Skiing on the roof of the Alps - Zermatt and Chamonix

If it is height you are looking for then Austria has the Pitztal Glacier with skiing up to 3440m, whilst Italy has Cervinia with lifts heading up to 3480m.

There are 2 iconic locations in the Alps however that are known worldwide for their height, world-beating skiing and scenery to compare with anywhere - Chamonix and Zermatt. A new lift extension to 3883m in Zermatt saw it eclipse the 3840m of Chamonix in the last couple of years. Both Zermatt and Chamonix are very much top of the pile in the Alps for many reasons. Zermatt in the shadow of the mighty Matterhorn offers scenery that may be the most captured and reproduced of any mountain scape in the world. The pyramidal form of the Matterhorn dominates the village, the weather patterns and the mountaineering folklore of the Alps. Chamonix boasts Mont Blanc, arguably not as visual as the Matterhorn but taller, the tallest peak in the western European Alps, as well as the almost 'out of this world' Aiguille du Midi with its staggering rock formation, sheer drops and views across huge glacial terrain. Different for sure, but unique and as good as any mountain horizons anywhere in the world.

Skiing wise then both areas come with massive names although (certainly in the case of Chamonix) both destinations made their names as mountaineering destinations well before the arrival of skiing and to this day there are large numbers of visitors who take the tougher way up the snow, rock and ice. This adds a real credibility to Zermatt and even more so to Chamonix, as true playgrounds for Alpinists. It is hard to fathom how anyone could fail to appreciate the experience of skiing in either destination and yet both areas have their detractors. In the case of Chamonix it is true that the ski areas are disparate, with 20km or so separating the ski regions of the Chamonix valley. And there lies the problem, Chamonix as it is marketed suggests a destination and yet it is in fact a valley with the resort of Chamonix and its centre operating as the access point to Aiguille du Midi on one side of the valley and Brévent - Flégère on the other. This means that much of the skiing in the Chamonix valley is out of Chamonix itself and this is a popular and busy valley making transfers tough at times. Zermatt once had detractors complaining about the 3 ski regions above the resort - recent lift additions have meant this is a nonsense, the lift system is well linked, high capacity and the chance to ski down Bahnhofstrasse in Zermatt is not one to be missed. Both areas offer high altitude glacier skiing which in general is pretty gentle - even the much vaunted Valle Blanche, which, natural hazards aside is a gentle thoroughfare. Chamonix has an extreme label associated to it, mostly for the off-piste, ski touring and mountaineering but there is certainly extreme skiing on offer beyond the predominantly intermediate skiing in the main ski areas of the Chamonix valley. And the chance to ski in either area at approaching 4km high is an incredible experience. Zermatt offers a completely lift linked ski region, once on the slopes there is no need to leave them until the hotel or apres ski bar.

Off the snow Zermatt and Chamonix represent some of the largest and most talked about mountain villages in the world. Chamonix with its cascading ice flows clinging to sheer mountain sides, high above the village and signs and monuments to its mountaineering pedigree on almost every corner cerates a spell that is very tough to resist. It is French, confident and mighty and the setting is as dramatic as anything else out there - Chamonix is jaw dropping. And whilst Zermatt doesn't quite have the narrow valley and ice flows overhead feel that Chamonix boasts, the Matterhorn in the very near distance is possibly the most iconic horizon out there. Both resorts have great apres ski and whilst Zermatt delivers the Swiss style and refinement, Chamonix offers a gritty mountaineering sub-culture to complement its French pomp.

Try both before you hang up the skis or board.

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