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Ski tours: the valleys at your feet, above your head the universe

In spring, when temperatures become more pleasant and the days longer, ski tourers head for the heights. Zermatt is the starting point for the most magnificent and exhilarating ski tours in the Alps.

Springtime in the high mountains – that means wonderful weather and fantastic light and snow conditions. Equipped with glacier goggles, plenty of sunscreen and even more enthusiasm, ski tourers set off for the 4000-metre summits and glistening snowfields above Zermatt. The mountain valleys lie at their feet, the city smog hangs in the distance. The crunch of snow and rhythmic breathing of comrades are the only sounds to be heard under the dome of the sky. Nothing mars this experience between the eternal snow and dark-blue universe.

A time slot of a few weeks
Prerequisites for ski tours are not only perfect weather and good snow conditions but also conditions that present low avalanche risk. These are best found in spring and this is also why some SAC huts in the Zermatt region are open between mid-March and mid-May. All offer substantial evening meals, a warm bed and a breakfast to make a great start to the day: the Monte Rosa Hut (open in spring from 20 March to 20 May), the Schönbiel Hut (end of March to mid-May) and the Täsch Hut (April/May).

“Haute Route” and other classics
It is always advisable for ski-touring beginners to tackle a tour in the company of an experienced mountain guide. “Ski tours are suitable for good skiers. Anyone who is physically fit and has already done a little off-piste skiing can venture on an easy tour,” says Reinhard Zeiter, President of the Alpine Center Zermatt. As a ski-touring première, experienced mountain guides and ski instructors recommend that beginners make the impressive “Pfulwe”, a tour from Fluhalp (2607 m) over the Pfulwe (2694 m) to Täsch (1696 m).

The Allalinhorn, Breithorn and Strahlhorn are particularly popular with ski tourers. Those in really good physical shape and with sound technical skills can tackle the absolute classic, the Haute Route, a six-day tour from Saas Fee via Zermatt to Chamonix. “This traverse of the Alps has extremely varied Alpine landscapes and is the ultimate tour,” says Reinhard Zeiter. For a one-day tour with guests however, his favourite is the Schwarztor tour. But like all ski tours, even though relatively “small”, it must not be underestimated when it comes to fitness. It leads from the Klein Matterhorn (3880 m) via the Breithornplatte (approx. 4000 m) to the Schwarztor (3731 m) and over the Schwärzi and Gorner glaciers down to the glacier snout and on to Furi (1867 m). “On this tour, experienced ski tourers can include the Breithorn, the very experienced the Pollux,” adds Zeiter.
Patrouille des Glacier – the toughest race
There is also another, much sportier variant among classic tours, namely the Patrouille des Glaciers PDG, the world’s toughest mountain race. This takes place every two years (2012, 2014 etc.) and is a high-calibre sporting event. The race starts in Zermatt and leads over the mountains and glaciers to Arolla and the finish in Verbier. 750 teams with 2250 athletes start from 25 to 28 April 2012. They cover a distance of 53 kilometres and master a height difference of 8000 metres. This year, the Zermatt top athlete and Swiss Ski-Tour Champion Martin Anthamatten and his two team colleagues will defend their title and best time of 5 hours 52 minutes.

Essential: the equipment
Essential equipment includes a pair of special touring skis, as well as skins which are put on the skis for ascents, special light ski boots, an avalanche transceiver and, depending on the tour, glacier gear (climbing harness, rope etc.) and crampons, which can be fastened on to the skis. Also required: good clothing that can be worn in layers, a suitable rucksack with drinks in thermos flasks, as well as food to avoid any drop in blood-sugar levels. Anyone unaccompanied by a mountain guide will also need an avalanche shovel and avalanche probe. Equipment has changed considerably in recent years. “Everything has become much lighter,” says Reinhard Zeiter. Shoes and bindings are ergonomically fitted and comfortable. A complete set of equipment (without clothing) can be expected to cost between CHF 1500 and 2000.

Happy ski-touring fans
“The effort of the climb and the following descent give ski tourers immense satisfaction,” says Reinhard Zeiter.

Patrouille des Glaciers (PDG), 25.-28.4.2012:
Alpine skitouring race, organized by the Swiss Army. Every two years, 2012 et seqq.

Gebirgslauf Zermatt:
Skitouring race, every year, by the end of February. Every category has to surmount different altitude metres, up to 1500 m.

Zermatt Tourismus | Tel +41 27 966 81 00 | info@zermatt.ch