ABOVE: The lifts in Zermatt, Switzerland and neighboring Cervinia, Italy can accommodate 75,180 skiers per hour, and there's plenty of high-altitude snow to go around.
Zermatt, in the canton of Wallis (Valais), has been a mecca for athletic vacationers since 1830, when Britain's Lord Minto led an expedition up Monte Rosa, got lost in a storm, and climbed the Breithorn by mistake. Today, it continues to draw alpinists who find the Matterhorn irresistible, but skiing and snowboarding have become at least as important as hiking and mountain climbing.
The town claims more than 250 km or 156 miles of groomed ski and snowboard runs (many with snowmaking equipment), including the Italian trails that can be reached from Zermatt's lift stations. Although most runs are geared toward intermediates and experts, a number of easy trails do exist--including some that are quite long and scenic.
The trails are divided into three areas, each served by a different network of lifts:
Blauherd/Sunnegga and Unter Rothorn, which you reach via an underground funicular and a linked network of aerial cablecars.
Gornergrat/Riffelberg and Triftji/Stockhorn, accessible by the Gornergrat cogwheel railway. Trails include a sled run and a children's ski park.
Klein Matterhorn, Furgg, and Schwarzee, reached by an aerial cablecar system. This area has summer skiing and provides access to the Breuil-Cervinia lift network in Italy.
If you're adventurous and have deep pockets, try heli-skiing and other off-piste excursions with a licensed mountain guide. And if you prefer to ski away from steep slopes, gorges, or glaciers, try the 7-km cross-country loop near the edge of town. Non-skiers can keep busy on the marked winter hiking trails, by riding the ski lifts, or in shops that sell everything from Swatch watches to designer clothing.