3 - 4
FATMAP difficulty grade
The East Face of Matterhorn was first skied on 14 May 1975 by Toni Valeruz.
This awesome extreme line is not often in condition and years can go by between descents, but when done it is usually in late spring.
It begins high on the face but is not skiable in its entirety from the summit.
It follows a series of interlinking bands of snow patches, tracing a devious route through the rock bands.
Mandatory 55 degree sections on thin snow overlying rocks clearly make this a descent of the highest standard where total commitment, exemplary technique and the rare perfect conditions all have to come together.
Lower down the angle eases, but only slightly and the snow will be rapidly softening in the morning sun so timing and speed are essential. You can reach this peak either from Cervinia or from Zermatt.
I skied this peak from Cervinia so the description for this route will follow my experience.
Usually the east face comes into condition late April/May so lifts will be closed.
You can start walking from Cervinia town centre with skis on your back.
Follow the slopes towards the Furggen ridge that you can always spot on the horizon just on the side of the big matterhorn.
Navigation is quite easy, just follow the line of the Morena.
Once close to Matterhorn don't push it too close because during the warmest days avalanches can detach from the side and fall down, roaring close to you. The Morena ends with a steep couloir that you have to climb to gain access to the Bivacco Bossi where you can spend the first night.
The next morning you have to ski down from the refuge on the Swiss side, ending on the first gigantic serac.
Here there is the chance to continue skinning uphill until the third serac, almost at the beginning of the face.
Depending upon snow conditions you will either find a very narrow couloir that cuts the first rock bar from right to left (we found it like that) or in better conditions there will be a good wide slope that you can follow straight up into the face. This part is the less steep - probably 45 to 50 degrees.
Be careful though; skiing down is dangerous because of the rocks underneath the snow! It's really tricky skiing here. If the snow is good and there is enough of it you can keep pushing keeping your left and enter a steep and narrow couloir that will bring you to the top of the skiable line.
The slope here is 55 degrees. if the snow is not enough you can continue to the Solvayhutte and up for another 100m until reaching a rock bar where you can start setting up to ski down.
Descend the ascent route, savouring every turn and concentrating for every second.