It is hard to imagine that, as late as the middle of the 19th Century, not many guests came to visit the king of the mountains, the Matterhorn. The fact that this has changed in the last 150 years is due to the work of a great pioneer of the hotel industry: Alexander Seiler, who came to Zermatt for the first time in 1851, following his brother's advice, and took his first tentative steps in the Zermatt hotel and catering business two years later, when he took out a lease on the Hotel Cervin. In 1854, Alexander Seiler also became the leaseholder of the new Hotel Riffelberg. At the same time, he bought the Hotel Cervin, extended it in 1855 and renamed it the Hotel Monte Rosa. This was the beginning of the Seiler family's hotel and catering business. From the start, Alexander Seiler was inspired by one place: the Augstkummenalp, high above Zermatt, at 2227 meters above sea level. Situated on the edge of a beautiful stone pine forest, bathed in sunlight, and blessed with a unique view of the Matterhorn, it seemed to him the perfect place to build a mountain hotel. From 1856, he started to purchase, little by little, parcels of land from the local farmers.
The tragedy of the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 by the English mountaineer Edward Whymper, when four climbers died during the descent, helped to make Zermatt well-known in England. The results were growing numbers of visitors, which reinforced Alexander Seiler's and his wife Katherina's plans to build the Hotel Riffelalp. The great adventure of building the Hotel Riffelalp started in the summer of 1878. At that time, there was no railway to Zermatt, and the Gornergrat rack railway was only opened 20 years later. It took ten hours by donkey and horse to transport building materials, some very precious, from Visp to Zermatt and then up to the building site. Alexander Seiler planned the building work with military precision and supervised it all personally. After all, his vision was for the Hotel Riffelalp to become not just any hotel, but the best mountain hotel in Switzerland, indeed in the Alps. Since work was possible at this altitude only in the sumer months, the construction of the four-story building with 150 beds took six years. The Anglican Chapel was built at the same time. There was also another reason for the long time it took to finish the building: Alexander Seiler did not want to use borrowed capital to fund his projects, and he financed everything from his own funds. The Hotel Riffelalp was formally opened on 10 July 1884. Marie Clausen Cathrein, the sister of Alexander's wife Katherina, took over the management of the hotel. The family's expectations were not disappointed. The crush of wealthy guests from all over Europe was so great that, very soon, the hotel had to be extended. In 1887, the Anglican Chapel was joined by a Catholic Chapel. By 1890, the Hotel Riffelalp had 200 beds. Building work continued after Alexander Seiler's death. By 1893, the number of beds rose to 250 with the construction of the first annex. In 1898, after the second annex had been completed, the Hotel Riffelalp offered 280 beds.