The mystery of the missing Swiss couple

The mystery of a missing Swiss couple seems to have been solved. Or has it? The Guardian reported it as follows:

The frozen bodies of a Swiss couple who went missing 75 years ago in the Alps have been found on a shrinking glacier, Swiss media said.

Marcelin and Francine Dumoulin, the parents of seven children, had gone to milk their cows in a meadow above Chandolin in the Valais canton on 15 August 1942.

“We spent our whole lives looking for them, without stopping. We thought that we could give them the funeral they deserved one day,” their youngest daughter, Marceline Udry-Dumoulin, 75, told the Lausanne daily Le Matin.

“I can say that after 75 years of waiting this news gives me a deep sense of calm.”

Valais cantonal police said two bodies bearing identity papers had been discovered last week by a worker on Tsanfleuron glacier near a ski lift above Les Diablerets resort at an altitude of 2,615 metres (8,600ft).

The Guardian conveniently posts a picture of the Swiss ski resort, Chandolin:

A truly tragic mystery finally solved. But wait a minute…

Apparently they went for a walk from the ski resort Chandolin in Valais and were found above Les Diablerets near the Glacier3000 ski resort. Now Wikipedia tells me that is a 25 hour hike, mostly along the Rhone valley (which would need to be crossed). Why would the couple have walked so far?

The answer is rather prosaic. They didn’t head out from the village of Chandolin in Val D’Anniviers, but the village of Chandolin-près-Savièse, just above Sion and opposite Nendaz. A minor oversight by all the English-speaking newspapers who either didn’t bother to check the location or didn’t care, but it would have confused anyone who knew the better known ski resort of Chandolin (together with St-Luc, making up one of my favourite ski areas).

Why would the couple, make the significant ascent to the glacier, some 2615m high? Many newspapers reported that Marcelin and Francine Dumoulin had vanished after going to milk their cows in a meadow above their home. Whilst the glacier lies in the same municipality, Savièse, it doesn’t explain how they ended up on the glacier. Cows don’t graze on or anywhere near glaciers.

The Local, an English-language Swiss-based news web site, offers an explanation:

Dumoulin, then 40, and his 37-year-old wife had left their home that morning hoping to check on their cattle, which were being kept in an alpine pasture in neighbouring Bern canton.

The fastest route at the time was via a glacier footpath. The sky was clear when the couple set out, but clouds later worsened visibility and the couple vanished, likely after falling into a crevasse, orphaning five sons and two daughters. Shrinking glaciers are slowly uncovering the bodies of several hundred people known to have disappeared on or near glaciers in the Alps, many after tumbling down a crevasse.

“I saw them leave that Saturday morning,” recalled Monique Gautschy, one of the surviving children who was 11 years old at the time. “They were supposed to spend the night in the alpine pasture at Grilden and come back on Sunday.”

After two months of fruitless searching for the couple, the seven children, then aged 2 to 13, were placed in foster care.

Apparently Madame Dumoulin was making the trip with her husband for the first time. She was reportedly almost always pregnant or nursing. With seven children at home, one assumes they got little privacy. Perhaps the explanation for their joint ascent and planned overnight stop was a romantic encounter under the stars?

We shall never know.

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Switzerland is the cheapest place to ski!

It’s official! The Tesco Bank says Switzerland is the cheapest place to ski!

Well it’s not quite as straight-forward as that. Tesco Bank released their annual Ski Index yesterday. This usefully helps people find the best value skiing worldwide, based on kilometres of piste per pound, i.e. the approach is to divide the length of piste by the lift pass price to give a measure of value for money.

Not surprisingly, given Brexit’s impact on Sterling, the price of skiing has risen dramatically in most places. Bulgaria, despite still being relatively cheap, has increased in price by two thirds since last year. The USA and Canada have increases in prices of around a quarter. Andorra is at the lower end of the scale, with a price increase of only 11%. Argentina is actually 11% cheaper than last year, although you will have to wait a while before their next winter season.

Despite the price hikes, another study from Tesco Bank found that more than a third of people are still considering a ski holiday this year. The research found that 42% of those surveyed would choose a skiing holiday in Switzerland, a seemingly wise move as four of the top 10 best value ski resorts in the world (Champéry, Les Crosets, Champoussin and Veysonnaz) are based in Switzerland. Additionally Swiss prices have only risen by a modest 15% since last year, and many Swiss resorts are offering a range of sweeteners. For example, the top two resorts in the Index – both Swiss – have reduced their prices this year.

The list of the top ten Ski resorts with the best value skiing from The Tesco Bank Ski Index are as follows:
Tesco bank Cheapest Ski resorts

So why are Tesco interested in skiing? Search me, but they do offer a couple of nice incentives of interest to potential skiers and snowboarders. Eligible Tesco Bank Premium Credit Card customers receive family travel insurance including winter sports cover as part of the card’s benefit package. New Premium Credit Card customers will also be offered 0% interest on purchases for 6 months, which could be used to help spread the cost of a ski holiday. For more information on the Tesco Bank Ski Index, please visit www.tescobank.com/ski.

And here’s a cool video the folk from Tesco have brought us for our pleasure and anticipation of the new ski season…

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New Lifts in Switzerland for 2015/6 Ski Season

The new ski season is only a few weeks away, and a lot has been happening over the summer in many winter sports resorts. Despite the strong Swiss Franc, many Swiss resorts are banking on attracting new winter tourists and retaining their existing customer base through improved and extended lift systems. Market research has suggested that continued investment is the only way for Swiss resorts to compete effectively and retain the premium reputation they hold, and many resorts are embarking on medium-term projects to reduce lift queues and introduce faster lifts.

Here are some of the new lifts you can expect in Switzerland for the 2015-2016 Ski Season:

Adelboden

New high-speed 4-man chairlift Höchstbahn replacing two older lifts to connect Chünisbärgli and Silleren. A new run between the two with snow cannon has also been implemented.

Andermatt
A high-speed 6-man lift at Gurschenalp on Gemsstock replaces two old lifts on the mountain. Lifts to Sedrun planned but not yet in construction and are likely a couple of seasons away.

Engelberg
The two-stage Engelberg-Trubsee-Stand gondola has been replaced with a new Titlis Xpress, cutting the journey time by half.

Flims/Laax
A new 10-person gondola will run from Alp Sogn Martin up to La Siala, extending the runs available in the area.

Lenzerheide
There is a new 8-person gondola, designed by Porsche, at Churwalden-Heidbeul replacing the old chairlift. There is also a new 4-man chair between Parpan and Obertor connecting the Rothorn to Piz Danis, a really useful new link.

Riederalp – Aletsch Arena
A new 6/8 seater hybrid lift has been installed at Moosfluh.

Scuol
There is a brand new 6-seater chair at Prui-Clünas.

St-Luc/Chandolin
One of my favourite resorts, in Val d’Annivers, will have a new high-speed 6-seat chairlift at La Foret.

St Moritz
On Corvatsch there is a new Mandra chairlift replacing that tedious but unavoidable drag at Murtel. A really great addition to this fabulous mountain.

Toggenburg
A new 10-seater gondola is under construction ready for the new season at Stöfeli.

Zermatt
There is a new 6-person chairlift at Hirli in the Schwarzee area replacing the veteran T-bar and extending the length of both the lift and the runs.

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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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