Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Heart of the Matterhorn

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Heart of the Matterhorn

Article excerpt

Eddie the Eagle might have skied the top of Europe's best-known mountain. But the best snow in the Alps lies below - in Cervinia, says Sean Hignett

I USED to have a friend who was forever disappearing - or so he said - to Rhodesia, the Lebanon, Palestine, anywhere the world was in trouble.

Tip the nose, wink-wink, Tito's birthday party next week; if you need to get in touch, remember, it's Colonel, not Mr.

Each winter I would receive the same postcard, a watercolour of the Matterhorn on which he'd dotted a line from summit to snowbound chalet.

"Skied this yesterday," it said.

Then one year he invited me to join him in Meribel. "No charge. Girlfriend had to cancel." The kind of fantasy life he led began to come clear the minute we hit the rental shop. "Left my own at the chalet in Zermatt," he explained, then looked puzzled at the ski boots. Apparently he expected them to be those crippling double-leather type with metre-long laces that Arnold Lunn used to ski on.

His expertise was even more of an eyeshutter. After he'd tumbled the first few yards from the restaurant where we met for lunch, I selfishly decided to take off on my own, advising the Colonel: "Keep to the right of each lift you come to and you'll end up at the hotel door." It was six o'clock when he finally staggered into the bar, cursing me for my directions. When I pondered the map I realised he'd somehow found his way onto a cross-country trail deep in the forest and gone round it for four hours before struggling through the trees and hitching a lift from a couple of Germans.

"Por favor," he'd asked them. Master of languages, Colonel Tom.

Well, perhaps in memory of the Colonel, I skied the Matterhorn myself last winter - and that's almost as misleading as anything he ever claimed. First off I was in Italy and there it's called Cervino, not Matterhorn.

Secondly, you don't actually ski the Matterhorn. The top's mostly rock and you'd have to be a nutter or Eddie the Eagle, or both, to go down the pointy bit on boards. No, what you ski, on the Italian side at least, are the supporting, relatively friendly slopes.

I gather that Zermatt has blacker blacks but - except for a few yards at the top of Cervinia's highest lift, where the patrol hut bore a Swiss flag and the signposts were emblazoned "Italy" one way, "Switzerland" the other (giving one the rare feeling that one was actually going somewhere rather than just up and down) - we didn't get to Switzerland.

Last winter, Cervinia had the best snow in the Alps and much of it seemed to fall on the days we had set aside for skiing to Zermatt.

That, coupled with wind at the top of the slopes, meant that the trails into Switzerland were closed. So I never discovered that mythical chalet with the mislaid skis and antique ski boots. …

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