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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Fresh snow, fresh dangers

SnowboarderOn Saturday a British expat living in Switzerland was killed by an avalanche on Mont Vélan south of Verbier near the Italian border. He was skiing the 3600m couloir d’Annibal with his brother, who survived. Both were apparently experienced freeriders with all the right equipment and the avalanche risk was 2/5. However the couloir is steep, upto 45°, and long.

A 60-year-old German was also killed in an avalanche on Saturday on the Pigne d’Arolla, again in the far south of Valais.

Across the Alps a number of skiing and snowboarding fatalities occurred this weekend, bringing the total in the Alps to over 100 for the season. A large dump of fresh snow, high winds and the height of the freeriding season have all contributed.

However the fatalities need to be put in perspective. The number who die off-piste makes headlines, as do stories of drunk Brits topping themselves in the Alps, but skiing is relatively safe. The stats for Europe are patchy, but it would seem like there is roughly one fatality per million skier/snowboarders days, and roughly one serious injury per million skier/snowboarders days, based on stats collected by the NSAA in the USA. The USA boasts about 10 million skiers and snowboarders, who put in an average of about 5 days on the slopes per year. So in the USA maybe something around 50 people a year die on the slopes.

However, according to the National Safety Council, in a typical year 36,000 Americans died in motor-vehicle accidents; 5,000 pedestrians were killed; 9,000 died from unintentional public falls; 4,500 died from unintentional public poisoning; 2,500 people drowned while swimming in public areas and 1000 died while bicycle riding;

Incidentally, on the question of how many people ski rather than snowboard, The National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) of the USA reports in 2011 there were 6.9 million skier and 5.1 million snowboarders. According to NSGA, 22.2 percent of snowboarders also ski, and conversely, 16.6 percent of skiers also snowboard.

Just thought you would be interested.

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