The Swiss have a mountain to climb

Swiss franc banknotes
Swiss Ski Resorts were left reeling by the lifting on the cap on the Swiss currency by the Swiss National Bank. It clearly took everyone by surprise, including yours truly who was considering converting some euros to francs, but left it a little too late.

In fairness, many resorts this season will have been locked into the fixed exchange rate, and will be loathe to upset customers by amending them. For customers who paid up front, they have even less to worry about. Similarly Swiss residents, who make up the largest share of winter sports tourists, will not seen any difference at all.
Davos hosting WEF
Nor, I suspect, will the global leaders who descend on Davos this time of the year to talk about world affairs, showboat, get a couple of turns in and generally enjoy an expense-paid outing. The shindig must be great for Davos, at the best of times a fabulous destination, and I suspect the visitors will not blanch at sticking another bottle of plonk on expenses even when they see the price tag. It always seem such a bizarre, even surreal, location for people to go to talk about problems facing the world.

Zermatt similarly is unlikely to feel much pain from the Swiss Franc exchange rate. The dollar and pound sterling have suffered against the franc, but not to the extent of the euro, and Zermatt gets a lot of Anglophone custom. It is also perhaps the best ski resort in the world, and many visitors will reluctantly accept the higher prices as the cost of being in the shadow of the Matterhorn. Reports are that the weakness of the ruble has not deterred the Russians who descend on St Moritz every winter, and Verbier has always attracted a crowd who are relatively price-insensitive, such as the Duke of York.
View over Verbier and the Rhone valley in Valais
The losers are likely to be second tier resorts, and the pain is likely to occur next season. It is probable that the franc will remain strong if the European central Bank does, as is predicted, embark on a massive round of quantitative easing, i.e. print more money, and even the negative interest rates on funds held with the central bank in Switzerland does not seem to have deterred people who still see the franc as a safe haven. I will not be surprised to see the franc tagged again to the euro, albeit at a higher rate than before, simply because it is easier for a central bank to devalue a currency than to appreciate its value. An interesting article here, suggests other reasons why the SNB dropped the cap, but even if the cantonal governments welcome it a wide range of Swiss businesses will be appalled and will certainly canvas for redress.

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The History of Skiing through Winter Sports Posters

On 22nd January, in London, Christie’s holds its annual “Ski Sale“, an auction featuring a selection of posters depicting winter sports and, through them, the development of skiing in the Alps. The auction features almost 250 posters, and the expected bid prices are generally somewhere in the range $1000 to $20,000 or more.
Christie's ski sale
The prices are eye-watering for what were originally posters intended to entice people to exotic locations, pasted up on hoardings only to be pasted over some weeks or days later. Not surprisingly few survived, and those that did are collectible, even valuable. To an expert, such as those at the famous Galerie 123 in Geneva the difference between an original, or even a reprint from a later run, are easily distinguishable from the cheaper copies that are available now – but those cheaper copies retail for a fraction of price of the original lithographs and are of high, or even higher, reproduction standards. If you want something to adorn a wall, the copies are fine, but the originals not only embody the history of an era and demonstrate painstaking skill, they are generally of appreciating value. Most of the early posters used a laborious craft known as stone lithography, but between the 30s and 50s this mostly gave way to offset lithography and, for some photographs used in posters to a technique known as heliography. Nowadays most high quality posters use screen printing.

One of the most famous early examples of stone lithography was Emil Cardinaux’s classic 1908 lithograph of the Matterhorn, advertising Zermatt. The impact of the design was immense, redefining the style of many posters for distant holidays.

