Ski area sizes – not only boys who exaggerate

I tend to take the published size of a ski area on face value. If the lift company says a resort has so many kilometre of piste, and everyone publishes the same figure, who am I to doubt them? My biggest challenge has to been to keep the figures up to date, and separate out figures for unlinked sections covered on the same pass.
Corduroy piste, St Luc
However I have often found resorts that claim a certain size of terrain seem to have less than advertised. I can generally cover up to 100km in a day, and often wonder how I get round a resort so quickly. Also the figures are often inclusive of long resort trails that are little more than snow-covered tracks, and parallel stretches of piste that really should count as one piste. And do you measure the central line of a piste to establish length, the shortest line a skier could take or the zig-zag of an accomplished skier? It has often struck me that acreage, as used in North America, would be a useful additional measure.

Now, in a new book from Cologne-based cartographer and writer, Christoph Schrahe, entitled ‘The 50 Biggest Ski Areas in The World’, the claims of some lift companies are challenged. Using Google Earth and other sources the author found resorts in Europe wildly overstate the size of their terrain, on average by 40% but often by more. He reckons the 4 Valleys area that includes Verbier is 164km rather than the advertised 412km. St Moritz, he claims is a mere 64km rather, presumably, than the published 160km for Corviglia. The Portes du Soleil area, often claimed as the biggest linked ski area in the world with 650km of piste, is dismissed by Shrahe as merely 4th biggest, with 402km across 4 uncontiguous areas.

The French/Italian Milky Way is another culprit identified by Shrahe as exaggerating its size. The relative downgrading of so many European resorts leads to some American resorts being upgraded: Whistler Blackcomb is in the world top five on size, Vail in the top 10 and the 3 Valleys of the Andes around Valle Nevado in Chile is in the world top 15, according to J2Ski.

The Swiss newspaper Blick writes that the Swiss consumer affairs agency is going to investigate the claims, whilst the German Der Tagesspiegel reports outrage in the Tirol where the Austrian enviromental agency is considering prosecutions (although in fairness the Tyrolean resorts on the whole are more accurate than most).

The book itself is available for 99 euros by sending the author an email (google him to find his web site). I haven’t seen a copy of the report so I don’t know how far to believe his claims, but it is probably about time piste sizes were independently assessed, or clear guidelines were introduced. Perhaps there should also be a clear distinction between groomed pistes and unprepared, marked areas. There’s an opportunity for somebody here to ski or snowboard all the world’s best resorts and get an accurate figure – I’m available for commission if anyone needs a volunteer!

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Graubünden turns back on Olympics

Voters in Graubünden have vetoed bidding for the winter Olympics in 2022, due to have been centred on the towns of St Moritz and Davos. A slim majority of voters, 52.7 per cent, rejected a proposal to set aside CHF300 million for the organisation of the games, despite the two main towns coming out in favour.
Swiss Olympic Bid rejected
Switzerland has held the winter Olympics twice before, in St Moritz in 1928 and 1948.

Backers of the 2022 bid said it would be sustainable, lead to extra funding for the transport infrastructure, create jobs and boost tourism.

Opponents were largely worried about the cost and environmental concerns, and there was some suspicion of the IOC itself (based in Lausanne).

According to the budget forecast the operational costs for the games would have been CHF2.5 billion, while income would have been CHF1.5 billion, with the deficit covered by a government contribution.

However losses recorded by previous games clearly influenced voters. A study from the University of Oxford claimed that since 1960 the cost of hosting the Olympics was on average 179 per cent higher than the initial budget.

With Switzerland struggling to retain market share in the winter sports market, the decision not to host the games will do little to arrest the decline, but clearly local concerns in what is an intensely conservative canton were not adequately addressed by the organising Graubünden 2022 committee.

The committee said in a statement: “The association of Graubünden 2022 regrets this decision, which will finish the pioneering large-scale project for tourism, business and sports in Graubünden. For Graubünden 2022, the vote of the electorate is a great disappointment. The board of the association will soon decide on the way forward, but the project was stopped with today’s referendum in Graubünden.”

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Breil / Brigels

I decided to check out the skiing in Brigels in the Surselva region of Graubünden. It is not the easiest resort to get to from Basel for a day out and it is not covered by the Swiss Railways Snow’n’Rail scheme. However it looks good on paper, has 75 km of piste between 1100m and 2418m and seems to get good reports.

Alp Dado, Brigels - Waltensburg - Andiast
Restaurant at Alp Dado

My first mistake was not to research my trip enough. There seemed to be base stations at Breil/Brigels, Waltensburg/Vuorz and Andiast. There were also stations along the route of the Rhine at the former two, and since Waltensburg/Vuorz was the first of these, that was my chosen destination. I had already read somewhere that there was a ski bus, so it all sounded a piece of cake.

