Experience the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise
Skiing in Switzerland has long been associated with images of the majestic Matterhorn mountain and its neighbouring peaks. Whether starting out from a chalet in Zermatt itself - the closest resort town to that soaring 4,478m crag - or hopping over from nearby locales like Crans Montana and Verbier, few people pass through the world famous canton of Valais without paying a visit to this true icon of the Alps.
Such is the profile of that particular rocky outcrop, it tends to count as a ‘must-see’ destination even for those who aren’t here for the thrilling winter sports action. However, while skiing in the Matterhorn region is rightly thought of as some of the most exhilarating in the region, it's far from the only way to experience the mountain at close quarters.
A trip into the clouds
Arguably the best way to do so is via the recently redeveloped Matterhorn cable car, more commonly known as the Glacier Ride - a luxurious new gondola service that lifts you gently to a height of nearly 3,900m. The Glacier Ride is a modern addition to a long-established and well-used cable car route up the mountain, which starts directly from the centre of Zermatt and reaches as far as Trockener Steg.
The new addition to the route now terminates at the famed Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, a modern multipurpose complex housing numerous visitor attractions and experiences. The Glacier Paradise has rapidly become one of the leading tourist destinations in Switzerland today. As well as functioning as a base for some of the best skiing in Switzerland, it also boasts:
- A modern eco restaurant with panoramic outlook over the valleys below
- A spacious and tranquil underground cavern, known as the Glacier Palace, carved directly into the centuries-old permafrost and decorated with dramatically lit ice sculptures
- A futuristic-looking cinema lounge, showing short films about the mountain and the unique natural history of the area
- A breathtaking 360-degree viewing platform, with unrivalled aspects over the Matterhorn itself - plus 37 other ‘four thousander’ Alpine summits, and 14 stunning glaciers straddling the borders between Switzerland, Italy and France
The Matterhorn cable car
There are actually two gondola lifts offering passage to the Klein Matterhorn viewing platforms and the Glacier Paradise activity station. They’re easily the quickest and most popular ways to reach the upper areas of the nearby mountains from Zermatt.
The older of the two, which dates back to 1979, still runs daily to ensure an uninterrupted service - even on the rare occasions that the newer version is paused for high winds or maintenance. It runs parallel to the newer gondola and features two large cabins that ascend more slowly, providing a ‘no frills’ route up to those panoramic photo decks, hiking grounds and year-round ski slopes.
The Matterhorn Glacier Ride is the more recent model. Opened to great fanfare in 2018 as the world’s highest 3S (tri-cable) steel ropeway, it offers a quicker and more luxurious ride up the mountain. Cabins were designed by the world-renowned Pininfarina team, several of which were adorned with Swarovski crystal for an even more glittering experience.
Travelling at speeds of up to 7.5m per second, the modern cableway enables some 2,000 visitors per hour to reach the Matterhorn skiing areas and Glacier Paradise attractions, arriving just nine memorable minutes after leaving the boarding station at Trockener Steg.
Matterhorn Glacier Paradise
The facilities at the top are popular with locals and international visitors alike, thanks largely to the excellent year-round skiing offered at these spectacular altitudes. Whether you own property in Switzerland, or are just passing through as part of a quick seasonal visit to the Matter Valley, you’ll never tire of whiling away an afternoon up here among the loftiest summits in the Alps.
The epic viewing platforms are definitely one of the main draws, after which you can continue to drink in those vistas of Switzerland, Italy and France from the panoramic restaurant, serving a vibrant mix of locally sourced modern cuisine year-round. 15m below ground, you can wander through a network of softly lit ice tunnels carved directly into the ancient glacier to reach a truly unique lounge space, decorated by beautiful ice sculptures and adorned with cosy furs.
A majority of Matterhorn visitors who ascend to these heights tend to do so both for the skiing and the incredible photo opportunities. Even so, there are also numerous popular stop-off points worth visiting around the area’s lower slopes - especially in the warmer months, when you’ll find many wonderful opportunities for hiking and biking around the many lush woodlands and Alpine lakes found in the canton of Valais.
In short, both the mountain and its surroundings are a key part of Zermatt’s inherent charm. They’re also a huge draw for those staying further afield in Crans Montana, Verbier, or any of the other chic and characterful ski towns dotted around the Valais canton.