May is the quietest month in the ski and snowboard calendar. The Southern hemisphere hasn’t kicked off, and there are only a handful of high altitude glaciers around in the Northern Hemisphere to ski on before the next winter season. In Switzerland all but Zermatt have now closed their lifts, but in truth the ski conditions have not been good this month.
Verbier (which closed its lifts on 28th April) had planned to open up the lifts again on 1st June, but cancelled – despite plentiful snow – because of the otherwise poor weather conditions. The season thus ends with a whimper.
So what of season 2012-13? It wasn’t a vintage season but it was pretty good. It started off promisingly, then it got unseasonably warm around the New Year and was generally unsettled thereafter, with some glorious interludes of beautiful snow conditions and sunny skies. At the higher resorts there were good snow conditions extending right throughout April, but the weather was unsettled with rain on lower slopes and flat lighting on the upper slopes when it wasn’t snowing.
I got to visit some of the usual suspects in Switzerland, and had a couple of forays into Germany and Austria, but spent some time exploring some of the less well known but relatively large ski areas like Toggenburg and the Upper Rhine Valley. I can see why some of these resorts are not well-known outside the German-speaking world – the facilities for après ski are limited, a lot of them have too many surface lifts, the resorts are not so high as to provide season-wide snow guarantees and some of the pisted areas are relatively small for anything other than a weekend break or a day out. On the plus side, the absence of packs of Brits gives the villages a more authentic Alpine feel, the people are invariably friendly, there is often plenty of off-piste to augment the main slopes and the resorts are so close together that you can get to visit several on a ski holiday if you wanted.
Perhaps the gem amongst the more obscure resorts I visited was, for me, Obersaxen. I would definitely recommend it for a ski holiday in terms of variety and extent of runs available and quality of lift systems.
There are still some significant ski resorts I have not been to and ones I need to revisit when I can get some decent photographs. The list includes Les Mosses, Anzère, Grächen, Disentis, Grüsch-Danusa and Savognin. There are some other small resorts in Graubünden, Fribourg Region and Valais I would quite like to catch up with at some time. However I think I have pretty much nailed all the resorts with over 20km of piste which are not dominated by surface lifts.
Tech-wise, I have previously praised my ski carrier. I also have been busy with the cam in my goggles and have loaded a few up at Youtube with a suitable soundtrack (e.g. Rush Hour by Jane Wiedlin – ski run at Obersaxen).
I’ve not been so impressed with the apps available out there, with the exception of the excellent Ski Tracks. The trouble with most of them is that they need an Internet connection, and if it is information on a ski resort you need the web does as good a job as I need. My own Swiss Winter Sports site works perfectly well on a smartphone or tablet. Ski Tracks is smart though, and from the moment you turn it on until you turn it off calculates distances covered, speeds, verticals etc and maps the trails out for you. From a personal point of view it was interesting to see that, in a typical day, I seem to cover about 50km of piste, drop around 5000m of vertical and reach a top speed of around 80kph. Typically, with significant variation.
So what does the summer hold? For me it is time to review the web site and look for improvements. Also the maddening search for somebody to provide me with a feed for ski reports rather than have me hack around for them. I would also like to consider the issue of traffic. I had a peak of around 4000 visitors in January and something in excess of 13,000 over the season – respectable but I think I am not reaching enough of my target audience, which increasingly looks like being expats living in Schweizerdeutsch-speaking Switzerland. The spot I had on The English Show was fun but generated little traffic. The Basel Families web site generated some interest and the unrelated Basel Families magazine looks promising. The visit to the Internationla School ski breakfast was also good for traffic. I failed to get interest in a book from publishers, who say the web is reducing the market for printed ski guides – which is fair, I guess, although I was hoping a book would generate traffic for the web site, somewhat ironically. Ideas for improving the site or increasing traffic all gratefully received…