The Birdman Flies No Longer

The Jungfrau Winter Sports Region
Alpine Sports always carry an element of risk, none more so than base jumping, where people throw themselves off the tops of mountains and other high altitude platforms wearing an outfit called a wingsuit. This week that risk was brought to the home of Alpinism.

Ramón Rojas, known as the Birdman for his daring base jumps, has died while flying using a wingsuit in the Jungfrau.
Ramon was a 35 year old Chilean-born professional base jumper who only last month broke the world record for the highest base jump in history, from 4100m in Cerro El Plomo, Chile.

Apparently he was in training in strong winds for a competition in Lauterbrunnen when he died.

A Facebook page has been set up called “Ramon Rojas memorial to celebrate his awesome life”. His sister, Paula Rojas, writes: “My heart is broken but it gives me peace to know that my brother was happy doing what he loved so passionately. He was happy and will carry on smiling from where he is, with the rest of the birds.”

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News for the 2014-15 Ski Season in Switzerland

New Wellness hostel in Saas-FeeThe family love ski resorts where we can combine winter sports with a spa. We also find the hostels in Switerland truly awesome, and inexpensive despite Switzerland’s reputation for high prices. So we are excited to hear that new from 5th September is the wellnessHostel4000 with 168 beds, right next to the Postauto bus stop in Saas-Fee. It claims to have a unique architectural design and has direct access to the new spa and gym facilities in the Aqua Allain leisure centre. As well as the usual wellness features, the centre also boasts a 25-metre indoor pool, a children’s pool, waterslide and fitness centre. Typical room rates in a six-bed dorm start from around 40 francs (35 euros, less than thirty pounds) per person per night.

New lifts in Portes du Soleil
After what the resorts call “a period full of uncertainties and intense negotiations” collaboration between Nendaz, Veysonnaz, Verbier and Thyon that comprise the 4 Vallées ski domain has been renewed for the winter season 2014-2015, and for the following 18 years.

The Portes du Soleil is very large, and features a pleasant circuit that takes you round the resorts in the circuit and across the French/Swiss border. You can generally do it all on skis, but at Châtel you needed to catch a bus if you are coming from the slopes near Avoriaz. However two new chairlifts make getting around much easier (Vonnes-Super Châtel and Linga-Vonnes) and for the 2015-16 season there will be a new piste at Super Châtel.

New lifts are also planned to open this season in Parpan (Lenzerheide) and Val Müstair in the Minschuns area, and numerous lifts have been replaced or upgraded throughout Switzerland.

The flak continues to fallout over the Swiss decision to extend the minimum wage to chalet workers, with most chalet operators working out of the UK pulling out. Andy Perrin, CEO of the Hotelplan group, which incudes Inghams, Ski Total and Esprit Ski, opined: “There are no winners here. We tour operators lose, our guests who love Switzerland lose, and all the myriad Swiss suppliers in resorts who have relied on this business for decades also lose.”

Those choosing to buy in the Swiss Alps may also experience difficulties, with a curb on construction of second homes since 2012 and a 50% rule that ensures Swiss citizens get half of any new builds leading to ongoing uncertainty. The result has been rising prices for real estate in a country which has largely enjoyed stable, albeit significant, prices for second homes.

Crystal, who alongside Thomson, Inghams and Neilson provide most of the winter sports holidays sold in Britain, has added Arosa to the resorts it services. An excellent choice,in my opinion. Now linked to Lenzerheide, Arosa is one of the best resorts in the Alps. The train journey to the resort is a delight, and there is plenty for people who don’t ski to do – as well as a fabulous range of piste and off-piste.
Ski Zinal and the fabulous Val D'Anniviers
Finally, news on an attractive deal for early-season escapes in one of my very favourite ski areas, Val d’Anniviers. The newly renamed combined resort of GrimentzZinal for the weekends of 15-16 November, 22-23 November, 29-30 November and 6-8 December offers
1 night in a double room in a hotel, with breakfast + 2 days’ skiing from CHF 175 per person. See here for details.

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Where the Rich and Famous Ski

Patrick Thorne writes for InTheSnow ( about some of the celebrities who ski.
St Moritz village from Corviglia
There are some interesting gems. Apparently Prince Charles took Princess Diana to learn to ski in Lichtenstein – presumably Malbun – to avoid the media expecting them at the Walserhof Hotel in Klosters, well known as a royal favourite. Prince Harry, it is claimed, prefers St Moritz, as does King Carl Gustav of Sweden. Charlie Chaplin was reputedly the first man to drive to St Moritz in the winter and Alfred Hitchcock kept a suite at the Palace Hotel for many years.
Gstaad Palace HotelSophia Loren, however, preferred Gstaad and the Gstaad Palace. David Niven was a near neighbour, choosing to winter in Chateau D’Oex.
I am not sure how many of the rich and famous actually ski at Davos during the World Economic Forum (21–24 January 2015), but you could do worse.
George Michael stayed at the Ferienart in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, 30 years ago to film the video for Last Christmas.

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Winter Ski Deals in Graubünden

I am a great fan of the winter sports resorts in Graubünden, and will be spending the Christmas period in the canton. It is probably the most complete ski and snowboard destination in the world, but it caters well for ever type of visitor – including the budget conscious.
Arosa ski resort
This season Graubünden once again has a range of excellent deals. The season starts on 18th October 2014 on the Diavolezza in the Engadine, which celebrates 150 years of winter tourism. On 22nd November, Corvatsch and Corviglia in St Moritz open. Progressively other resorts open, with Arosa, Samnaun, Flims Laax Falera and Davos Klosters opening in November.

A great deal for getting there is the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) offer, “Railhit 2 for 1” in which two people travelling together from Monday to Thursday only pay for one if they are hotel guests or in self-catering accommodation. The offer lasts from 8th December 2014 to 10th April 2014. RailHit is not valid on a handful of special services, including the pass associated with using the Preda-Bergün sledging slope.
Skiers in Davos on the Parsenn
For 35 SFr per person per day for visits of at least two nights, a ski pass is included with accommodation at participating hotels in and around St Moritz.

Arosa once again features the “Ski School Included” for youngsters staying in the resort, whereby lessons are available at no charge.

Now linked to Arosa, Lenzerheide gives you a free lift pass if you book a stay at any time between 28th of November to the 20th December.

Up until 21st December 2014 you also get a complimentary ski pass for slopes in Davos Klosters for every overnight stay in a partner hotel in the area. From 20th December until 6th April the resorts are also offering a local insider to accompany you and show you the best of the mountains. Remember also that Ski Club of Great Britain members still can ski or snowboard for free with a Ski Club representative.

More details on these and other offers are posted at the Graubünden Tourism website.

There are also the usual range of budget options if you are going to Graubunden, with some excellent hostels and budget hotels. Check out the Winter Sports Accommodation Guide.

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