Speak and Ski like a Native

Most Swiss ski resorts have a local language which, if you are conversant in it, is clearly going to get you around the slopes and hostelries. Other languages may also be catered for – Romansh ski communities tend to understand German and often Italian, Schweizerdeutsch-speaking areas also speak German and often French and English, and a lot of French-speaking resorts have many people who work in tourism able to speak English. Italian resorts in Switzerland are mainly small and you will usually need to speak Italian to make yourself understood.

However there are variations in the language spoken. Schweizerdeutsch, the dialect spoken in most of Switzerland, is very different from High German or Swiss Standard German, and even varies from community to community to the extent that a dialect in one area may be unintelligible in another. Furthermore Swiss Standard German is also distinct from High German in some key regards, and often spoken with additional variances by the Swiss in phrasing and words unfamiliar to a native German speaker.

Italian spoken in Switzerland is very similar to Italian spoken in Italy, with a few words (known as calques), mainly derived from French, that are different.

Swiss French is also close to the French spoken in France, but still has distinct words and phrases, particularly as you move further from the border. The most notable are that in Swiss French 70 is Septante, 80 is usually Huitante (but not in some areas), and 90 is Nonante.

Valais is the canton where Swiss French differs most from standard French, and some of the variances are carried over the French border into the Chamonix area and over into Italy, in Valle D’Aosta. At its most extreme, the French is so distinct from modern French that it represents a patois, with origins in Celtic and Latin languages as well as ancient French.

French patois, like Schweizerdeutsch, varies from community to community. However, unlike Schweizerdeutsch, it has been in decline for decades. One notable exception has been Evolène, in the Val d’Hérens, which has bucked the trend and seen an uptake in usage in recent years.

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Andermatt

An article in the UK Metro newspaper claims Andermatt in the Swiss Alps should be your next weekend break. I’m not going to disagree, it’s a beautiful little resort with some great off-piste on the Gemsstock, and it gets some of the largest dumps of snow anywhere in the Alps. You can also get there easily by train.

Andermatt Village

I’m not so sure it would be my first choice for a weekend break though. Flims/Laax and Engelberg are about the same distance from Zurich Airport. The Jungfrau is feasible for a weekend break via Basel’s Euroairport, and Chamonix, Verbier, Portes du Soleil, Leysin, Les Diablerets and Villars are about the same distance from Geneva Airport. Plus there are a handful of smaller resorts much closer to the airports – Feldberg from Basel or Flumserberg, Pizol, Hoch-Ybrig and Braunwald from Zurich.

Things might change, however. Andermatt is going through a massive expansion. The resort is currently in the midst of a huge redevelopment by Egyptian billionaire Samih Sawiris. Probably the most obvious sign is the new builds in the village, including the impressive 5-star Hotel Chedi. However a number of new and replacement lifts are in place as the Nätschen-Gütsch area gets upgraded in advance of being linked up with the resort of Sedrun, in the Rhine valley. Expansion and upgrades to the Gemsstock area are also planned. The “masterplan” is due to complete for the 2018/9 season.

Andermatt is also billing itself as a year-round resort with a number of scenic viewpoints, varied mountain walks and an 18 hole golf course to lure summer visitors. Hopefully all this development will not diminish the charm of the old village. The schedule of new lifts can be seen here.

Gemsstock Cable car in Andermatt
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Swiss Ski Season Review

Ski Club of GB
The Ski Club of Great Britain do an end of season review. Of the Swiss season they opined:

In recent years, a huge amount of investment has gone into snow making facilities in many resorts across Switzerland, an investment that paid off during the early part of the 2015/16 season. After the snow failed to fall, resorts such as Arosa and Verbier were able to operate virtually as normal thanks to huge quantities of man-made snow. After a long absence, the snow eventually returned, falling heaviest during the middle part of January, and setting up a plethora of powder days for riders. This continued throughout much of the second half of the season, with excellent riding conditions available across many regions right up until Easter.

Of other ski regions, West Coast USA, Canada, Scotland and, to an extent, Scandinavia, all had good seasons. Eastern Europe was particularly poor, and amongst most other European ski areas only high resorts such as Chamonix fared well.

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Which runs have the most vertical drop?

Which ski runs have the most vertical drop? Red Bull posted an article identifying 6. I correctly guessed the top two – Vallée Blanche in Chamonix and Zermatt, both lift-served although the former is entirely off-piste. They rated Alpe d’Huez third and Revelstoke in Canada fourth, which is a resort I know nothing about.
ski the Matterhorn
However, more interesting is the fifth location in their list. Apparently Mount Elbrus in Russia has a new gondola going up to 3847m, higher even than Aiguille du Midi by about 2m. Mount Elbrus is apparently Europe’s highest peak at 5633m, somewhat higher than Mont Blanc, at a miserable 4809m, which normally takes the credit. Who knew?
Gulmarg Si Resort - the highest in the world
Rounding out the Red Bull list is Gulmarg ski Resort in India where the highest lift takes you up to an astonishing 3979m. Not sure about the vertical drop, although I think the bottom station is at about 2660m, and I hear it is a dry resort, but one for the list of 1000 ski resorts to visit before you die.

I reckon I might die before I tick that one off.

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