TEXT MARIO WITTENWILER
IMAGES DAVID BIRRI
"Soon the experienced skiers are coming", says Gianni Cabassi happily. The snow sports instructor runs the Ski Test Center in Zermatt on Trockener Steg, 2,939 m above sea level, together with his colleague Simon Kronig. 1,000 pairs of skis from 14 brands can be tested between 14 October and 3 December 2017. From A for Atomic to V for Völkl. From skis for freshly fallen snow to skis for carving or off-piste skiing. In the Test Center, the ski freaks are by themselves. Cabassi lists the advantages of an early ski test "if you ski on the glacier now you will practically have the piste to yourself".
It is clear that Zermatt is a first-rate skiing paradise with snow guaranteed 365 days a year. During the winter, you can ski over 360 kilometres of pistes in Zermatt and neighbouring Italy. Even in the summer, there are still over 21 kilometres of pistes on the glacier on the Swiss side. This grows continuously during the autumn. The Furggsattel glacier lift is already open at the end of October.
Gianni Cabassi adjusts a ski binding with a screwdriver and a practised hand. The idea is that one guest a day tests around three to four different skis. This is not always the case, of course. "Some pick up a pair of skis in the morning and we don’t see them again for the rest of the day. Others manage to change their skis up to six times a day", says Cabassi. "On really good days, we can serve 700 persons. That’s over 2,000 changes of skis a day." Most guests already know which ski model they want to try and customers’ wishes tend to be conservative. The most popular are still slalom and giant slalom skis that enable you to carve well on the piste.
"There’s a perfect stretch for carving at the Furggsattel glacier chairlift. The piste is very wide and descends evenly", says Cabassi. With a little encouragement, he can even make testing a slightly wider ski seem appealing. The wider the ski, the greater the buoyancy in powder snow. "Almost everyone returns wide skis with an equally broad grin on their face" says Cabassi. Nowadays, most ski manufacturers also offer off-piste skis, in addition to classic carving skis. One such example is western Swiss firm Movement. When it comes to off-piste skiing, Movement differentiate between All-Mountain, Freeride and Backcountry models, depending on the width. The latter are almost as wide as water skis and have curved tips and ends that are known as rockers. Skiing with them is like surfing on the snow. Models like these have contributed to the resurgence in popularity of skiing in recent years.
Many snowboarders have also changed back to skis, because they can experience the feeling of "surfing the snow" just as well with broad, off-piste skis. It is possible to surf on powder snow on various stretches of the pistes of the Klein Matterhorn area. Gianni Cabassi emphasises that "full equipment such as avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel are essential for skiing off-piste".
© Schweizer Illustrierte
Text und Bilder basieren auf der Schweizer Illustrierten-Beilage vom 04. November 2016.