The Matterhorn Ski Paradise spans Switzerland and Italy and it’s possible to ski between the two countries, even as a beginner.
So let’s get down to it, shall we?
Here’s a list of shortcuts for this post.
Frequently asked questions
Q: Is a passport needed to cross into Italy or Switzerland on piste?
A: No, however, you may want to carry your passport with you just in case you get stuck in Italy or Switzerland and need to take a taxi to the other country.
Q: Is there a fee to ski in both countries on the same day?
A: Yes, you will need to pay an add-on fee to gain access to the other country. In our case, we included the Cervinia add-on fee to our 7-day ski passes.
Q: I want to do a day trip from Zermatt to Cervinia but not on skis or a snowboard. Is this possible?
A: No. I’m certain there are hikers who traverse the countries in the summer months but in the winter, it would be rather difficult, if not impossible.
Q: What kind of stats are we looking at here?
A: The screenshot below contains my stats for the day as recorded by the Slopes app. I paused the app during lunch but then forgot to unpause it when we started skiing again (unpaused it as soon as I remembered) so they are slightly understated but not by a great deal.
My top speed of 50.2 mph felt like 250.2 mph.
Zermatt to Cervinia
Journey time: 3 hours
Our adventure from Switzerland to Italy began at the Zermatt-Sunnegga funicular station around 9am. This station is the furthest starting point from Italy, so we were really going for the gold medal here.
Our intent was to ski to the base of Breuil-Cervinia to see the village but an adventure such as this was time-sensitive. It was our first time venturing into Breuil-Cervinia and we weren’t sure how long it would take to ski to the base and uplift again and if we missed our uplift out of Italy, we’d either be stuck in Italy or be facing an outrageously expensive (€400-450) and long taxi ride back to Zermatt.
Missing our uplift was not a situation we wanted to find ourselves in and from everything I’ve read online, the lesser of the two evils would have been to stay in Italy for the night but there’s risk in that too. During our week in the Ski Paradise, the lifts and runs in Breuil-Cervinia were closed four of our seven days – they were closed on days when the Zermatt side was fully open.
Our adventure to Italy took us to Plan Maison which is in the middle terrain of Breuil-Cervinia, so not too far from the village.
Here’s what our route from Zermatt to Cervinia (Plan Maison) looked like.
The route looks straightforward and simple but it took three days to figure out the most efficient way and it took three hours to ski!
Here’s our detailed route from Zermatt (funicular station) to Cervinia.
|Uplift||Zermatt-Sunnegga funicular to Sunnegga station||1|
|Uplift||Sunnegga-Blauherd gondola to Blauherd station||1|
|Uplift||Blauherd-Rothorn gondola to Rothorn station||1|
|Ski||Run #13 to 19, terminating at Gant-Hohtalli station||1|
|Uplift||Gant-Hohtalli cable car to Hohtalli station||1 to 2|
|Ski||Run #44 (to Gifthittli/Gornergrat) to 35 to 39 to 41 to 42, terminating at the end of the skiable terrain||2|
|Downlift||Furi-Riffelberg gondola station (Riffelberg Express gondola) in the direction of Furi|
Protip: To cross the valley to Furi station, enter the lower level (basement) of the station, ride the escalator up, and board the gondola at the top of the escalator.
|Uplift||Furi-Schwarzsee gondola (Matterhorn Express) to Trockener Steg station (terminus)||2 to 3|
|Uplift||Trockener Steg cable car to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise station||3|
|Ski||Run #86 to 82 to 88 to 6|
Run #6 is the border crossing and from there, all runs lead to Plan Maison and further afield to Breuil-Cervinia.
|3 to 4|
Prior to setting off on our adventure, I used the navigation tool of the Skiguide Zermatt app to see how closely our route matched the app’s recommended route. The answer was 50 percent when I selected “relaxed” mode and 75 percent when I selected “sporty” mode.
In both modes, the app wanted us to get on the Gornergrat cog train which was a hard no for us. We had made the mistake a couple of days prior when we skied run #27 that terminated at Riffelalp Gornergrat station and the only way out was to take the train to Riffelberg.
