The Breithorn is considered nowadays to be an easy summit because of its proximity to the Klein Matterhorn tram station but the ascent can be much more tiresome if climbed from the Theodulpass on the border with Italy. My first successful mountain climb was the Breithorn which I reached 38 years ago as a participant of a ski randonnée. In those days, a ski tour to the top of Breithorn was a lengthy undertaking. It implied taking an early morning tram from Zermatt to the top of the Schwarzsee tram and then, after a descent on skis to Furgg, taking the skilift to Garten before proceeding on the randonnée to the Breithorn. The top of the Garten lift [alt.2720m] was the highest point of the mechanized skilifts because the Trockener Steg and Klein Matterhorn trams had not yet been built.
As was customary in 1966, our local Swiss guide had arranged that each skier in our group was attached to a rope and then was pulled by a snowcat from the Garten lift to the Theodulpass [3317m], the actual start of our tour to the Breithorn. The ascent on skis was made possible by seal skins attached to the undersurface of skis while on the ski descent the seal skins were removed. It took us another 3 hours to reach the summit ridge where we deposited our skis. We used crampons for the final hike to the western summit [4165m].
The nice part of that Breithorn climb was that, after reaching the summit, we had an ensuing long descent on skis in untracked powder all the way to Zermatt, a more than 2500m vertical drop. I was quite exhausted by that ski randonnée even though I was 20 years old at the time. My poor endurance was in dramatic contrast to the excellent physical condition of our guide, Ulrich Inderbinen, aged 65 at the time and who had already climbed the Matterhorn more than 300 times. Subsequently, Ulrich continued to climb the Matterhorn many more times until age 90 and was then known as the “King of the Alps.” He died peacefully in 2004 at his home at the age of 103.
Twenty four years later I was back at the top of Breithorn on another ski tour (March 28, 1990). Our group reached the summit after a 90-minute ascent on skis following a leisurely tram ride up to Klein Matterhorn [alt.3800m]. The main difference with my prior experience was the route taken by our guide for the ski descent. We took the very spectacular Schwarztor pass [alt. 3731m] descent to Zermatt instead of the standard ski run over the Theodulgletscher. A fairly flat ski traverse below the ridge of the summit of Breithorn was followed in order to reach that pass where the north-facing ski slope started.
The ski descent was an unforgettable experience because it combined long steep slopes on light powder snow with very tight crevasse crossings in awesome surroundings of huge ice seracs and dramatic cliffs. The lower part of the glacier ski run consisted of a fairly flat traverse on the Gornergletscher before a steep ice wall at the snout of the glacier. At that point we were lowered by ropes anchored to the ice by the guide. Thereafter, we hiked to a nearby marked ski trail and continued skiing into town. In conclusion, I believe that the best way to experience the Breithorn on skis is to combine the current easy accessibility of the summit with the spectacular Schwarztor descent to Zermatt.
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