind was changeable sometimes completely altering its direction making takeoff difficult. I expected the initial experience of forcing myself off a mountainside, against all my natural instincts, would be difficult, but as we began to run with the wings outstretched behind us, slowly my feet just lifted softly from the ground. Before I knew it, I was up in the air, flying. There was no heart stopping dead drop, no hoping for the wings to catch me, no forcing myself off the side; It was purely graceful. Once up in the air, we spun, flipped, and sailed throughout the sky, occasionally catching some thermals, hoisting us even higher and gradually letting us float down. All the while, the Matterhorn was in the background, watching over the valley, watching over us.
Before I left for this adventure, a friend of mine who had visited Zermatt 10 years prior, told me of a certain place which had the best homemade caramel vodka he’d ever tried, although he had forgotten the bar’s name. Following my paragliding flight, it seemed like a great time to wander the streets of Zermat for awhile in search of this place but my hunt ended without success. I decided to make my way over to a bar which was the local hangout for the paragliders called Papperla Pub. Even some of the bartenders were paragliding instructors in their free, hopefully sober, time. In chatting with the bartender, I discovered my friend’s bar I was trying to find did in fact close, but that this bar, the one I was in, was opened by the previous owner. Meaning: I found the Vodka! It lived up to my expectations, being the best caramel vodka I’ve ever had, and to top it off, I was given a “chocolate cake” shot on the house, which to any chocoholic, was to die for. It was a sweet end to a sweet day and like most sugary things, it left me wanting more.
Once again roaming the freezing, wintery streets, a myriad of people in their designer furs and Après Ski boots passed by in a blur, heading to their favorite location to end their day with a cozy drink or to dance the night away. I looked on, somewhat removed, because I had a secret; I had experienced Zermatt in a way most people never have, from the vantage of the eagles. As with every new travel or new stamp in the passport, I was left slightly changed but all the more enriched.
- Ticket: 79 CHF for Zermatt only- Matterhorn glacier paradise- 3,883m, Gornergrat- 3,089m, and Rothorn- 3,103m.
- Combination ticket- 92 CHF for Zermatt and Cervinia, Italy.
- Shuttle train from Täsch to Zermatt- 8.20 CHF per one way ticket. No need to buy return because it’s the same price with no reduction for pre-booking return.
- Electric busses- Green Line (Linie Bergbahnen Grüne Linie)- From Zermatt center to Ski lifts, the price is included in ski pass, however a single ticket is 2.50 CHF.
- Papperla Pub- Order the caramel vodka for sure!
- Time Out Sports Bar- Very funny owner and a great pool hall.
- Walliserkanne- Great traditional cheese fondue.
- Matterhorn Glacier Paradise- Prices are steep, but the food is traditional, good, and portions are large.
- Täsch- Only 15 minutes away from Zermatt and much more reasonably priced accommodations. Expect to pay around 100 CHF average. I stayed at Swiss Budget Alpenhotel which had an in-house spa with sauna as well as free breakfast but most importantly, it was across the street from the train station taking you to Zermatt.
About the Author
Hello fellow adventurers, I’m Alessandra, a Biochemist originally from Boston and an exuberant daredevil with a sharp sense of humor and a passion for exploration. I desire traveling the world and creating daring and unexpected experiences. This site, To Bend the Throttle, is intended to divulge how everyone can incorporate travel and adventure into their busy life.