After around two-and-a-half years’ construction work, the “Matterhorn glacier ride” – the world’s highest 3S cableway – has finally opened as planned above Zermatt, forming a new link between the Trockener Steg mountain station and the “Matterhorn glacier paradise” on the Klein Matterhorn (at 3883 metres above sea level).

However the new gondola is just the first stage of a series of fast new lifts which will create an ‘Alpine Bruidge’ between Switzerland and Italy and open up an  expanded ski area with 540km of linked pistes, one of the biggest in the world and potentially THE biggest as some cartographers believe the 3 Valleys, regarded as the biggest with 600km of piste, actually has less than 540km of runs.

The new lift will run alongside the long established cable car link on the route rather than replacing it, although it is understood the cable car will go out of service for a full overhaul for a period whilst the new lift is operating.

An opening ceremony befitting a joint project laden with superlatives saw the official inauguration on Saturday of the new 3S cableway connecting The event was attended by members of the construction workforce, media representatives and celebrities from all over Switzerland.

Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard was there to cut the red ribbon: she congratulated everyone involved on their superb achievement, which she said showed that Switzerland was capable of setting new standards both in tourism and cableway construction. “This is something we should be proud of,” the infrastructure minister declared. She highlighted the impressive feat of building the cableway under such difficult circumstances on a construction site at an altitude of almost 4000 metres.

Zermatt Bergbahnen AG and cableway manufacturers LEITNER ropeways, along with 36 other companies, were responsible for the construction of the Matterhorn glacier ride, which is 3940 metres in length.

Once the new cableway officially starts operations for the forthcoming winter season, passengers in Zermatt will be able to board 25 gondolas, each with 28 seats conceived by the Pininfarina design studio, for the journey to Europe’s highest mountain station, situated at 3821 metres above sea level.

Four of the gondolas are the special “Crystal ride” cabins, encrusted with thousands of Swarovski crystals and featuring an integrated glass floor through which passengers will be able to observe the 200 m drop below their feet.

“With a carrying capacity of 2000 passengers an hour, waiting times at Trockener Steg will be a thing of the past. The nine-minute ride offers first-class comfort and a fantastic all-round view of Zermatt’s majestic high-alpine panorama,” a Zermatt spokesperson commented.

Franz Julen, the new Chairman of the Board of Directors at Zermatt Bergbahnen AG, adds: “The construction of the highest 3S cableway in the world to the Klein Matterhorn is just the beginning of an even bigger vision: a first step towards the realization of a continuous lift connection between Zermatt and Italy. An ‘Alpine Crossing’. This will be possible with the addition of another 3S cableway already planned to link Testa Grigia and ‘Matterhorn glacier paradise’ (on the Klein Matterhorn). In a second stage, our Italian partners envisage two cableways to connect the Zermatt – Cervinia – Valtournenche ski area with that of Val d’Ayas – Alagna –Gressoney (the Monterosa Ski resort). With the addition of 180 kilometres of slopes to create a total of 540 km of pistes, we would have one of the biggest ski areas in the world.”

(the new lift is blessed)

“With the new lift we are offering our customers greater comfort, eliminating the waiting time to get to the Klein Matterhorn, and giving them the chance to take a spectacular cableway ride across our glacier. We can hardly wait to see how guests will react to the lift and the ‘Crystal ride’ glass-floor cabins. Naturally, we hope they enjoy it as much as we enjoyed the development process and the cableway’s construction. Three things are guaranteed when people board the new gondola lift in Zermatt: breath-taking views, a touch of glamour and a gripping experience.”

Images Copyright Marc Kronig