Peter and I have just returned from a week in the Swiss Alps, staying in Zermatt as our home base.
We have transited through Switzerland a few times but our ski trip to Zermatt was our first time properly visiting Switzerland. And although our travel days to and from Zermatt were long, it was impressive that we were able to take a train from a major city to the city centre of a small town nestled in the Swiss Alps.
Due to the pandemic, it had been two years since we’d skied. The month was February 2020 and those were much simpler times, you know?
Our time in the Skicircus was pre-pandemic but just barely. There were rumblings of a few covid cases in Italy but, overall, there was no heightened awareness.
We tried to return to the Austrian Alps in February 2021 – this time to Kitzbuhel – but Alpha had other plans for us. Alpha, the UK’s homegrown variant triggered a local lockdown in London which then expanded to England and then to the entire UK. It lasted six months.
This brings us to the present, February 2022.
Here’s a list of shortcuts if you’re looking for specific information regarding navigating the Matterhorn Ski Paradise.
- Matterhorn Ski Paradise overview
- Switzerland/UK entry requirements
- Pandemic bookends
- Geneva airport (arrival)
- Train stations and journeys
- Swiss train tickets
- Ski passes
- Ski rental
Matterhorn Ski Paradise overview
As mentioned, we debated giving Kitzbuhel another chance this year but ultimately decided that we should explore another alpine country and decided on Switzerland.
More specifically, the “car-free” mountain town of Zermatt and its surrounding slopes are known as the Matterhorn Ski Paradise (MSP). My findings and suggestions on Zermatt can be found here.
The Matterhorn Ski Paradise is the highest winter sports area in the Alps and has 360 km of slopes, making it slightly larger than Austria’s Skicircus. One of the neatest things about it is that it spans Switzerland and Italy.
That’s right! Skiers can ski from Switzerland to Italy and vice versa.
Protip: There is no border/passport control and there are no covid entry requirements/restrictions checks when skiing between the countries. Just put on your skis and a watch (very important to keep track of time!) and off you go!
I’ll detail our experience skiing the Matterhorn Ski Paradise later. It’s going to be a long one!
Switzerland/UK entry requirements
It wouldn’t be a travel blog post in the 2020s without mentioning covid entry requirements.
A few days before our departure to Switzerland, the Swiss government voted to remove all covid restrictions and requirements with the exception of a few, including face masks on public transport (including gondolas and cable cars) and self-isolation when covid-positive.
There was no covid prep before we departed to Switzerland and entry into the UK was equally easy. The only requirement to enter the UK was to complete the UK PLF. This form takes about 20 minutes to fill out and for the first time ever, the form pre-filled some of our data from past forms, however, it still took 15 minutes to fill out.
Note: As of February 24th, 2022, all covid restrictions in England have been lifted, including the requirement to self-isolate when covid-positive.
Our biggest concern with this vacation was lifting off from UK soil before Storm Eunice arrived in the UK. Eunice was due to hit the UK at the same time as our flight was scheduled to depart. The timing could not have been more precise.
The irony with Storm Eunice is that we flew back to the UK from our last ski trip when Storm Dennis was making landfall in the UK. Our plane nearly crashed into the runway at Gatwick and we entered our first pandemic lockdown a few weeks later.
These two storms, coinciding with ski trips in the month of February (Austria 2020 and Switzerland 2022) are what I refer to our our “pandemic bookends.”
The pandemic is not over but the UK and Europe have moved into the “living with covid” stage pandemic, signaling a return to normality.
Geneva airport (arrival)
Our flight to Switzerland departed 45 minutes late and it was a wobbly ascent until we got above the clouds but we made it! We landed in Geneva about an hour later at 11am.
Immigration was a breeze because there were no forms for immigration to verify and even with the additional load of post-Brexit British passport holders joining us in the “All Passports” queue, we zipped through immigration and quickly found ourselves in baggage claim.
We waited 45 minutes for our bag to arrive (it felt like 2 hours and 45 minutes) and then we walked ~5 minutes to the adjoining train station. The walk was well-signed and there were several restaurants and grab-and-go shops along the way.
Protip: Need to pee? Use the free toilets in baggage claim. The toilets in the station, whilst nice, are not free.
Train stations and journeys
Our train was waiting for us when we got to the platform so we hopped on and waited for it to pull away from the station. The train journey from Geneva airport to Zermatt (and vice versa) included two trains with a change in Visp.
Changing trains in Visp was a matter of walking down the ramp, through the tunnel, and up another ramp to an adjacent platform. It took no more than three minutes, so don’t worry if you have a tight connection.