The trip was beguilingly easy, and the trip up the Rhine valley was fascinating. At Ilanz, often called the first town on the Rhine, a lot of people got off, presumably for Obersaxen and Laax, and there was a bevy of buses waiting for them.

Anyway as I prepared to hear Waltensburg/Vuorz called as the next stop, I also heard it was a request stop, so I requested it. I should have been suspicious, and as I alighted and tried to take in stock of where I was, I both realised something was not right and saw the train was moving on.

Sure enough, the station is just a stop in the middle of nowhere. Nothing nearby at all, except a track, and along the track I came across the main road up the Rhine Valley and a sign pointing up a steep, narrow trail through the trees that informed me the nearest bus stop was in Waltensburg/Vuorz, 45 minutes walk away. Anyway suffice it to say the 400m ascent, 3km walk with skis was not a dirt track all the way, only the steepest first half. And the chairlift was right at the top of what was a long, sleepy village.
Skiers and Snowboarders in Brigels take in the view
Romansh is spoken in this part of the world, and all the signs are in Romansh. The language is lovely, and later on in the day I had a beer in a bar full of locals and was enchanted by their conversation in this ancient and sadly declining tongue. Once you get to the lifts though, the overwhelming speech is in Swiss German. This why all the villages seem to have two names – Waltensburg is German, Vuorz is Romansh; Breil is Romansh, Brigels is German.

Anyway, after my initial errors I was finally on the lifts and I rather liked this resort. The 75km of terrain might be a little of an exaggeration as many of the runs cover the same part of the same mountain and I wasn’t going to risk the run to Andiast seeing how infrequent the buses back to Vuorz were.

Basically the resort is one mountain with two base stations (Plaun Reuen at Brigels, and Curtiginet at Vuorz) with chairlifts bringing you up to two mid stations (the wonderfully named Cresta Falla and Alp Dado), then a further two chairlifts from these taking you up to the top stations (La Cauma and Fil). The higher topstation is augmented by a t-bar which gets you all the way up to 2415m. There is another t-bat at Alp Dado, basically supporting the reasonable snow park.

Most of the runs are graded red, but they are light for reds. There are blues and blacks and off-piste. A lot of winter walkers around when I was there, plus people using a toboggan run. There’s a couple of mountain restaurants, bars at the bottom and top and amenities in Brigels.

Leaving the resort I took the courtesy bus to Brigels Post from the base station at Plaun Rueun, but I needn’t have bothered. It is about a 10 minute walk – head towards the church, following a path away from the road and in the village turn left. Simples. The bus is a little irregular, so I ended up in a bar chatting with the people there, German-speakers who very kindly picked up my bar bill, then took the bus when it arrived down to Tavanasa-Breil/Brigels. Brigels like Vuorz and many of the villages round there lie on high terraces above the Rhine. I don’t know that should be, but they are consequently sunny and have wonderful views. Tavanasa is a long way down from Brigels, so I am glad to have avoided that walk. Again, there was time to kill in Tavanasa so there I had another beer, and this bar was full of my Romansh speakers.

Spring skiing is back. In the glorious sunshine, the south facing slopes were started to suffer already, and in the afternoon the lower slopes had bare patches and heavy snow. Off-piste was generally not particularly enjoyable, as it has been the last few weeks. my next few trips will likely need to start hitting the higher resorts unless the cold weather comes back. The ice hockey season is running down and the end of the winter season has suddenly looked all too close.

More information on Brigels is at the Swiss Winter Sports web site in English and Dutch.

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Tschentenalp

Most people who go to Adelboden for a day trip head, understandably, for the main area stretching between Adelboden and Lenk. It is a surprise Adelboden is not better known outside of Switzerland even on the strength of this one area, especially as the resort holds an FIS World Cup Slalom race and was the very first winter package tour destination in the world. What I also like about Adelboden is that, much like Davos-Klosters, you have several independent mountains to choose from. Two of these require a bus from Adelboden but fortunately there is a convenient and busy bus station in the middle of the village, one is best reached from Frütigen and one is only reachable from Lenk. And one is right in the middle of Adelboden, just up from the Tourist Information Office, Tschentenalp.

Linked gondolas servicing Tschentenalp
Linked gondolas servicing Tschentenalp

Tschentenalp is a delightful little area, reached by gondola and serviced by a chairlift, a t-bar and a pull for the nursery slope. It has got a good restaurant, there is tubing, tobogganing, winter walks, plenty of off-piste and around a dozen variations of piste and trail to get around the area. The yellow run back into Adelboden is pretty straightforward, certainly compared to some of the valley trails I have come across, although it is not for beginners or nervous intermediates.

OK, you wouldn’t probably come here for a whole day if you were looking to get in plenty of mileage, but I liked the runs and the off-piste was easily accessible and the overall ambiance was good. You can always tag it onto a day on the main slopes or visit it as an alternative if the weather conditions are better.

All equipment catered for…

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