Dogs banned in Switzerland

Dogs banned in Switzerland
I often get a news flash from somewhere in India or Saudi Arabia or Elephant Butte, New Mexico, telling me about something going on in the world of skiing.

It is my fault, of course. I subscribe to the news feeds in the first place. However, it is not only the incongruity of these places having a keen interest in Switzerland and Winter Sports resorts that I find fascinating, but also how misleading the headlines sometimes are.

Dogs are not banned in Switzerland. I made that up. But it is sort of true, if the press release I am looking at is true. The favoured headline associated with the underlying story is actually “Swiss ski resort bans selfies with iconic Saint Bernards”, and the story is a rash running right across the world this weekend. There are over 4500 Google references to the phrase, and most sources that have published the story seem to like the headline in all its bizarre, naked glory. Newspapers running the story, and there are hundreds, have on the whole published the press release without any changes.
Matterhorn, dog and dork.
Not surprisingly, the agency that originated the story is AFP, a French outfit that often comes up with outlandish press releases. One I researched a few months ago on this blog was headlined with something that was, quite frankly, poo. Untrue.

And the truth in this case is no more that dogs are banned in Switzerland, than that you can’t take selfies with St Bernards. You can, just in case you were considering cancelling your next trip to Switzerland out of concern you would miss out on an iconic selfie. And the story is nothing to do with selfies at all, the word just seems to garner clickbait. Or it now means any photograph with a person or a dog in it.

Switzerland is keen on the prevention of cruelty to animals. The more lurid presentation of this in the press release is that you are not allowed to kill a goldfish without procedures that are usually reserved for executions in Texas. And budgerigars cannot live in households without another budgerigar of the same sexual orientation. Or some such… perhaps I exaggerate: go google the press release if you want to know. Anyway, it is true that animal rights are more stringently regulated in Switzerland than most countries.

So, to cut to the chase, the real story is that some St Bernard dogs – with whom you can be photographed against a backdrop of Zermatt, on payment of a small fee – are being badly treated.
Swiss St Bernards looking the part
The Swiss animal protection group STS (aka SAP or SPS, depending on the language you speak) has apparently called for the ban, citing examples of dogs not taken for walks, left for long periods without food or water, hanging around in the cold and being kept in miserable conditions. Following a study conducted between 26th January and 4th February this year they have filed a criminal case against the owners of the dogs. At least that is what the organization says at their site, where they have a detailed report in German. Our AFP press release claims that Zermatt Gemeinde “has banned tourists from posing for photos” with the dogs, but I can find nothing about this at the Gemeinde’s web site.

However, some German language newspapers report that the mayor of the Gemeinde has agreed with the two local companies that organise the photographs that they will no longer take pictures of St Bernards on council property, and specifically from two popular vantage points of the Matterhorn, with effect next winter – apparently there are some Japanese tourists this summer who are desperate to have their pictures taken with the dogs and he wouldn’t want to let them down.

I am sure the mayor is an admirable man and an animal lover. However he has had sustained pressure from people who have felt that the animals were being badly treated, culminating in the latest report. He had hoped the lift company would have banned the dogs going up, or that his local veterinary adviser would have said the practice was inherently causing suffering, but neither gambit worked. I don’t really get why the photographers didn’t smarten up their act, but reports suggest they see it as a storm in a teacup.

So it appears there is nothing to stop you having a selfie with a dog of your choice against a backdrop of the Matterhorn, or of someone taking pictures of you getting friendly with a canine in a bar or hotel lobby. Generously, the mayor has suggested that you will still be allowed to take pictures on council property with people dressed as St Bernards (according to Die Welt). Sounds like a job for a ski bum. I’ll be writing my application shortly.
Zermatt in the evening
Incidentally, Zermatt is still open for business and I hear the snow is still good, with over 120km open over the Matterhorn section through to Cervinia.

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Fatalities in Swiss Alps

Pointes de Tsavolire: Traversée Eison - Saint MartinAgence France-Presse report that two employees of CERN, the lab famous for its particle accelerator and for Berners-Lee’s invention of the worldwide web, died in an avalanche over the weekend.

A 49 year old Frenchman and his 33 year old Swiss colleague were swept away at the 3000m Pointes de Tsavolire in Valais. They were amnongst five members of CERN’s ski club who set off from Eison in Val d’Herens. The area they were skiing is shown in the picture above, which I took when I was skiing in the valley a couple of weeks ago.

The two men were members of CERN’s ski club and were among five skiers who set off cross country Sunday from the village of Eison for the Pointes de Tsavolire.

This is a popular and relatively easy itinerary, just the other side of the Bec de Boisson from Grimentz. It is possible to make the ascent on skins and make the run back in a day, and there is a hut at the top for those who want to make a longer trip of it, but it sounds like this party set off Sunday morning for just a day’s outing.

It just goes to show how dangerous the late snow from a couple of weeks ago has made late season touring. The dry avalanche risk is very low, but by lunchtime the risk of wet, full-depth avalanches across Valais has been rated considerable for some days. Wet avalanches occur where snow has frozen overnight but starts to get heavy and wet as the temperatures rise and the sun starts to hit it.

Apparently two members of the party were dug out by a fifth, but the other two remained buried until rescue workers arrived and dug them out of three metres of snow.

They were taken by helicopter to hospitals in Sion and Lausanne, where they later died.

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Skiing out of Sion

Sion - Castle of Valère
I have always liked Sion, but one of its main attractions in the winter is how convenient it is for hitting the slopes – you can even see pistes from the city centre. The city is on the main line between Geneva and Milan and, reputedly, has the largest bus station in Switzerland in terms of destinations served (23 in total). From the bus station you can get direct services to Anzère, Veysonnaz and Nendaz (both in the Four Vallées), the resorts of Val d’Herens, including Arolla and even the lifts serving Vercorin (in the amazing Val D’Anniviers). By train, with just one change, you can get to Zermatt, Verbier, Crans-Montana and a bunch of other resorts. Incidentally, my tip for getting quickly to the best of the pistes is to go to Haut-Nendaz Télécabine and jump on the free shuttle bus to Siviez, where you are right at the heart of 412km of piste.

One other useful thing about Sion is that it has a youth hostel right next to the station, although unfortunately it does not open until late March. However, with so many high altitude resorts in the area it still works well for late season skiing. I recently stayed there and, as a result, got to refresh a lot of content at the Swiss Winter Sports web site. Even though it was April, I found some amazing lift-served powder in Les Marrécottes and a resort run in reasonable condition at Grächen.

There is surprisingly little variety of accommodation along the Rhône valley, with most of the beds in the ski resorts themselves. Sion does have a few hotels, though, and also a good variety of bars and restaurants in the old town.

Perhaps I will get one ski weekend in before the season finally closes, presumably in Valais. It has been a strange winter season. Much heralded as being the 150th anniversary of winter holidays, there was little snow before the New Year and lower resorts will have definitely suffered from lower visitor numbers.

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Swiss take on US Skiers

The skit, from RTS, probably says more about a type of person who goes to Verbier than Americans in general. I remember once hearing a couple of Hoorays in a gondola at Verbier waxing lyrical about different makes of ski and the importance of certain types of boot and binding, only to see them gingerly snow-ploughing down the slopes.

Mind you I did meet one American resident of Anzère the other week who, without a touch of irony, told me he ran Europe from his chalet.

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