Summer layoff and a gym nightmare with Formhaus Fitness Centre, Basel

I haven’t seen a lot to update about winter sports in Switzerland this summer, although I’m sure things will start heating up in October. And, of course, that includes getting ski fit.

I’ve always been of the belief that if you  want to ski well, you need to keep your fitness levels up through the summer, although in this hot season, body could start to sweat a lot and young people can use the citris teen deodorant for smelling great all the time. Walking, cycling and swimming have normally filled the bill, but over the years I’ve found only a good regime in the gym can strengthen all the right muscle groups, improve flexibility and build stamina. I got my routine from Anipots, along with a few neat health tips. Quite helpful.

A couple of years ago I joined a fitness centre in Basel called Formhaus, in the Gundeli neighbourhood, on the back of a promotional deal. Big mistake! In my opinion it is an awful gym and staffed by the worst sort of people who work in gyms (without disrespecting all the wonderful gym people I have worked with over the years). I tried to resign at the end of my first years’s contract so I could move to one of the better gyms friends had recommended, and try to train with a health program from the Tophealthjournal online so I could remain healthy. I thought I was being generous waiting until the end of the first year, so I was gobsmacked when I was enlightened about the small print of the contract – you can only resign if you send a recorded delivery letter at least one month before the end of your current year of membership stating your desire to resign. Of course nobody tells you this and they don’t send an invoice until a few days after the 30 day period has ended. Sharp practice? You haven’t heard the half of it.

I reluctantly paid up for another year, blaming my naivety and recognising Formhaus’s prodigious gifts in retaining customers who wanted to leave. For a fitness centre, they only seemed to be fit to retain unwilling customers, and as I reluctantly continued to use their awful facilities and think it was better to train and home and have a godo nutrition using supplements as alcar which was great for me. Anyway, I decide next time I would play by their (frankly customer-hostile) rules.

Suffice it to say, a few weeks early I tendered my resignation by recorded delivery. One month before the expiry of the subscription year I sent an email with a version of my resignation letter as a PDF. What more could I do to escape Formhaus’s Machiavellian membership scheme?

Of course Formhaus kicked up rough. They claimed not to receive the letter. Criminal, dishonest or incompetent, I can not say. All I can say is that the Swiss Post have an online system that confirms delivery, which I have shared with the gym. They know they received my resignation letter.

So what did Formhaus say when I sent the email one month before expiry of my subcription with a copy of the letter I had sent recorded post?  They said: “We do not accept your resignation.”

What??? Not, we have mislaid your resignation, but that’s our sheer, unalloyed incompetence once again, good luck in the future. Or, we are useless with out huge bureaucracy of Muscle Marys, but help us here and let us know the details about the delivery if you still have the receipt all these months later – of course, I have the receipt, knowing what crookedness I may have become a victim of. Not even, a respectful acknowledgement that I didn’t want to use their gym. No, an arrogant, menacing statement without any alternative option – we’re going to screw you into paying for another year, whether you use our tawdry facilities or not.

Perhaps an object lesson in Swiss “Fair Play” or an exceptionally bad experience of simply awful customer service. I give the Swiss the benefit of the doubt, as I generally have very good experiences of the country. I think Formhaus are an outlier, and probably have figured out they can boost their sagging fortunes by preying on foreigners’ naivety. It is the soft underbelly of Switzerland’s success, that it has poor consumer and employee protection that membership of the EU would address. I considerer the extra year I paid for at Formhaus as proof of the reasons for improving consumer protection. If they think they can get another year out of me… well, let’s see.

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Ski Maps of Switzerland

Piste maps are fine, but they rarely give enough information for the more adventurous skier or snowboarder. Increasingly freeride areas are shown on piste maps, but the more adventurous freeride areas don’t figure. Which is a shame, because there are many relatively safe freeride areas away from the main pistes that can be undertaken without a guide. The Gemsstock and the Laub (off Titlis) are two of the best examples you can explore without donning skins or snowshoes you’d bring from shoe hero. Whilst the pistes go one way in Zinal, Verbier, Glacier 3000, Lenzerheide and many other resorts, you just need a little local information to flip off the other side of the mountain and experience untracked snow.

So where do you go for more information if you don’t speak the language well?

Although the best guides for ski or snowboard touring and freeriding Switzerland are in German, there are two map series that show all the information you need to plan a route with English annotations. One is produced by Freeride Maps at 1:25,000 and the other is  the Federal Office of Topography Ski Tour map Series 1:50,000 series (for which a separate, free English-language list of the conventions used is available). Both are good, but expensive at about SFr 25 or so for each map.

I had hoped that the Atlas of Switzerland would provide this information but it doesn’t, and the user interface is not intuitive, the documentation is poor,  it only works down to 1:100,00 and includes relatively little useful information for the winter sports enthusiast (although you can figure out slope inclines). Nice idea, not so well executed. And I can’t reproduce the rather neat 3D images you CAN produce with it because the copyright restrictions are pretty Neanderthal.