Here’s what the app’s “relaxed” mode route looked like.
The biggest difference between our planned route and the app’s “relaxed” route was that the app omitted section 1 (Sunnegga-Rothorn).
Here’s my Ski Paradise sections map again for reference.
Instead of skiing section 1, the app recommended that we take the Gornergrat train from Zermatt to Riffelberg (middle terrain, section 2).
How does taking a train for half of our cross-country ski adventure qualify as a route worthy of bragging rights? It doesn’t so we proceeded with our planned route.
Our adventure was going great until the cable car journey from Trockener Steg to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise station (upper terrain, section 3). Matterhorn Glacier Paradise station is the highest station in Europe and the weather up there is fierce!
The cable car was a monster in the world of cable cars and the wind was knocking it around like a toy!
From the chatter in the cable car, I gathered that the wind was always strong and concluded that I was woefully unprepared for the weather that was going to smack me in the face as soon as I exited the station.
Matterhorn Glacier Paradise
One of my regrets about our adventure to Italy is that we didn’t go check out the viewing platform at Matterhorn Glacier Paradise station. Visibility was poor on the day of our adventure but I wish we had taken a minute to stop and smell the roses, so to speak.
We exited the cable car and fast-walked across the massive station to the exit. I exited the station and was nearly knocked over by the wind. I should not have been as caught off guard as I was because of the amount of swaying the cable car was doing but, oh my, oh my.
I was outside for approximately ten seconds before I had to step back inside and regroup. In addition to the extreme wind, it was sideways raining pea-sized ice pellets.
I debated getting back in the cable car and aborting the mission but we were so close to Italy. All we needed to do was ski down the spine of the mountain along runs #86 and 82 to Plateau Rosa Testa Grigia. I knew the weather would become more tolerable as we descended so we just needed to grin and bear it and that’s what we did.
Peter took off down run #86 like his clothing was on fire. It’s the same strategy he follows when hiking – go as fast and hard as possible to get to the destination.
I took a more cautious approach. Less sprint, more marathon.
Run #82 is fairly narrow. Realistically speaking, it should be single file skiing only. There are net fences on the sides to catch people who literally get blown off the spine by the wind.
I was third in a line of three people: a mom, her kid, and me. The wind knocked the kid over almost immediately after leaving the station. I had a split second to decide if I would help the kid get back her feet and my brain said, “No. Make the misery end.” and I continued skiing. I hope she made it!
The weather at the plateau was tolerable and I thought the worst was behind us but there was one more bad weather patch to pass through before it was smooth sailing.
We skied run #6 from the plateau and across the border into Italy. This run was another narrow run that ran along the spine of a different mountain. It was as wide as a compact car and had net fences on the sides to prevent death.
The worst thing about that little slice was that it was shaped like U, sort of like a half-pipe. We started at the top of one side of the U, skied down, and then had to have enough momentum to glide us up to the top of the other side of the U. The wind made this impossible.
My momentum got me about a quarter of the way up the other side of the U. Peter got about halfway up the U.
I removed my skis – a common requirement in the Ski Paradise – and walked up the hill to the top of the U. This was a dangerous affair because there were skiers coming at me as fast as possible, trying to make it up the other side of the U.
We lived to tell the tale.
We crossed the Italian border at 12:05pm and the only thoughts we had were: Toilets, espresso, beer/bloody mary, pasta. In that order.
We grabbed lunch at Rocce Nero located next to the Plan Maison gondola and chairlift stations. The total cost of our lunch was less than half what we would have paid for the same lunch in Zermatt.
Maybe I was delirious but when my pasta arrived, I was like, ah, it’s shaped like a heart!
We did some light skiing after lunch in the upper and middle terrains of Breuil-Cervinia.
The terrain is extremely beginner-friendly and there were a lot of beginners out and about that day. I’m not an expert skier by any means but that area felt like the bunny slopes to me.
There were two things that surprised me in Breuil-Cervinia.
First was how little snow there was. I don’t have a lot of hope that Breuil-Cervinia will be skiable in 5 years’ time.
