ABOUT THE HOTEL:
We stayed in the Riffelalp Hotel for a week's skiing in Zermatt and absolutely loved it - everything about it was top notch. The hotel itself was very nice and I have to say, was even nicer than the impressions we got from their web site! The interior of the hotel is a nice balance of high end quality without being stuffy, Swiss chalet/ski lodge style without being cheesy and the room was finished to a very high standard - eg flexible reading lights above the bed; Bose DVD and sound system in the room and bathroom; jacuzzi bath tub; great shower that was powerful (a real plus as I am so sick of hotels having lovely bathrooms but showers that are not powerful or don't provide enough hot water!). Our room looked out to the Matterhorn and this must be one of the world's most scenic spots for a hotel. The spa and pool area is just fantastic. The indoor pool area is quite spacious compared to most ski hotels and is well heated so can you relax by the pool in your swimming gear and read your book/iPad etc without any discomfort but the real treat is going to the outdoor pool where you can lie in luxurious heated water with lots of jacuzzi massaging jets while admiring the snow and Matterhorn in front of you - you can't help but sit there and think 'this is the life'!! Unusally, the outdoor jacuzzi pool was also relativey large so none of the problems of 10 people trying to jump into a hot tub that you find elsewhere!
Most importantly however, is the level of service. We have tended to ski in the US in recent years rather than Europe because of better service but kudos to ALL the staff at the Riffelalp - they were all terrific. We found them to be very frendly and efficient, and unusually for Europe compared to the US, were more than happy to go the extra mile to meet your requests. I noticed that when a guest asked for Turkey meat for breakfast, they promised they would get it in and sure enough, it was there the next day. The food at all three restaurants was of a very high standard. We enjoyed eating at all three and in the end, did not down to Zermatt for dinner as originally planned as there was more than enough variety within the hotel restaurants. Look out for their special desert buffet on Friday nights - fabulous deserts and loads of chocalate! A quick tip, although we were on the half Board plan and the suggested set menus were typically of a high standard, the staff were very accommodating if you wanted to change elements of the set menu, order from the a la carte or indeed off menu - if it was physically possible to meet your requests, they would do so with an enthusiastic "but of course that is possible", none of the "let me check with the manager if we can do this" nonsense that you get at some places. I give them top marks for how well trained their staff were (they all seem to speak 3 languages to a high standard) and their fantastic freindly attitude. I should also note that they seemed intent on filling us up - if you finished your steak, grilled lobster(!) or cheese fondue, they would ask if you wanted another serving - no penny pinching over size of meals here! I noticed a few people on this site asked about dress code. I would say it is the usual ski resort code, ie no need for jackets etc and smart casual was fine. That said, there was probably a higher percentage of patrons who made an effort compared to the norm but don't worry if all you have is jeans and shirt because your bag was full of ski gear.
In terms of location, it is set half way up the mountain in a very scenic but isolated spot that is accessible only by train. So if you want to go into Zermatt itself, this is a pleasant 15-20 min train ride back down, but you then need to pay attention to the train timetable as it is not that that frequent and changes depending on time of day. In particular, there are only two trains in the evening back to the hotel (from memory it was about 7:20 pm and 9:50 pm) so this can be a bit restrictive. Zermatt itself we found to be a very nice village with a good variety of restaurants. I am not sure I would stay in a downtown hotel for skiing though as going to and from the lifts/hotels by bus was not fun. We got our timings wrong one day and skied too long thus missed our connecting gondola back to the hotel so had to ski into town and catch the bus back to the central train station. The queue for the bus service was long and the bus was packed. Might be ok if your hotel arranges complimentary shuttle service but even then you have the hassle of calling ahead to meet you when you finish etc.
I should start by noting that while the Riffelalp is a ski in ski out hotel, it is situated next to a red run that is not easy for nervous intermediates. In particular, the run down to the gondola lift is on the steep and relatively narrow side which is not helped by being a bit icy/scrapey (sp?!) first thing in the morning as it is in the shade. For good intermediates, this is not a problem, but I think if you are going with nervous intermediates, this can be a bit daunting. I struggled to decide what to rate the ski resort as it has big pluses and big minuses but have decided to rate the skiing 3 out of 5, the scenery 5 out of 5 and the linkage/lifts/access 2 out of 5. The skiing is best for confident intermediates - I would definitey not bring a beginner as there are very few beginner slopes and the intermediate runs are on the harder side, and there is not a lot for experts (I did all the black runs and they were not interesting at all). The ski resort is vast (ie includes both Zermatt and Cervinia) so that is a big plus but the runs themselves are very mixed. I disliked the way most of the runs seemed to be widened tracks or roads rather than wide pistes that you could explore. A real frustration is that a lot of the runs do in fact become tracks or roads that you have to traverse to connect between runs or lifts. There also seems to be an inordinate amount of uphill parts that require you to ski downhill flat out as you approach them to ensure you can go up the other side! Not a major problem but it can be annoying if you are not looking ahead and fail to spot you have an uphill part coming up and have to pole/skate the last 30 yards! For the red runs, it is curious, they tend to be on the steep and relatively narrow side so nervous intermediates will not enjoy them like the wide groomed slopes of Courcheval or many US slopes but on the other hand, competent intermediates will also not find them that interesting as they are well groomed so there are no moguls or variations or wide pistes that you can go off to explore (without going off piste). So overall, 3 out 5 for skiing. The scenery does however, make up for this and you have to ski in Zermatt at least once just to see the glorious alpine scenery and having the Matterhorn constantly in the background is just amazing - plenty of Kodak moments (or should that be Samsung/iPhone moments?!). Finally, the lifts - I was told this has improved in recent years but this was a big bug bear of mine. The lift system is not well thought out and connecting between runs and mountains (ie Zermatt/Cervinia) is not smooth. To get to the top of mountains can require a lot of interchanging between lifts and gondolas which is really annoying. I think I spent more time on gondolas and taking my skis on and off on this trip than any other. Incredibly, on the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise side, they still have old T-bars for one of the more longer and critical routes - I really can't believe that for such a critical lift, they have not replaced this with a high speed chair lift and it is very frustrating to wait in long queues and then have an even longer slow T-Bar ride to the top - the owners should feel embarrased about this state of affairs. So a generous 2 out of 5 for lift access!
Overall, I would highly recommend the Riffealp resourt - one of the best hotels/service we have enjoyed. I would also say that on balance, it is worth going to Zermatt for the skiing if only once for the scenery. But until they sort out the lifts situation, I am unlikely to return for skiing which is sad because the resort deserves better than that given how pretty it is and how good the service is. I would however, return in summer as the hotel is great and the walks would be amazing.