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Enjoying a summer holiday on the slopes

The Matterhorn dominates the horizon in Zermatt


The winter season may now be a distant memory, but skiers can still get their fix throughout the summer in resorts like Gstaad, Zermatt and Saas-Fee.

These high-altitude towns all have glaciers boasting year-round snow cover and the option of skiing in summer.

At 3,800 metres, Zermatt's Theodul glacier is one of the highest skiing areas in Switzerland. It offers six drag lifts covering an array of blue and red slopes, along with a snowboarding fun park.

It was here in the western Swiss Alps that I embarked on a summer skiing adventure, which took me to the Swiss-Italian border for lunch and back to my hotel by 3pm.

Early birds

There is one golden rule to skiing in summer: the early bird catches the worm. Cable cars and ski lifts open between seven and eight in the morning and close in the early afternoon, because by this time the snow is too slushy for skiing.

But an early start really does pay off, as the conditions are superb. The snow is crisp and dry, and the slopes are empty compared with the winter - and there are no queues for the lifts.

With such great conditions, it's easy to understand why national ski and snowboarding teams from as far afield as Russia and Canada come here to train during the summer months.

Cable car

After an hour-long cable car journey to the top of the Klein Matterhorn, I slip on my skis, sunscreen and sunglasses and hit the slopes.

I'm accompanied by Elmar Lehner, a ski instructor and fan of summer skiing, who quickly speeds off, demonstrating his perfect parallel turns. I follow his tracks wary of skiing on a glacier with all its cracks and crevasses.

Elmar reassures me that all the marked pistes are safe, but explains that clothing and sun protection are really important in the summer because of the strength of the sun.

"You should wear normal ski gear in the summer, but maybe not as much as in the winter," he says. "You'll need a jacket to protect you against the wind too. Most important is a high factor sun cream."

Pristine pistes

The first piste is pristine and the view spectacular: to the left, the French Alps, and to the right, Italy and the majestic Matterhorn. We head for the drag lifts at the bottom of the Plateau Rosa piste.

Here a handful of snowboarders and skiers are taking a short break from their morning's exercise. They all brim with enthusiasm over their choice for a summer break.

"I like it because there aren't as many people as in the high season," one woman told me. "For snowboarding and race boarding you need space and it's less dangerous if there are fewer people."

Her partner agrees, telling me the "winter is just too short. Here the snow quality is good in morning and when you stop in the afternoon at two o'clock you can go back to the village and have a party."

Italian lunch

After another couple of runs, Elmar and I go for lunch at a little mountain hut nestled on the Swiss-Italian border. All of a sudden he switches from speaking German to Italian, and the bill arrives in euros instead of Swiss francs.

We have two espressos at 1.30pm, but Elmar says we must hurry as we only have half an hour before the last lift back down the valley.

Later back at the hotel there's still time for a short hike or a bike ride before dinner - something skiers never have time for during the winter season.

Alternatively you can curl up on a sunlounger with a good book. So as well as a day's skiing, there's the added benefit of feeling like you're on a beach holiday.

by Sally Mules

Skiing is possible in Zermatt from July 6 and in Gstaad and Saas-Fee from the end of June.

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