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Zermatt Legend Alex Perren

A tale of astonishing courage in this awe-inspiring village

Our link with a Zermatt legend Alex Perren Mountain guide Alex Perren Village of Zermatt A tale of astonishing courage in this awe-inspiring village

For young mountain guide Alex Perren the situation looked hopeless. On a freezing, snowswept mountain ledge on the South Face of the Obergabelhorn near his home village of Zermatt, he lay with a shattered leg waiting to die.

     He knew that word of his fall while guiding a client would have reached the village – but the weather was too bad for a rescue operation to be mounted, he believed. So he drank the schnapps and ate the food he had with him, and waited for the end. He was just 26 years old.

     ‘As I lay there I thought about the wonderful, though short, life I had had in the mountains up until then,’ he said. ‘I was certain that there was no way I could survive. But then to my amazement, 16 hours after the accident, a group of my fellow mountain guides from the village appeared. They had defied the conditions and decided they could not leave me there. I couldn’t believe it.’

     Even so, it took many hours to get the injured climber down the mountain. The exhausted party, in one of the most difficult and courageous rescue operations in the mountain community’s history, arrived back in Zermatt 38 hours after the accident. And Alex’s left leg was so badly damaged that doctors decided they had to amputate it below the knee.

     His career as a top mountain guide was over. But the accident heralded a new passion – and Alex was to become one of the holiday resort’s leading hoteliers. And by staying at one of Supertravel’s fabulous new chalets in Zermatt, you will become part of a new chapter in this awe-inspiring village’s ever-unfolding history. For Alex and his family have played a huge part in the launch of our chalet programme in Zermatt.

 

     Our chalets are housed in the stunning Chalet Shalimar, the Perren family’s latest exciting project. It has been designed and built to create some of the most impressive and luxurious chalet units in the Alps and has caused great excitement in the village – and is a source of great pride to Alex.

     He is 80 next year but still skis nearly every day. ‘After my accident I was in hospital for a long time. But after 18 months I was at last given my new artificial leg – and the next week I was skiing. People told me it would take me a long time to get used to it and to be able to ski well on it – but I found I could ski normally straight away, it wasn’t a problem to me.’

     At just 19, Alex had become the youngest person from Zermatt up to then to qualify as a ski instructor and mountain guide. To his great joy, he could now take guests up his beloved Matterhorn and the other nearby 4,000-metre peaks.

     Climbing was in his blood – his great-grandfather on his mother’s side was Peter Taugwalder, the first mountain guide to climb the Matterhorn, together with his son, also Peter, and Edward Whymper. The expedition was to end in tragedy when four fellow climbers fell to their deaths during the descent. It’s impossible to visit Zermatt without acquiring some knowledge of that 1865 mix of jubilation and despair – the tales of triumph and tragedy on the surrounding peaks are part of the fabric of life here. And the Monte Rosa hotel from which Whymper and his party left at 5.30 on the morning of July 13 is still outwardly very much as it was then.

     Edward Whymper and the two guides, Peter Taugwalder and his son, were the only ones to return out of the party of seven. The

 

story of that first ascent of the Matterhorn is the centre-piece of the fascinating museum in the centre of Zermatt, opposite the Monte Rosa.

     After his accident, Alex’s mother gave him a plot of meadowland near the railway station, in the heart of the village. And in 1961 he opened Hotel Alex. The following year Gisela Becwar, an Austrian girl born in Salzburg, came to work at the hotel as a secretary – and it wasn’t long before Alex fell in love with her. ‘I hit the jackpot with her,’ said Alex. They married in 1964 – and together they made the Hotel Alex the resort’s most fashionable place to be seen. ‘We worked sometimes 16 hours a day, but it was not work, it was fun,’ said Alex. ‘The secret is to love people and to want to serve people, and be there for them. You have to give before you can take.’

FAMILY TRADITION

     In 2005, Alex and Gisela handed over the reins to his son Alex Jr and his daughter Christina and her husband Rene Hurlimann, and the younger generation are committed to continuing the family tradition. The hotel has very much the warm and intimate feel of a luxurious mountain chalet – and that may explain how they have achieved exactly the same atmosphere with the creation of the Supertravel chalets at Shalimar.

     The philosophy of the Perrens, which has seen them succeed as the trendsetters in caring for guests in Zermatt and making guests want to return year after year, coincides exactly with that of Supertravel. It is a concept that comes from a family of hoteliers who celebrate hospitality with a passionate commitment and a wealth of expertise.

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