Zermatt might be known now as a world-class ski resort, but this wasn’t always the case. Once a small farming community, the transition to international destination started over 150 years ago.
In this blog post, we pick out ten key dates in the history of Zermatt
1865 – Whymper summits the Matterhorn for the first time
While successful – in that the group reached the summit – Edward Whymper’s ascent is tragically remembered for the loss of four of the party who fell to their deaths on the climb back down.
1891 – Visp-Zermatt railway completed
The opening of the railway from the valley floor to Zermatt made access much faster. However, it was initially only open in summer due to the prohibitive cost of creating barriers to protect the railway from avalanches. At the time Zermatt had just 400 residents.
1898 – Gornergrat railway opens
On opening the Gornergrat railway became the first electric railway in Switzerland. It passes through five tunnels and over two bridges via Findelbach, Riffelalp, Riffelberg and Rotenboden to Gornergrat at 3089m.
1927 – The Victoria Hotel opens for winter for the first time
Winter tourism first formally started after local hotelier Hermann Seiler opened the Victoria Hotel. His first guests were a group of 180 Britons, who arrived by sleigh from nearby St Niklaus.
1928 – Visp-Zermatt opens in winter
There was no turning back after this ‘Pandora’s Box’ of winter holidays had been opened the previous winter. The Swiss government and Valais cantonal authorities invested in the required avalanche barriers to make the train safe and ensured that Zermatt was connected by rail all year round.
1932 – Swiss Ski Championships held in Zermatt
Zermatt’s arrival as a serious winter destination was confirmed when it hosted the Swiss national championships.
1942 – First lift opens
According to the tourist office website, the first lift to open was from Zermatt to Sunegga and was designed to move pedestrians in summer only.
1944 – Winter overtakes summer
This was the first year that Zermatt recorded more winter than summer guests, something hugely significant for a resort that had already been welcoming tourists since the 19th century. By the late 1880s, over 10,000 visitors per year were coming to visit the Matterhorn. Today the Visp-Zermatt line carries more than 3 million passengers each year.
1947 – First chairlift
Development was sporadic and progress was limited by a desire to keep all investment local. However, the determined Julen family opened the first chairlift from Findeln to Sunegga.
1979 – The Klein Matterhorn cable car opened
Eventually the many different lift businesses operating in Zermatt moved from competition to collaboration and finally the formation of Zermatt Bergbahnen. Their biggest achievement in the 20th century was the creation of the highest cable car in the Alps, taking visitors to almost 3900m at Klein Matterhorn.
Let’s finish with one more final date still to come (at the time of writing):
2023 – In July, the new Alpine Crossing 3S lift will start running between Zermatt and Cervinia for the first time. It will mean that it will be possible to travel by gondola from Switzerland to Italy and back between the two resorts.
Accommodation in Zermatt
If you’d like to find accommodation in Zermatt for the World Cup races, then be sure to book early as it is certain to be busy.
Please contact the Matterhorn Chalets team on +41 79 247 15 88