A last-minute booking for a weekend ski trip from a new client this late in the season can sometimes be hit-or-miss - unless the location is Zermatt, the clients are strong skiers, and the weather is heli-possible. If all of those factors line up, the opportunity for a life-changing day is nearly guaranteed.
And so it went on Saturday; after a day spent on both the Italian side of the border (Cervinia) as well as the Zermatt side the day before, where we found decent boot-top but wind-affected powder, in near white-out conditions, thanks to Bergführer Fabian Lauber, we went to bed semi-skeptical about the forecast the next day. But the magic of Zermatt prevailed, and overnight a feathery 20cms of snow fell, and we awoke on the 6th of April to the sight you dream about, a golden sunrise on the Matterhorn, and crystal clear skies.
On bluebird spring days, the excitement at the bottom lift station is palpable. Mountain guides chat amongst themselves, playing their cards close to their chests so not to give away where they’re going. The gondola starts up, and we board for a day of big-game hunting. Two changes later, and we are at the top of the Klein Matterhorn, Europe’s highest cablecar at 3880m. As the guide groups split off to their various missions, we skinned off toward Castor and Pollux, beneath the south face of the Breithorn, for a leisurely 30-minute traverse. Just before we reached the Porta Nera (Schwarztor), we dropped into an 1800m descent in creamy Italian gelato. Negotiating giant open-book crevasse fields was no problem, as we followed Fabi down pitch after pitch of perfect spring powder. At Pian di Véraz, we prepared for pickup, and heard the sound we had been looking forward to: Alessandro, the pilot of Heliski Cervinia’s B3.
The second part of the day’s mission was a challenging one - the Colle Felik, or Felikjoch. Starting at 4100m, you definitely feel the altitude and adrenaline mix, as you begin your run under the massive seracs and ice features on Castor and the mighty Lyskamm. This is a run that is only done several times a season, and only with a team of guides that work together to navigate the complex glacier. Where many of the heli runs in this region will link sections of 30-40 turns, the Zwillings Glacier gave us stretches of 100 turns at a time, untracked and perfect, with dramatic walls of sheer ice, and remnants of serac falls.
At one point, after the guides roped together to route find through a particularly tricky section of crevasses, we had a mandatory drop of 2m into a crack strewn with freshly broken ice - a wrong move would have been disastrous, but everyone nailed it.
Finally onto the tongue of the glacier for some cruisy turns down to the Monte Rosa and Gorner Glaciers, and through the canyon carved out by the summer runoff. Across a 100m suspension bridge over the Gorner Gorge, and dropped right into a 4pm lunch at Zum See, in our estimation, the finest restaurant in the Alps. Although it was full, Markus Mennig, son of the owners Max and Greti, pulled out an extra table, arranged some chairs in the farmyard, and uncorked a magnum of Tignanello Super-Tuscan. Nearly 8000’ vertical from where we started the run, as the late afternoon sun glowed on the back of the Matterhorn, life was about as good as it gets.