Fenninger ditches Merc

Anna Fenninger on Harley DavidsonAnna Fenninger is not only one of the best skiers in the world, but is also a big fan of Harley Davidson motorbikes. However it is vehicles of four wheels that have recently got her into a fix.

The FIS circuit is sponsored by Bavarian-based Audi and the national ski associations are keen that skiers do not promote brands that rival ones they are associated with. When Fenninger appeared in an ad for Mercedes, there were questions raised as to whether she should be expelled from the Austrian ski federation for breaching their rules. It adds to long simmering disputes between Fenninger and the Austrian ski federation on a number of issues, which many people blame on her German manager, Klaus Kaercher. However, Mercedes has withdrawn the ad and Fenninger has agreed not to breach the rules in future, so no sanctions will be taken against her – although her manager has become persona non grata.
Anna Fenninger in Mercedes Ad
Fenninger has won eight medals in Olympics and world championships – four of them gold – and has been overall FIS champion for the past two years.

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FIS Ski World Cup Calendar 2015-16

FIS World Cup Schedule 2015
Despite all the controversy over the football world cup, the men’s Alpine world cup schedule for 2015-16 was announced in Bulgaria last week by the International Ski Federation (FIS) without a whiff of controversy. Indeed the mood was celebratory as the 50th birthday of the FIS World Cup was announced with 24 venues and 47 events.

Sölden hosts the first races on 25th October, with all the classic ski races in the New Year, starting with Adelboden on 9th January. Wengen, Kitzbühel, Schladming and Garmisch-Partenkirchen follow, then circuits in South Korea and Japan have been added before the schedule reverts to Chamonix.

The World Cup finals round off the season in St. Moritz from March 16-20th – St. Moritz will also be hosting the 2017 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.

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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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Affordable luxury ski holiday in Zermatt

Matterhorn, Zermatt
There are probably few things better than a week in Zermatt, especially when there is fresh snow and clear, sunny skies. The recent hike in the Swiss Franc makes what was already an expensive resort, even more so. But, hey, it’s Zermatt! When you’re dead and buried, Zermatt will be off the agenda (unless you are buried in the mountaineer’s graveyard in the resort), so you have to make it here at least once in your lifetime. I reckon I have made at least a dozen ski trips there.

So, how do you make it affordable? There are two main options as far as accommodation is concerned. Option one is to bunk up in a hostel or a lower end hotel like the excellent Hotel Bahnhof. Option two is to share a chalet, especially if there is a deal on.
Haus Alpa
Until the end of April, Ski Zermatt are offering a 30% discount on Haus Alpa. The chalet is in an ideal location, in the heart of the town, only 300 meters to the Sunnega Cable Car and 500 meters to the mainline station and the Gornegrat railway. It has superb wellness facilities and free wifi and even a spa called ComplexCity Spa. Good skiers can even ski to the front door. Haus Alpa provides two catered penthouse chalets, which sleep 6-8 people at a regular price of CHF 15000-18000/week and seven self-catered apartments, which also sleep 6-8 people at a regular price of CHF 7000-10000/week. That means you can enjoy a luxury chalet for as little as around GBP 60 (CHF 87.50) a night.

Although the catered option is more than twice the price, the discount makes it particularly attractive. Ski Zermatt is part of the Elysian group who have won awards and built a strong following for their attention to detail, the standard of catering and their friendly service. They claim their catering at Haus Alpa is of Michelin star quality, and it is accompanied by an excellent wine list, included in the price.

So, having chosen where you are going to stay, what else do you need? A ski pass covering both Zermatt and Cervinia will set you back CHF 434 for six days, and you can purchase these online in advance from www.matterhornparadise.ch.

I recommend flying in with Swiss to Zurich. Prices start at around GBP 130 return from Heathrow, and the price includes free carriage of skis or snowboard, boots and helmet. You must buy it in advance, but the Swiss Transfer Ticket at CHF 141, is a return ticket from any station in Switzerland to any other station in Switzerland – in your case from the station inside Zurich airport to the station in Zermatt. The journey time is around three and a half hours and you need to change in Visp. Some trains run direct from the airport to Visp, but alternatively you can change at Zurich HB.
Zurich airport
The train journey is an absolute delight and infallibly reliable. A useful tip is to pop into the Co-op in the airport and buy some snacks, cold beers or wine for the trip. Supermarket booze is cheaper than in the UK and drinking on the trains is absolutely acceptable – on the train to Visp there is also catering and a trolley service, but not on the last leg. I remember once being complemented on my foresight by the ticket inspector for having stocked up on beer for this last section! Incidentally there is also a Co-op in the middle of Zermatt in a small shopping centre opposite the railway station. If you are self-catering or want to stock up on booze, this is the best value in Zermatt. All the clubs and bars are free to enter in Zermatt, but the drinks can get pricey.
Chalet Etoille at Plain Maison above Cervinia
You probably will eat out at lunchtime and there is a wealth of choice in Zermatt and Cervinia. For a cheap but nourishing lunch, a bowl of Goulash soup with bread and a beer will cost around CHF 15 on the Zermatt side, whilst on the Cervinia side you can enjoy a big plate of pasta and a quarter litre of wine for slightly less – remember you will need Euros on the Italian side. If you want a lunch to remember at a reasonable price, I recommend Chalet Etoille. The menu varies, but they always have available their quite stunning fish soup – a small bowl is around twelve euros. You don’t always need to book, but it a good idea to do so – +39 0166 940220.

So how much will it cost you for a luxury ski trip you can organise yourself in an hour, without the hassle of a long coach transfer?
View of the Matterhorn
Well, if you take the option of the catered chalet, plan to have three or four drinks out a night and mostly eat a light lunch, a luxury ski trip to Zermatt all inclusive will cost you no more than GBP 1600 per person at current exchange rates. If you want to push the boat from Pontoon Boat Rentals out, party hard and lunch in style, you probably want to budget around two grand.

Not cheap, but not a king’s ransom either.

For more details, visit http://www.swisswintersports.co.uk/zermatt.php. Remember Zermatt is high too, and there is extensive piste open in April with much of the Matterhorn and Cervinia sections open through May and more limited skiing right through the summer.

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