Going Euro: Zermatt

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Going Euro, Feb 2005

Top elevation:

12,533 feet

Vertical drop:

7,414 feet

Marked trails:

250 miles

Population:

5,900

Six-day ski pass:

$270

More info:

+41-27-966-81-00; zermatt.ch

The Resort:

The Matterhorn. Car-free cobblestone streets. Hansel and Gretel-style wooden houses. Men in silly felt hats. Goats. Glaciers. Innumerable Rolex shops and beds enough for 14,800 tourists. Zermatt is almost bloodcurdling in its Alpine perfection, and it attracts a distinct breed of skier. Middle-aged Germans and Brits are so wedded to the groomed runs that powder sits untouched for days-even weeks-just off-piste. As over- touristed as it may seem, this complex of 61 lifts in two countries (the Swiss slopes connect to Italian ones above Cervinia) is one of the easiest places in Europe to find untracked snow. It's also one of the most stunning: In addition to the iconic Matterhorn, 37 other peaks topping 12,000 feet surround Zermatt's slopes.

On-Piste:

The easy runs radiating out from the Gornergrat Hotel, the Alps' highest at 10,135 feet, afford incredible cross-valley views of the Matterhorn. Spice it up (slightly) by heading to the 30-degree pitches of Kelle, which drop down into the Hohtà¤lli Valley.

Off-Piste:

Klein Matterhorn and the Theodul Glacier are too flat and windblown to be worth your time. Instead, try the north-facing chutes and trees below the new Matterhorn Express gondola. Guide Klaus Tscherrig and company (zermatt-mountainguide.ch) can lead the way.

Aprés: At day's end, nearly every skier in Zermatt is funneled past the slopeside bars, like Bergrestaurant Blatten, below the Furi tram station. Later, Zermatt's undisputed epicenter is the complex of five bars and discos in the Hotel Post.

Shelter: Skiers just off the Haute Route-and anyone on a budget-bunk at the graffiti-riddled Matterhorn Hostel ($25; matterhornhostel.com). A more stately option is the Hotel Antika (from $67; antika.ch), a wooden chalet with its own hot tub and sauna.

The Tip: Most days, a bearded photographer (Paolo) and his drooling St. Bernard (Benni) wait outside the Schwarzsee gondola, suckering tour-ists into photos. Don't fight it: an image of you and Benni beneath the Matterhorn is kitsch you'll cherish forever ($12; fotofastzermatt.com).