Emil Cardinaux's classic lithograph of Zermatt and the Matterhorn
Many of the posters were commissioned by travel companies, and particularly the energetic and innovative Swiss transport companies such as MOB (Montreux–Oberland Bernois railway). This 1946 offset lithograph by Martin Peikert is a superb example with its vivid design and stylish model.
Montreux- Oberland Bernois
Not in the auction, but illustrating well another source of great winter sports poster art, is this picture provided by Galerie 123 of the Royal Hotel & Winter Palace in Gstaad, attributed to Carlo Pellegrini in 1913 to celebrate the opening of the hotel and to illustrate that skiing wasn’t the only winter sport on offer, with bob-sleighing and curling amongst the many alternative activities.
Gstaad Royal Hotel ski bob curling
A fine example of the use of heliography and phoro montage is this 1943 poster advertising Grindelwald by Adolphe Fluckiger.
Grindelwald heliography photo montage
An interesting poster by Albert Muret from 1910 from the collection of Gallerie 123 shows the monks of Hospice du Grand Saint-Bernard in Valais skiing. The monks had been skiing since the 1870s, but this stone lithograph celebrated the opening of a new railway line. However it illustrates that early downhill skiing only involved a single stick, a feature of many early posters.
Monks skiing from the Hospice du Grand Saint-Bernard in Valais
Finally, one of my favourite posters, from one of my favourite poster artists of the golden age of winter sports posters, Roger Broders. The vivid Art Deco lithograph from around 1930 promotes winter sports in the French Alps, with skiers disembarking from the train running from Paris and Lyon to the Med. The individuals are insouciant and stylish. The enticement is clear – under a blue sky, a train taking you right to the slopes of St Gervais from your dreary winter lives, into the mountains, in the company of cool people with the prospect of a ski run ahead…
Winter Sports in the French Alps

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Tough ski conditions in Adelboden

Adelboden from Chuenisbärgli

Adelboden was in the news recently with the undiplomatic outburst from the US Ambassador to Switzerland, but last weekend the town got a different reception when over 30,000 raucous Swiss watched the FIS Slalom on the Chuenisbärgli.

This is one of the toughest races on the circuit at the best of times, with a steep bottom section that catches out even the best racers. Conditions were particularly challenging however with temperatures as high as 15 degrees, the rain falling and thick cloud enveloping the course. This didn’t prevent Austrian Marcel Hirscher extending his lead in the Slalom standings; the guy really is at the top of his game. Frenchman Alex Pinturault (with “Je Suis Charlie” on his helmet) came second, and Henrik Kristoffersen from Norway came third.
Marcel Hirscher during the Giant Slalom© Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom
For skiers in the Alps, things are looking up as we head into next weekend with temperatures dropping and the precipitation falling as snow over the next few days. However lower runs are still pitifully light on snow with lots of icy patches and off-piste is tough. The SLF reports that considerable avalanche danger will be encountered in some regions and snow drifts require caution. At the weekend, Sunday looks the more promising day to see some sunshine, particularly in the more Southern resorts.

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New Swiss Winter Sports facebook page

Adding to everyone’s favourite (well, my favourite) winter sports blog, www.alpinewinterblog.com aka www.oatridge.co.uk/nic/, comes a facebook page and, hopefully, via RSSGraffiti, also comes regular updates from the blog on facebook.
Oatridge family in Muerren
The blog is now in its sixth year and contains dozens of snippets about winter sports, mostly focusing on Switzerland. I have been a keen skier for many years, and when I moved to Switzerland it seemed a dream come true to have all these resorts on my doorstep. There was a little matter of Mrs Oatridge being pregnant, a couple of teenagers to help assimilate and a toddler to look after, so it took a while before I got to go to the slopes. But one fine day I got in the car and headed off in the direction of the distant peaks with a vague notion I would hit a place called Engelberg. Anyway, I took a wrong turn and after driving aimlessly in our car which we got at these used cars ottawa and we ended up at a resort called Meiringen.

I have been to both many times since (and rarely by car), but the ins and outs of where to go, how to get there and where to stay – either with the family, alone of with friends – led me to start recording what I had learnt, and then came the blog, and then the web sites. Currently there are two related web sites in addition to this blog: www.swisswintersports.co.uk and www.snowandrail.com. There is also a Dutch language version of the principal web site at www.swisswintersports.nl and what I hope to make into a multi-language portal at www.swisswintersports.com.

I don’t have a goal in mind other than to maintain the currency of the current sites and continue to make them the best sites of their type on the Internet, but I also hope to expand the scope, redesign to make them as mobile-friendly as possible and even make some income… oh, yes, and do plenty of research!

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