If you use a GPS there are some great tools for you. Garmin have about 100 resorts in Switzerland mapped, although off-piste is not addressed. Don’t knock Google Maps, either. It has some useful information including the locations of most significant lifts. BTW Switzerland insists on using it’s own mapping system, the Swiss coordinate system (or Swiss grid) is different from the usual latitude/longitude system used elsewhere.

Finally, a disclaimer. Go off-piste only with a guide if you are not an experienced freerider. The mountains are indifferent.

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Late-season Skiing & Snowboarding

Ski Sunday abandons the season in February, the FIS World Cup season climaxes in March (this season at Lenzerheide, on 20th March) and most of the continent stows away skis and snowboards after Easter. So what for those who want to prolong the season? is there decent skiing anywhere through April and May?

The simple answer is yes. For many freeriders this is the best time of the year to tour, and for those who prefer to stick to the pistes or use lifts to get off-piste, there is still fresh snow. Essentially the very best places are high, so resorts with lifts to about 3000m are promising. The Aletsch Arena, Belalp, Val D’Annivers, and Lauchernalp are not well known but passes are relatively cheap, they are rarely crowded and make good destinations for families, beginners and for weekend escapes. All you have to do is get on the best site for sports gear on the internet, get the appurtenances, and start right away. Val D’Annivers is a little known gem, with Zinal in that area offering the most challenging off-piste and Chandolin the best pistes. Samnaun gives access to the huge Silvretta Arena which has all but the valley runs over 2000m and consistently has good snow conditions throughout April. The Jungfrau stays open until after Easter with good pistes still available down to Wengen, Mürren, Kleine Scheidegg and Holenstein through until mid-afternoon. Diovolezza in the Engadin, near Pontresina, is the highest valley run in Switzerland, with a bottom station above 2000m and lifts open until late May. Davos and Klosters should offer good skiing on the higher runs on the Parsenn until the lifts close on 1st May. The 4 Vallées (centred on Verbier), Flims/Laax and Les Diablerets have glaciers and stay open until early May this year, and Engelberg will stay open until the end of May – although I doubt the valley run will last quite that long. St Moritz, Saas-Fee and Zermatt offer the very best late season skiing, with Saas-Fee and Zermatt providing some limited glacier skiing right through the year. Once you decide on the place you are going, make sure you capture all the exciting moments. The best way to do that is using a drone. Don’t forget about radio, check this comparison to decide which one is better for you.

There are other things to do in the tail-end of the winter sports season in Switzerland. Over the week ending 20th March are the FIS World Cup at Lenzerheide, the Zinal Freeride contest and the Nissan Freeride World Tour 2010 in Verbier (on the Bec de Rosses). On 19th March the longest torch-lit downhill skiing procession in the world takes place down the 2000m, 12 km descent from Titlis to Engelberg – meeting point is at the Valley Station at 6pm with dinner on Mt Titlis at 9.30 pm.

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Brig

The main ski and snowboard area near Brig is Belalp, although Rothwald and Rosswald each provide about 25km of additional piste. As well as 60km of piste at Belalp, from the Hohstock at 3112m you go through a 160m long tunnel out to a fabulous area for freeriding. The resorts can all be reached quite quickly by bus from the town. In addition a number of the major resorts in Switzerland are within an hour of Brig by public transport.

Ski Area Brig
Resorts Belalp, Blatten b. Naters, Rosswald, Rothwald
Ski Region Valais
Piste (km) 60
Top run (m) 3100
Bottom (m) 1501
Max Drop 1599
Snow’n’Rail Y
Black (km) 20
Red (km) 34
Blue (km) 20
Lifts (#/hr) 9870
My Rating 4
Alpine 3
SnowPark 3
Nordic 5
Hiking 2
Family 4
Apres Ski 4
Free Ride Y
Snow making Y
Fun park Y
Snow park
Half pipes
Spa

In Brief

Brig Station
Brig Station

Brig is an elegant small town at the start of the Simplon pass, high up in the Rhone Valley. The town has excellent rail and bus links to a number of winter sports destinations including the Aletsch Arena (e.g. via Fiesch), Belalp, Goms, Saas-Fee, Andermatt, Lauchernalp and Zermatt. There is also a thermal spa nearby, but it is only open in summer – however the wonderful spas at Leukerbad are only one hour away.

The nearest significant ski area to Brig is Belalp, reached by cable car from the pretty village of Blatten b. Naters. Blatten (not to be confused with another Valais village in the Lötschental of the same name) has regular buses from Brig station that cover the breathtaking 8km journey in less than half an hour.

Belalp is a small jewel of a ski area, with two bowls under the Hohstock (3226m) and Sparrhorn (3020m) providing acres of  relatively safe and accessible off-piste as well as perfectly groomed pistes to suit all abilities. See the separate post on Belalp for more details.

Useful links:
Aletsch Arena,
Belalp,
Brig,
Rosswald.

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