Magazine article The Spectator

The Brits Are Back

Magazine article The Spectator

The Brits Are Back

Article excerpt

Twenty years ago at the Christmas Eve carol service in the absurdly quaint St Peter's English church in Zermatt (friezes round the walls read 'Oh Ye Ice and Snow bless Ye the Lord. . .' and so forth), the congregation would sit a couple of yards apart in order to give the impression that the place was full. Five years ago the pews were packed and people even stood outside singing 'In the Bleak Midwinter' in apposite sub-zero temperatures.

On Christmas Eve 2006 there were two services held back-to-back and each was a sell-out. There is no better demonstration that the Brits are back. Following a flirtation with France that lasted some three decades, many British skiers are increasingly reaching the conclusion that the serviceoriented Swiss are really our natural winter sports partners. (After all, it was us who in the early years of the last century persuaded the Swiss to run their mountain railways in the winter. ) It is true that back in the 1970s and 1980s French ski areas such as the Trois Vallées and the Espace Killy seemed to have much slicker lift systems than the Swiss resorts. However, having merged three different lift companies into one, the Zermatters have invested heavily in their infrastructure. Already blessed with the highest lift-served terrain in Europe -- the top lift station at the Klein Matterhorn is at 3,883 metres -- new state-of-the-art lifts have been built at typical Swiss speed and there are more in the pipeline.

This winter saw the inauguration of a new gondola linking Furi with Riffelberg, finally meaning that the resort's three ski areas are truly interlinked in each direction. The giant Gant-Hohtalli cable car, for example, gives easy access to the White Hare run, surely one of the world's longest and most spectacular red runs. Extensive snow-making systems now make it possible to ski right back to the resort throughout the winter.

(Try the full National black run for a challenge. ) As if in celebration of all this, December saw the reopening of the tiny Teehauschen Flora, just above the fabled Olympia Stubli, for the first time in 40 years. Veuve Clicquot is the drink of choice.

As if Zermatt's own ski domain were not adequate for even the most expert skiers -- and it surely is -- links between the Klein Matterhorn sector and Cervinia in Italy have improved and you can buy an international ski pass. Cervinia opened several new fast chairlifts this winter, but for many its biggest attraction remains the 12km red Ventina cruising piste. …

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