Zermatt is a municipality in the district of Visp in the German-speaking section of the canton of Valais in Switzerland. It has a population of about 5,800 inhabitants.
The village is situated at the end of Mattertal at an altitude of 1,620 m (5,310 ft), at the feet of Switzerland's highest peaks. It lies about 10 km (6.2 mi) from the over 10,800 ft (3,291.84 m) high Theodul Pass bordering Italy.
Zermatt is famed as a mountaineering and ski resort of the Swiss Alps. Until the mid-19th century, it was predominantly an agricultural community; the first and tragic ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 was followed by a rush on the mountains surrounding the village, leading to the construction of many tourist facilities. The year round population (as of December 2010) is 5,720, though there may be several times as many tourists in town at any one time. Much of the local economy is based on tourism, with about half of the jobs in town in hotels or restaurants and just under half of all apartments are vacation apartments. Just over one-third of the permanent population was born in the village, while another third moved to Zermatt from outside Switzerland.
Tourism: The town was "discovered" by mid-nineteenth century British mountaineers, most notably Edward Whymper, whose conquest of the Matterhorn made the village famous. The Matterhorn was one of the last alpine mountains to be conquered (in 1865), and the first expedition that reached the top ended dramatically with only 3 of the 7 climbers surviving the descent. The story is related in the Matterhorn Museum.
Zermatt is a starting point for hikes into the mountains, including the Haute Route that leads to Chamonix in France and the Patrouille des Glaciers. Cable cars and chair lifts carry skiers in the winter and hikers in the summer; the highest of them leads to the Klein Matterhorn at 3,883 m (12,740 ft), a peak on the ridge between Breithorn and Matterhorn that offers spectacular views in all directions. It is possible to cross into Italy via the Cervinia cable car station. A spectacular rack railway line (the Gornergratbahn, the highest open-air railway in Europe) runs up to the summit of the Gornergrat at 3,089m (10,134 ft). Zermatt is also the western terminus for the Glacier Express rail service connecting to St. Moritz and the MGB (Matterhorn-Gotthard-Bahn).
Transport: To prevent air pollution which could obscure the town's view of the Matterhorn, the entire town is a combustion-engine car-free zone. Almost all vehicles in Zermatt are battery driven and almost completely silent. Electric vehicles are allowed for local commerces. The Cantonal police can issue a permit which allows residents to drive and park at the northern outskirts. Some emergency (fire trucks, ambulances, etc.) and municipal (buses, garbage trucks, etc.) vehicles are also allowed to use combustion engines.
Passenger vehicles operating within Zermatt include tiny electric shuttles provided by hotels to carry visitors from the main train station (or the taxi transfer point just outside town) to the hotel properties, "electro" taxis operated by four major Zermatt families, and "electro" buses, which serve two routes: one between the major hotel areas and the stations of the various ski-lifts, and the other following a similar route but also serving the more rural "suburb" of Winkelmatten. Horse-drawn carriages can also be found; some are operated by hotels and others are available for hire.
Most visitors reach Zermatt by cog railway train from the nearby town of Tasch (Zermatt shuttle). Trains also depart for Zermatt from farther down the valley at Visp and Brig, which are on the main Swiss rail network. The town also has a heliport (ICAO: LSEZ) and a local helicopter operator, Air Zermatt, which also provides alpine rescue services.
In 2007, a project group was formed to evaluate options for development of the local transportation network (as the "electro" buses do not have enough capacity). The results of this study are published in the December 2007 edition of Zermatt Inside. The six options explored are a coaster, a funicular, a metro, moving sidewalks, a gondola or more "electro" buses.
Skiing in Zermatt: Zermatt is known throughout the world for its skiing, especially Triftji for its moguls. The high altitude results in consistent skiing continuously throughout the summer.
Skiing in Zermatt is split up into four areas; Sunnegga, Gornergrat, Klein Matterhorn and Schwarzsee. There is also a connection to Cervinia and Valtournenche in Italy.
In 2008, Zermatt hosted an 'Infinity Downhill Race'. The race took place on the 13 and 14 December and comprised a course descending from the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (3,800 m (12,500 ft)) and finished in Zermatt itself (1,600 m (5,200 ft)). The course was 20 km long and featured a 2,200 m descent.