The 3S Matterhorn Glacier Ride Cable Car in Zermatt: The Ultimate Guide

Zermatt’s latest attraction, the ‘Matterhorn Glacier Ride’, opened on 29 September 2018. Find out all you need to know about the new lift here, including:

  • What is the capacity of the lift?
  • What will happen to the old Klein Matterhorn lift?
  • What is a 3S lift?
  • Cable Stats
  • How much did it cost?
  • How does altitude affect construction?
  • How many tonnes of explosive were used?
  • How were materials delivered to the construction site?
  • How many pylons are there?
  • How many cabins are there?
  • When does the 3S lift open?
  • Does the 3S lift link with Cervinia?


What is the capacity of the lift?

The lift will enable up to 2000 visitors per hour to reach Klein Matterhorn 365 days a year in just nine minutes. It will be the world’s highest 3S cableway, serving Europe’s highest cableway station at the 3883m Klein Matterhorn from the Trockener Steg station.

What will happen to the old Klein Matterhorn lift?

It’s been a long journey since the first lift to Klein Matterhorn opened in December 1979, and those two 100-person cabins still operate to this day. The old lift will continue alongside the new lift to ensure access to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, even during maintenance periods and high winds.

The lift has always been one of Zermatt’s greatest draws, along with the Gornergrat railway, and last year over 400,000 visitors took a trip to the top – around 20% of all tourists who came to Zermatt during the year.

the top station 3s zermatt

The new and old lift top stations

What is a 3S lift?

3S stands for three cables and is a cableway system combining the advantages of a gondola ride with a single-cable, circulating ropeway. Unlike conventional cableways, which transport cabins on a single cable, the 3S system has separate hauling and support cables.

There are two support cables for each side, anchored at the valley and mountain stations and responsible for maintaining the stability of the cabins. These support cables offer greater stability in high winds, higher passenger capacity and speed.

With a maximum speed of 7.5 metres per second, the new Matterhorn Glacier Ride will be able to carry up to 2000 passengers an hour, travelling at a maximum height of 198m above the ground. There are three support towers, with the largest span between them a mighty 2732m.

According to Jan Sorg, Project Engineer at Leitner Ropeways “There are only about fifteen 3S cableways worldwide, but the Matterhorn Glacier Ride surpasses them all for altitude and the length of the span between towers.”

cables on the 3s lift matterhorn

Cable Stats

  • Each of the four support cables is 3940m long and 56mm in diameter
  • They have a service life of 30 years and weigh 17.8 kg per metre
  • Their total weight is 280 tonnes
  • The hauling cable consists of twisted strands, spliced to form a continuous loop
  • There are six strands, each made from 36 individual wires
  • The total length of the hauling cable is 8120m
  • It weighs 8.28kg per metre and the total weight is 6100 kg
3s cable

Cross-sections of the cable construction

How much did it cost?

The new 3S cable car is an immense project that has cost CHF52 million has been constructed by LEITNER Ropeways over the last few years. The project is due to be completed in 600 working days. We have been tracking progress regularly on our website.

In total 145 people from 38 companies from Switzerland and Italy have worked with Zermatt Bergbahnen AG on their largest-ever construction project.

How did altitude affect construction?

Since 2016, staff were working on the lift at almost 4000m and on precariously steep terrain. Because of the lack of oxygen workers on Europe’s highest building site can only perform at around 60-80% of their normal physical capacity.

Even the use of concrete is affected. Concreting can only be done at temperatures of 5°C or more, so it is mixed using warm water at a depot at Lake Cime Bianche on the Italian side and has to be kept above 8°C while being transported to the construction site.

Before work could even start, a team from  Gasser Felstechnik AG had to abseil down the rock face to put netting in place to prevent rockfalls. That was after clearing any loose stones by pickaxe first.

How many tonnes of explosive were used?

Having ensured the site was safe and once several tonnes of snow had been removed, a crane was erected for use during the rest of the construction work.

Excavation work over three months then involved five tonnes of explosives to shift 10,000 m3 of rock before the concrete foundations could be set.

crane installing the 3S lift zermatt

How were materials delivered to the construction site?

So far, Air Zermatt has flown several thousand circuits to help build the 3S cableway.

The main challenge was caused by the steepness of the construction site, meaning the helicopter pilots had to be able to fly loads suspended from a 60-metre cable with precision-point accuracy.

“Working on the 3S construction site on the Klein Matterhorn is one of the most challenging operations we have ever carried out with our helicopters,” confirmed Gerold Biner, CEO of Air Zermatt.

How many pylons are there?

There are just three towers on the route of the new lift. All the materials for the towers were transported to the site via Testa Grigia using snow mobiles. A caterpillar crane from Clausen Transporte was deployed for the assembly work.

The feet of Tower Two drop 35 metres into the ground, with only three metres visible at the top, and use 142 tonnes of steel to anchor the tower.

air zermatt helicopter drop

How many cabins are there?

There will be 25 cabins in total, each with 28 seats, and accessible to wheelchair users and families with pushchairs. The seats have been inspired by car design and are finished with high quality leather and Alcantara.

Leitner Ropeways teamed up with Tyrolean crystal manufacturer Swarovski to create four special ‘Crystal Ride’ cabins. The exteriors of these unique cabins have been decorated with sparkling Swarovski crystals for a luxurious finishing touch.

swarovski cabin zermatt

When does the 3S lift open?

The new lift opened on 29 September 2018.

Does the 3S lift link with Cervinia?

Yes, from summer 2023, the 3S lift will be extended so that it connects via ‘The Alpine Crossing’ to Testa Grigia and the Cervinia ski area.

If you’d like to come and test it out for yourself, then please contact us at Matterhorn Chalets and we can help you find the right accommodation for you.

ski to the door Chalet Ulysse zermatt

Ski to the door of Chalet Ulysse in Zermatt

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