Zermatt: Mountain Vision

After centuries in the slow lane, Zermatt is embracing change - and fast. Minty Clinch reports

It took what felt like a millennium to bring the winds of change to ultra-conservative Zermatt, but it has been worth the wait. A decade ago, Matterhorn City was old and smug, living comfortably off the magic of its mountain; in the previous century, its celebrated ruling families had a stranglehold on the golden goose, cashing in without realising it was showing signs of mortality.

Ski school? There was just the one, with some of its instructors well into their seventies. Snow-making? Who needs it? Lifts? Let 'em walk, let 'em queue. Turning it around required serious money and, on the mountain at least, it has now been spent. In 2007, Zermatt has its first ever fully integrated lift system, half a dozen independent ski schools and snowmaking on all the main runs. Freedom of the slopes comes courtesy of a new eight-seat gondola linking Furi, at the base of the Klein Matterhorn, to Riffelberg, a mid-station on the 19th-century Gornegrat railway. In the morning, skiers can start on the futuristic chondola, a combo lift with chairs and cabins, from Sunnegga to Blauherd, cross to the Gornegrat area and connect via the Klein Matterhorn to Cervinia.

After an Italian lunch, they can make the whole journey in reverse. No schlepping across town, no overcrowded solar-powered bus, no iniquitously priced electric taxi. This is the real deal.

Stoked, the first independent to throw down the gauntlet to the Swiss Ski School, opened for business in 2000. Initially it offered snowboarding only, perhaps a less threatening approach to a monopoly that was deeply rooted in skiing. Whatever the rationale, it worked, and instructors in striking orange uniforms were soon to be seen ripping up the snowfields to widespread approval from their pupils. After a couple of years, Stoked added skiing to the menu, taking on a number of foreign instructors to appeal to Zermatt's polyglot clientele.

Once it was jolted out of its 30-year coma, the Swiss Ski School reacted quickly to turn the situation around. After working for Stoked in its infancy, Henry and Erica Meredith Hardy branched out on their own to establish Summit in 2005. In their third winter, they've upped their instructor count from 12 to 28, working extensively with the British tour operators, who can't believe their luck.

While the winds of change blow across the mountains, only one man has shown any inclination to take on the entrenched complacency in Zermatt itself. When August Julen, mountain guide and restaurateur, redeemed a promise to name his first-born son after the president of the Heinz Corporation, he couldn't know that he was releasing a rogue gene into his tight community. Heinz Julen, a leap-year child in 1964, hasn't taken to the canned food business, but he's certainly embraced the corporation's trademark variety with his involvement in painting, sculpture, design, hotels and entertainment projects.

Vernissage, a steel and glass bar, restaurant, cinema, club and art complex, still confronts its neighbours on Zermatt's rustic streets as aggressively as it did when it opened in 1992. For 2007, it has expanded into the shop next door, now a showcase for Julen's avant-garde furniture and objets d'art. Not all his schemes have been as successful, least of all Into the Hotel, a five-star €27m (£18.5m) billet that closed amid clouds of acrimony and litigation seven weeks after it opened on 29 February 2000. Now it may have an even more bizarre successor, a steel and glass hotel and restaurant pyramid rising to 4,000m out of the Klein Matterhorn. Although he has no architectural qualifications, and despite his track record, Julen won the competition to design it and he's tackling it with characteristic enthusiasm.

"It will be the highest place in Europe you can reach on a machine," he said. "It should honour the Matterhorn and the surrounding peaks, a spiritual place where people can dream they're in orbit. They will lie in bed without an artificial light in sight and gaze into the depths of the crevasses through huge windows. I was really amazed when the judges said yes to my vision. Now I have to make it all come true."

News
news
New Articles
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Sport
sport
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all