The train from Visp to Zermatt made me motion sick, so that was a lesson learned. I described the journey in my notes as “old, smelly, Dramamine.”
The train on our reverse journey from Zermatt to Visp was newer, didn’t smell, and did not make me motion sick but it was extremely crowded with standing room only in the vestibules.
Protip: On our Zermatt departure day, we arrived at the Zermatt station 30 minutes before departure and the platform was full of passengers waiting to board – another lesson learned.
Here’s how our Geneva airport to Zermatt journey went.
|11:00||Flight arrived in Geneva|
|11:10||Cleared Swiss immigration|
|12:00||Collected bags from baggage claim|
|12:19||Train departed Geneva airport|
|14:53||Train arrived in Visp|
|15:08||Train departed Visp|
|16:14||Train arrived in Zermatt|
|16:25||Arrived at Hotel Zermama (via foot)|
Swiss train tickets
We purchased our train tickets online two weeks before we departed for Switzerland. The positives for purchasing tickets in advance were that the tickets were cheaper and we didn’t have to spend valuable time at the station fiddling with ticket machines. The negative was that tickets were non-refundable unless, basically, death.
When I purchased the tickets, I was presented with a Saver Day Pass ticket type for our outbound journey and a Supersaver ticket type for our return journey.
What the heck are the differences in these tickets types?
The Saver Day Pass ticket is an all-inclusive ticket for all modes of public transportation in Switzerland, including high-speed trains. The ticket was valid from midnight to 5am the following day, so 29 hours. It was a relief to have the flexibility to take any combination of trains we wanted from the airport to Zermatt.
Fine print: The Saver Day Pass ticket is technically only valid in the SwissPass GA Area. A map of the SwissPass GA Area can be downloaded in the Downloads section of this webpage. My analysis of the map led to the conclusion that the Saver Day Pass ticket covers most of the routes in Switzerland so unless you are traveling to a remote or obscure destination, it’s likely the Saver Day Pass ticket will have you covered.
The Supersaver ticket is a ticket for a specific train or combination of trains only.
We paid 52 CHF ($56) for each outbound Saver Day Pass ticket and 69 CHF ($75) for each first-class return journey ticket. Upgrading to first-class cost 10 CHF ($11) more per ticket so we went for it.
Note: Seat reservations are rare on Swiss trains and were not an option when we purchased our tickets. The reason why was clear as soon as we boarded our first train.
The individual seat occupancy indicators (above every seat) were not electronic as they are on newer trains. Instead, there were slots above every seat where a piece of paper would need to be manually inserted by a human to indicate the legs of the journey that the seat was reserved. It’s crazy to think that a human used to be tasked with this!
After purchasing our tickets, I downloaded the SBB Mobile app, signed in, and verified our tickets were accessible. I then checked that action item off of the list.
We purchased 7-day ski passes online one week before we departed for Switzerland and “upgraded” our ski passes to include access to Cervinia (Italy) for 62 CHF ($67) per pass.
Note: The ski pass includes access to the Gornergrat cog train. This is the cog train that takes passengers from the city centre to the Gornergrat mountain peak.
When purchasing a ski pass online, it was not possible to “upgrade” a specific day (or days) to include access to Cervinia, nor is this something you would want to do. The weather is unpredictable and winds often close the upper chairlifts/gondolas/cable cars/runs, severing access between Switzerland and Italy.
Note: Ski passes are non-refundable however, due to the pandemic, they can be modified for different dates if your vacation is canceled.
There are several ski rental shops in the city centre. The most convenient is Flexrent which is located across from the Zermatt-Sunnegga funicular entrance.
We rented from Flexrent for no other reason than it being next door to our hotel, Hotel Zermama.
The number one heads up I can give about the funicular is that the walk from the funicular entrance (at the street) to the funicular platform is through a long access tunnel. My best estimate is that the access tunnel is a little more than 100 yards (92 meters), so about the length of an American football field.
It felt like three miles when dressed in full ski gear and carrying skis.
Because of the tunnel, you’ll want to minimize any additional walking in full ski gear while carrying skis. It is absolutely exhausting. And hot.
One bonus to renting from Flexrent is that they offer free ski storage in the basement of the shop for their customers. So basically, exit the funicular access tunnel, walk across the street, and ditch your skis.
Note: There are for-pay ski storage slots in the funicular tunnel and in front of the funicular entrance.
Another bonus when renting from Flexrent is that unless you want pro skis, there is no advance rental booking requirement which means no prepayment and no loss if your vacation is canceled.
Flexrent was a madhouse on the day we popped in but the staff was super-duper efficient and we were in and out in less than 15 minutes.
Below is a list of resources I used to prep for our vacation in Switzerland.