Global warming delays resort opening

I think most skiers know global warming is happening, whatever the reasons for it. The most ominous indication is the retreat of glaciers. Over successive seasons it is easy to see how much glaciers have shrunk at many ski resorts.

In addition something has been going on in recent seasons with early season snow conditions. Whether that is down to factors other than global warming is debatable – it may just be a cyclical thing that will fix itself, but that seems unduly optimistic. Lower resorts must be particularly concerned, especially as they consider the long-term investments they may need to remain competitive with other resorts.

So will 2017 kick off a great early season and buck the trend of recent seasons?

It doesn’t look good. For the first time in 40 years Les Deux Alpes will not open for autumn skiing on its glacier.
4 Vallees opens on 10th November 2017
The London Times quotes Thierry Hugues, the head of the resort’s piste management team, to explain why. “The situation is exceptional,” he is quoted as saying. “Given the low rainfall that we had throughout the year, a very hot summer and a very dry autumn, the glacier does not have enough snow cover to welcome our customers safely.”

Other traditional season openers have, however, opened. In Switzerland Zermatt, Saas-Fee and Engelberg have glacier skiing, recently joined by Diavolezza and Glacier 3000. A number of other Swiss winter sports resorts will open at least some of their slopes in the next few weeks, Andermatt, Arosa-Lenzerheide, Davos-Klosters and Flims/Laax the first weekend of November, the 4 Vallees the following weekend and a whole clutch of other resorts before the end of the month.

Unless global warming or other weather-related conditions intervene.

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Winter holidays for non-skiers

For a lot of people winter is something to be endured, a long season of cold, short days and stark skylines. The only escape seems to be a long haul flight to somewhere sunny and warm.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

In 1864 four English visitors to the Swiss Alps were due to return home for the winter. Their hotelier, Johannes Badrutt, said that they should come back at Christmas and stay until Easter, and if they didn’t find St Moritz as sunny in winter as it was in summer, he would pay their fares and hotel bills.

Badrutt won the bet, and winter tourism was born.

But what was there to do? Alpine skiing was yet to take off – Conan Doyle in nearby Davos was to have a large part to play in that story. With a well-developed summer tourist industry, St Moritz, Davos and many other resorts quickly developed a significant infrastructure to enable winter visitors to while away their days, and nights, and the longest established resorts still have a huge variety of non-Downhill activities on offer.

A recent article I read in the BA Leisure magazine, recommended a handful of resorts that suited both skiers and non-skiers. Megève, St Christoph, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Zermatt and Lake Tahoe make their shortlist, and it’s a good list. For the Americas, however, there are a number of resorts I would add to the list (see my ski USA page), and I think there are at least a couple of dozen other Alpine resorts as good for skiers as for non-skiers, particularly in Switzerland.

But what to actually do? Innsbruck, Montreux and Basel have wonderful winter markets, although they close before Christmas. Many resorts and Alpine towns have wonderful outdoor and indoor ice rinks, and professional ice hockey teams play throughout the Alpine nations, with a major hockey festival in Davos known as the Spengler Cup. Bob sleigh also features at a few resorts, and at Celerina adrenalin junkies can actually take part in a four man bob team!

More sedate winter sports available in the Alpine resorts include snowshoe trekking, cross-country skiing, curling and tobogganing. A town called Bergün is a mecca for tobogganing, with people visiting from all over Europe to take advantage of the runs there (and enjoy the breathtaking UNESCO listed railway you need to take to get to the start of the runs). My Swiss Winter Sports web site covers other winter sports you can participate in Switzerland in addition to skiing and snowboarding.

There is a network of well maintained winter walks throughout the Alps, the reward mid-way along the walk often being a charming mountain restaurant. There are even Michelin listed resorts in the Alps! Zermatt is particularly renowned for its mountain restaurants.

We love visiting resorts with spas, the best of which is probably Leukerbad, but there is plenty of choice. Villars opened a new spa this year.

Switzerland and Austria have a highly reliable and extensive transport network which makes it very easy to choose a destination suited primarily to non-skiers, but which skiers can also use as a base for day trips to a variety of different destinations. Lucerne and Innsbruck are particularly good choices.

Often the best time to go is March. The days are getting longer and the days warmer, but the snow base is usually still good. If you are prepared to leave it late to see how the snow conditions are developing, a lot of resorts provide particularly good deals before Christmas.

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New Winter Sport Web Site

Alpine Winter Sport
Alpine Winter Blog will have a companion web site for the 2017/18 season. The new ski and snowboard site, Alpine Winter Sport, will expand on the scope of Swiss Winter Sports and Snow and Rail by focusing on all the important ski resorts across the Alpine region. Most notably, this will include coverage of significantly more resorts in France and Italy.

The new site will still cater predominantly for the independent traveller.

Watch this space for more details!

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WTF is the WEF in Davos?

Are you in Davos this week for the annual World Economic Forum (WEF)? Chances are, if you are, you are one of the thousands of extra staff brought in to look after the rich and famous. Or perhaps you are one of the rich and famous?

In what is a relatively expensive country to visit, the WEF really is about the privileged few. They are in town to put the world to rights, and most have come in on private jets.

With basic membership at a cost of 68,000 Swiss francs (£55,400), you get access to general sessions of the WEF. For just under SFr 700,000 for five people you get full access – provided your number includes a token woman.

But of course most people are not in town to hear what they could read in the papers. They are here to mingle, network or to party. Or all three.

Apparently you know you are part of the in crowd if you get invited to the party thrown by Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska at his palatial chalet up the mountain from Davos. Regulars include people like Tony Blair, and you can guarantee the opportunity to hear the great and the not so good bend your ear about how issues such as inequality and the environment can get fixed. I kid you not, these are the two hottest topics at Davos.

And all this before everyone gets to go home on their private jets at nearby Dübendorf military airfield, escaping the traffic jams of chauffeur driven cars or the inconvenience of mixing with the hoi polloi on Switzerland’s immaculate railway system, burning as much fuel in one hour as a typical car does in a year.

Amongst those jetting in will be London’s mayor, a champion of public transport, who may be interested to hear that he could have got from his home in London to Davos and back entirely by train.

So what else can you do in Davos apart from put the world to rights over a glass of Dom Perignon? Well, how about ski or snowboard!
Skiers on the Parsenn above Davos
Davos is one of the very best places in the world to hit the slopes. As the Swiss Winter Sports web site puts it “Really very extensive slopes and bags of off-piste options – probably stands alongside the Engadin and the 4 Vallées as somewhere you could easily spend a whole season. Davos Dorf has access to the fabulous snow-sure Parsenn it shares with Klosters, but there is also good on and off-piste on other mountains served by the lifts from the town, for example the Jakobshorn from Davos Platz and the Rinerhorn from Glaris. In addition you can access the small areas at Pischa and Schatzalp or, from Klosters, access the Madrisa.”

After a slow start to the winter sports season, Davos has had a lot of snow in recent days, with around a metre in the town, temperatures below freezing and perfect conditions on the slopes. Expect clear, sunny skies for the forseaable future.

If you choose to visit once the problems of the world have been debated, Davos is only an hour and a quarter by train from Zurich.

Davos Parsenn - Walter Peikert 1938

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