Second, the Matterhorn looks completely different from the Italian side. Dare I say… it’s just another mountain?
Cervinia to Zermatt
Journey time: 1.5 hours
The last uplifts on the Zermatt side are generally at 4:30pm so we planned to start heading back to Zermatt around 2pm.
Protip: Heading back at 2:30pm will allow plenty of time to ski from Cervinia to Zermatt-Sunnegga funicular station.
From Plan Maison, there were two routes to uplift to the Swiss-Italian border at Theodulpass.
Route A: Take three consecutive chairlifts
All three chairlifts had been running for the during of our visit but as we approached the station to switch from chairlift 2 to 3, we noticed that chairlift 3 was not running. Chairlift 3 is the lift that brings skiers to the Swiss-Italian border. It was closed. My worst fear was coming true and the clock was ticking.
Route B: Take the gondola followed by the cable car
A quick review of the map revealed that there was a Route B option which was a little surprising because Breuil-Cervinia just didn’t seem that sophisticated of a resort to have two uplift systems to ferry skiers to the border.
We skied back down to Plan Maison station and took the gondola to Laghi Cime Bianche station and then took the cable car to Theodulpass station. It was a long and slow journey where we shared a gondola and cable car with a kid who most definitely had covid but Route B pushed us over the finish line and back into Switzerland.
Protip: If you can get to Theodulpass station, then you can get to Zermatt, even in a worst-case scenario (e.g. after the Zermatt lifts have closed). I’m not saying it would be the safest thing to do, especially as daylight fades, but it is possible to ski from Theodulpass to Zermatt.
Here’s our detailed route from Cervinia (Plan Maison) to Zermatt (funicular station).
|Uplift||Plan Maison-Laghi Cime Bianche gondola to Laghi Cime Bianche station||4|
|Uplift||Laghi Cime Bianche-Theodulpass cable car to Theodulpass station||4|
|Ski||Run #87 to 72 to 74, terminating at Trockener Steg station|
Alternatively, we could have skied to Schwarzsee station but it was late in the day and we did not want to risk taking a wrong turn and getting ourselves into a situation where lifts were closing for the day.
|4 to 3|
|Downlift||Trockener Steg gondola (Matterhorn Express) to Furi station||3 to 2|
|Uplift||Furi-Riffelberg gondola (Riffelberg Express) to Riffelberg station||2|
|Uplift||Riffelberg-Gifthittli chairlift to Gifthittli station||2|
|Ski||Run #29 to 26, terminating at Gant-Blauherd station||2|
|Uplift||Gant-Blauherd chairlift to Blauherd station||2 to 1|
|Ski||Run #9 to 2, terminating at the end of the skiable terrain||1|
Skiing from Cervinia to Zermatt is faster and easier than skiing from Zermatt to Cervinia. The biggest challenge we faced on our way back to Zermatt was navigating to Trockener Steg station (Zermatt side).
Trockener Steg station is a multiple-spoke station with at least two levels and we’d only transferred through the station once before (earlier that day) so we were a little confused.
We needed to get to the Matterhorn Express gondola but did not know if access to it was on the upper or lower level of the station and we were trying to avoid having to climb stairs in ski gear. From where we were on the mountain, it was hard to determine which runs terminated at the station and the map provided little value in this situation.
We decided to ski the only run that was visible to us which was run #74. The run had an uphill section which we were not excited about but we could see that it likely terminated at the upper level of the station.
There was another uphill battle from the end of run #74 to the station entrance but, thankfully, they had installed a travelator to ferry skiers up to the station.
It was 2:55pm when we boarded the travelator and it was the first time I breathed a sigh of relief that day. From that point, we had an hour-and-a-half to get to the Gant-Blauherd chairlift located in the valley between sections 1 and 2 and that was plenty of time.
We arrived at Zermatt-Sunnegga funicular station in section 1 around 4pm. Our roundtrip adventure lasted seven hours. I wanted more pasta. And a nap.
Skiing to Italy and back was our longest ski day of the week. It’s unfortunate that we did not have another opportunity to ski to Italy because it would have been much easier, knowing what we know now. That’s life though.