An Igloo Overnight Experience Report

Igloo, night, snow, cold, mountains. That is an experience, which remains unforgettable – because everything is different. The images and sensation permanently stay in the body and mind. In any case, we certainly now have a very different relationship to the heavens on a winter’s night. 

by  Edith Zweifel

The piece of reservation mail therefore came across as very mundane: Take along warm clothes, comfortable winter boots, good gloves, two hoods, bathing attire, flashlight, backpack. “What kind of combination is that?” asked my colleague Eleonora. Two hoods and bathing attire? The PDF of the reservations has information about the journey to the destination with the Gornergrat Bahn with a departure from the train station in the centre of Zermatt at 4:24 pm.

Read the Fine Print 

We travel at dusk with the cog railway up to Riffelberg (2,600 m). The Matterhorn sits nobly on her throne along the horizon like a diva, perfect and cloudless. In the lobby of the Hotel Riffelhaus 1853, a little group of people who fit with us: Moonboots or hiking boots, ski clothing or a heavy winter coat. Then Aldo arrives: “I am your guide,” he says easily in three languages. Everyone listens attentively. He just seems so much in charge that one would really like to just head out into the cold winter night without asking any other questions. So we continue by train up to Rotenboden. In the meantime, it is pitch dark. We dig around in our backpacks and pull out a flashlight or headlamp. We follow the piste downwards to the Igloo Village (2,727 m). The night sky has millions of stars on display along with the entire Milky Way tracing its trail from east to west. No light pollution from nearby cities – this makes the skye starry.

Iglu Dorf - die Kota.
The little wooden hut called Kota with a cozy fireplace.© Zermatt Tourismus

Altitude and Dehydration 

All 23 guests of this night have arrived at the Igloo Village. Only a couple of the “Village’s” inconspicuous mounds of snow are visible in the dark. A candle flickers next to a dark hole. That’s where we enter. And a new world opens before us. The domes of the igloos are high and polished smooth and show a shimmering bluish white finish. Candles are everywhere. We sit on thick skins and drink mulled wine, tea and hot water. Aldo impressed upon us, “drink, drink, drink.” Our bodies will lose a lot of fluid at high altitude. And Aldo explains how the igloo is built: piles of snow are produced with artificial snow. A Piste Bully pushes a mass of snow over large balloons, which are shaped like an entrance or the dome of an igloo. The walls and ceilings of an igloo are two metres thick and are able to easily carry the weight of a Piste Bully traveling over it. Then we continue to see the igloo for sleeping: Soft furs cover warm mats on which thick sleeping bags lie. The two of us share our igloo with a couple from France. The rucksacks can hang from gnarled branches, which have been embedded into the wall. Candles and a small lamp light up the sleeping area. There is a cheese fondue for dinner. It warms us up and gives us the cosy feeling of adventurous fellowship. A family group of six proves to be a very humorous force – wide-awake, always with a great sense of humour, and constantly with appropriate commentary: for example, about the wooden loo made like a throne in the Love Nest igloo.

Full Moon Snowshoe Tour 

Anyone interested in the romance of a winter’s night at nearly 3,000 metres above sea level should consider two things carefully: Would I like to experience the full moon among shimmering blue-white four thousand-metre peaks? Or would I rather have a crystal-clear dark winter’s night when the Milky Way appears like a wide, coloured waft of mist with millions of stars in a heavenly canopy? We chose the almost-full moon a little over one day before full moon. A pure Wow Experience. Snowshoes and poles are laid out by our igloo crew. Then we set off through the snow and into the heights behind Aldo. The moon has risen. We see a Piste Bully with huge headlamps travelling over the ski pistes at Trockener Steg and near the Klein Matterhorn as they prepare the pistes for the next day. The height and distance relationships take on a life of their own in the darkness of night. Aldo magically produces miniature cups and some Schnapps from his backpack when we reach the end of our mini-snowshoe tour on the “summit” of a little hill with a view into the distance. The vision of the moonlit Matterhorn in this surreal nocturnal mountain world is something that will not be soon forgotten.

Rückmarsch bei Sonnenaufgang zur Bergbahnstation.
Walk back at dawn to the railway station.© Zermatt Tourismus

The Nose as an Indicator 

Colleague Eleonora heads into the warm changing room after the snowshoe tour, and suddenly she stands ready in a bikini and hood in the cold air at minus ten degrees before sitting in the warm and bubbling Jacuzzi water. In the background, the Matterhorn East Wall glows. Warm water, cold winter’s night – an exciting combination. And soon we are tired, because the high altitude and the cold eventually make us listless. We slip into the ice-cold sleeping bags. The hood can be pulled tight. The sleeping bag slowly warms up from our bodies. Which soon raises the fearful question: Is it possible that the tip of the nose can be so cold?! It has turned to ice. But after around 30 minutes, the body has adjusted, the nose tip is warm and there is no more reason to be alarmed. The body relaxes and descends into a world of dreams. Suddenly, there is someone tugging on the sleeping bag in the middle of the night. Ah yes, it is already 7:30 am! Barbara from the igloo crew woke us up with a cup of “wakeup tea.” We change into our outdoor clothing, pack our backpacks and gather at the entry to the igloo. A couple of photography enthusiasts and mobile phone activists race away, because the temptation of capturing an image of the Matterhorn in the pink heavens of sunrise is overwhelming. Then our march sets off on the downward path to Riffelberg, where a breakfast buffet awaits in the warm hotel. One can see that some have slept very well and others are tired out. “Before I fell asleep, I had a feeling that I did not get enough air for about one hour,” explains a lady from Zurich. The woman from Milano tells the horror story of having to go to the loo using only a headlamp in the middle of the night. But there is not really a lamentation to hear but much more unbelievable enthusiasm. At least that is what the excited eyes, the expansive emotions express when gesticulating and the look of longing makes clear when glancing back at the igloo village.

Tips for the exciting igloo overnight stay 

  • Read the fine print carefully.
  • Follow the tips about equipment.
  • Take along a good camera, because it is very hard to match the beauty of the night and the a sunrise on the Matterhorn.
  • This is an adventure to share with your best friend.
  • Drink enough. Really. Otherwise, you will have a headache. Even when the trip to the loo takes some extra time.