Could it be a wolf? It was too big to be a dog, and this deep into the woods we’d left all the dog-walkers behind anyway. I’d read about a wolf sighting in the French ski resort of Meribel – surely they could be in Zermatt too?
The truth was more prosaic. When the mass of brown fur turned towards me it turned out to be just a chamois (an Alpine mountain goat), and felt both relieved and slightly disappointed.
I was ski touring through the Vorderiwald forest with Ed Mannix, owner of Matterhorn Chalets.
We’d put our skins on in Winkelmatten – the ‘Beverley Hills of Zermatt’ – some half an hour earlier and now we were literally off the beaten track, making our way through the silent woods near Findelbach.
“I try and go ski touring every day”
“I try and go out every day,” Ed had told me the previous evening, as we’d enjoyed a superb rack of lamb at the Waldhaus restaurant near his chalet.
“Normally I’ll start outside my front door and head up to Furi. Depending what the weather’s like and how I’m feeling, I just keeping heading up and up,” Ed admitted.
That would account for why Ed was so far ahead of me.
I’ve known him for several years and he’d been trying to persuade me to join him ski touring since he discovered I’m fairly fit (I’ve run a few marathons).
We’d arranged that I would join him at one of his luxury chalets in Zermatt and that he’d guide me up to Breithorn, one of the many 4000+ metre peaks accessible by touring skis in the valley.
You can schedule flights, trains and meetings, but you can’t schedule the weather! And as it was minus 20C excluding wind-chill at Klein Matterhorn – Europe’s highest ski lift at 3883m and the starting point for our proposed ascent to Breithorn – we had to move on to plan B.
Not that I was complaining. I’d recently watched the movie ‘Everest’ and the idea of losing any of my valued digits to frostbite didn’t sound like fun.
Our zig-zagging route through the Vorderiwald forest combined the physical challenge I was looking for with a different natural beauty – a rare chance to escape from the crowds on the piste into the quiet woods.
I caught up with Ed at the charming Ritti restaurant, a secret gem of a coffee stop hidden among the trees. It felt as if it should have been made of gingerbread, or at least have three bowls of porridge of varying sizes in the cosy wooden interior.
Ed wasn’t surprised to hear about the chamois. Sometimes he sees the larger bouquetin while he’s silently sliding through the forest (so far, he’s still to see a wolf!).
We set off again. This time I was determined to stay with him and I felt my technique was already improving.
“Keep the skis in contact with the snow the whole time,” Ed advised me. “Don’t waste your energy lifting them up and down, just push forward, and the skins will do the rest.”
It might have been -10C, but I was working hard enough to not notice the cold. We discussed the merits of artificial v. natural skins, the impact of Brexit on ski businesses and the best place for lunch in Zermatt.
Purely coincidentally, no doubt, we ended up at one of Ed’s recommendations – the Alphitta, run by Dave & Tanja, a super-friendly Irish/Dutch combination.
We’d only be ascending for 70 minutes, but the mere 3.6 kilometres had included 587 vertical metres and I was ready for lunch. Rosti with ham and egg followed, washed down by a large beer and a perfect view of the magnetic Matterhorn – your eyes are constantly drawn to this iconic mountain – before alpine skiing back to resort.
Zermatt itself is a wonderful ski resort, certainly one of the best in Europe, if not the world. The skiing is high and varied, the resort car free, traditionally-Swiss and very chi-chi.
I’ll certainly be coming back again – I’m not going to miss my date with the Breithorn, although I’m happy to pass on meeting any wolves!
For more information on Switzerland visit MySwitzerland.com or call the Switzerland
Travel Centre on the International free phone 00800 100 200 30
Iain travelled by train from Geneva to Zermatt using a Swiss Transfer Ticket, which covers a round-trip between the airport or Swiss border and any destination. Prices are £112 in second class and £182 in first class. Tickets are available at swisstravelsystem.co.uk.
Touring skis were provided by Intersport Ski Hire.
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