Elia Zurbriggen has traded in his skis for plates and cutlery. The former ski racer runs the mountain restaurant @Paradise in Findeln, Zermatt, together with his wife, but that won't stop you finding him skiing on the slopes of Valais.
Elia Zurbriggen was born with a love of winter sports. The son of Swiss skiing legend Pirmin Zurbriggen has himself competed in 47 world championship giant slalom races. Last year, the 31-year-old surprised us all by announcing his retirement from the sport. “My father has supported me in my decision and also understands why I have made this choice,” says Elia. “When my siblings and I were born, he also cut back from the sport to spend more time with his family.”
For almost two years, Elia has been strapping on his skis for pleasure, rather than business. Together with his wife Loredana, he runs the restaurant @Paradise in Findeln above Zermatt. “I now have a completely new pace of life and a lot more time to spend with my children.” His son Janis will celebrate his second birthday this July, while his daughter Lisa is three years old. “They’re at a wonderful age. Since Janis has been able to walk, we have been run off our feet. Lisa is always trying to help out and constantly tells us stories about her day.”
Between slopes and stools
The ex-professional sportsman welcomes and seats guests in the restaurant, helps out with service and takes care of purchasing and transport. “The job is much more varied than I thought,” says Elia. Although, that doesn't stop him from missing the skiing scene every now and then. “I miss my colleagues most of all. We spent so much time travelling together as a team, and that’s resulted in some beautiful friendships.” Many of his former colleagues have already paid his restaurant a visit.
Skiing is still a big passion of the new restauranteur. “My favourite ski area is of course Zermatt, my home,” he says proudly. “It has everything snow sports enthusiasts could possibly hope for – from off-piste skiing and steep slopes to relaxing descents.”
What else does the Valais aficionado rave about?
As a ski racer, Elia has visited many alpine regions around the world. However, in his opinion, the imposing mountain ranges in Valais are simply unparalleled. “Even back when I was training, I was constantly pulling my phone out to take a snapshot of my surroundings. Almost everywhere you look there are views that will astonish and amaze you,” he says enthusiastically. “Whether on Gornergrat surrounded by multiple four-thousand-metre peaks, in the Aletsch region with views of the Aletsch Glacier or in Veysonnaz, where you can take in the entire Rhône Valley – making turns in the snow and enjoying a drink on a terrace against this backdrop is simply unique for me.”
The skier-turned-restauranteur has fond memories of the 4Vallées region, Switzerland's largest ski area. “We spent a lot of time training there.” The winter sports region spans an altitude of 1,250 to 3,330 metres and connects the ski areas of Verbier, Nendaz, Veyzonnaz, Thyon and La Tzoumaz. “You can ski endlessly there. I love all the advantages that large ski areas have to offer.”
Secret tips from the father-of-two
Valais is not only home to sophisticated destinations like the ones mentioned above, but also encompasses small but appealing winter sports locations with a charm all of their own – such as Saas-Almagell, where Elia grew up. “I get quite nostalgic when I think of these smaller ski areas. When I was a child, two ski lifts and a couple of small jumps gave me everything I needed,” he reminisces. “What used to be a huge playground is now a modest area you can let the kids play in.”
For those spending their winter holidays in Valais, there’s one destination in particular that shouldn't be missed: Portes du Soleil. This snow paradise for ski enthusiasts is located between Mont-Blanc and the Dents du Midi mountain range, which connects Switzerland and France. “That also brings up childhood memories,” says Elia. “As a teenager, I competed in many races there, often accompanied by my parents.”
Who knows – perhaps one day Elia will be spending more time in Portes du Soleil again with his own family. “Our children both love skiing. If one day they wanted to do some racing themselves, I’d of course be happy to take them,” says the father-of-two, a smile crossing his face.
Text : Ringier in collaboration with Valais/Wallis Promotion
Published : March 2022
Copyright : Elia Zurbriggen and Valais/Wallis Promotion