Wednesday 10 December 2014

Snow - making it happen

Snow making 

After an unusually wet summer, autumn was long, warm and relatively dry. Finally, temperatures have dropped and winter is creeping in, but the 'good' weather has continued, so not much snow. But at least it can now be made, which is exactly what's been happening.

For the last week or two all across the alps and around this valley, snow cannons have been drawing thousands of k-joules of electricity to pump and mix water with air, atomising the water into droplets which, when jetted into the freezing air form ice crystals. Over the years snow making techniques have improved so it's now less icy and comes pretty close to feeling like the real thing.

But it comes at a price:
To cover 100m x 100m's to a depth of 30 cm you need 3000m3 of snow, made from 1.3 million litres of water.
The estimated cost for 1m3 of snow is about £5 (chf 7.50) so the above 10,000m sq would cost about£15,000 (chf 22,000).

To put this into a context, a piste 60m wide and 800m long will cost around  £72,000 (chf 105,600) - that's a lot of ski passes and all you've got is a pile of snow. You then need piste machines to spread it around and the lifts to get people up the mountain....

And of course there's the cost to the environment - the extra energy used, water drained from reservoirs and other water sources and the extra water when it melts - which isn't just when spring arrives. The snow they made in November all melted on the lower slopes because it was so warm, but higher up the snow making is putting down a good base so for the Christmas guests things are looking 'al-white'.

Figures are based on information in the following articles:

Friday 24 October 2014

Turning the clock back

Inside Zinal's 'Peasant-House' Museum
The villages of the Val d'Anniviers contain buildings dating back to the 16th century. Until 50 years ago life was lived in much the same way as it had been for hundreds of years. This film was shot in Zinal in 1967 but it could have been 200 years earlier.
Main living and sleeping room 
Part of the valley's charm lies in the old wooden buildings whose beams have been blackened by the weather over the years. Several houses in the valley have been preserved as museums and display collections of furniture, tools and photographs which show how life in the valley once was.
Cuttlery and wooden platters
Zinal's museum, pictured here, dates back to 1768. There's an outer store/workshop and kitchen area with steps that lead up to the main living room where the whole family slept in 3 truckle beds stacked one above the other by day. You can see daylight through some of the walls and even with the soapstone stove going, it must have been chilly in winter. You can imagine people living under those conditions in the middle ages but the fact that the last inhabitants lived here into the 1960s seems quite extraordinary.
Milking stools
Straw bonnet fixed to the mould awaiting final ribbon
Outside and downstairs is the cellar which was shared with the neighbour who lived above, and where the family stored their food and wine. Now it displays old photographs and a collection of agricultural tools.
Cooking corner
Tools, skis and workbench stand in the opposite corner to the hearth
Pebbles cover the floor of the 'cave' where more old tools are displayed 
Many thanks to l'Association des Amis du Vieux Zinal who look after  the 'Ancienne Maison d’Habitation, Musée'.  

In Vissoie and Ayer there are similar houses that can also be visited during the summer months:

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Moiry Via Ferrata

Wonderful views across to the Moiry Dam
We finally got to try our local via ferrata route on the crag next to the Moiry dam. It's a 230m piece of cliff which looks insignificant from afar but once up on the rock gives a sense of airiness along with great views.

It's a long way down and I've only just started...
The route starts with a D+ (difficult +) grade but then branches - you can continue along the same grade, or opt for a harder TD (very difficult) or easier options - AD (fairly difficult) or F (easy). The climbing is almost entirely done using metal staples for hand and foot holds - a system used a lot on the via ferrata routes in France. No one's pretending to climb the rock here.
Most of the route uses staples for hand and foot holds
In addition to the main climbing routes there are options to cross a 70m bridge suspended 100m above the ground, or (new this year) climb a 30m metal scrambling net; if you're with a guide who has the key for it, you can do the massive tyrolienne zip-line.
View from the bridge
For more information visit the following sites:

Yes, there really is a picnic table on a ledge at point 10....

The various routes and levels of difficulty 

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Redcurrant Jelly fest

We left redcurrant picking till later this year - what with all the rain this summer things took a little longer to ripen. But it was worth the wait. The berries were plentiful, large and deep ruby in colour. In total we picked 12kg of fruit - freezing 2/3rds and making 4 lge jars and 3 smaller jars of jelly from the rest.

12kg of redcurrants picked on just one day
The best jelly recipe.

It's an old recipe so I use imperial measurements as it makes life a lot simpler. Redcurrants are high in pectin so setting is never a problem - that being the case you can use granulated sugar.

  • Wash the berries - there's no need to remove them from the stalks - discard leaves and other debris.
  • Place berries in a large pan - for every 3 lb of fruit add 1 pint of water.
  • Simmer gently for 30 minutes until the fruit is really mushy.
  • Line another large saucepan with a cloth or jelly bag, and pour cooked berries into the cloth.
  • Tie the cloth up, and raise it so the juice can run freely into the pan below.
  • Leave this to strain overnight.
  • Discard the contents of the cloth.
  • Measure the juice extract. For every 1 pint of juice add 1 lb of sugar to the pan.
  • Heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 15 minutes.
  • Test for set. (Take a saucer that's been in the freezer, drip some jelly onto it and leave for a minute. If it crinkles when you run your finger through it then its reached setting point).
  • Remove from heat.
  • Skim off scum with a slotted spoon.
  • Pour jelly into clean sterilised jars. To sterilise your clean jars place in oven for 20 mins at 130 - remove from oven and pour jelly into warm jars. Put the lids on straight away.

Saturday 9 August 2014

Riding the Rhone

Cycling through the vineyards
Cycling around Zinal can be hard work - it's either sweating slowly up or a white knuckle descent which leaves your hands aching from braking so hard. For an easier day out, we head down to the main valley to follow one of the many cycle routes.
SwitzerlandMobility covers the whole country - road & mountain bike, walking, inline skating and even canoe routes. The app gives you the country's best mapping for free as well.
Plenty of mapping and signs
Many of the road bike routes are mostly traffic free tarmac and wind through the valley's fruit orchards and vineyards with occasional detours into small villages. Best to head out to the west through the vineyards and villages and then get blown back along the perfect path beside the Rhone by the prevailing winds. In the event of breakdown - you or your bike - you can always just hop on the train to get back to where you started.

Routes through hill villages and orchards
From the upper Valais it's possible to follow the Rhone all the way to the Mediterranean - perhaps the ultimate summit to sea trip - use the SwitzerlandMobility site for the swiss leg then for info on the journey through France.

Routes and mapping:

Rent a bike for an afternoon or two

Friday 11 July 2014

Zinal to Cabane Petit Mountet - the 'high' way

Stunning mountain views
Lowering yourself on a chain through an ice cold waterfall is not everyones idea of a good walk, but if you can cope, you're rewarded with some of the most spectacular views the valley has to offer. This high route is a 'mountain fest' of snow, ice and peaks. In front of you is the whole Imperial Crown -  the collective name for the five 4000m+ peaks (Bishorn, Weisshorn, Zinal Rothorn, Obergabelhorn, and Dent Blanche) that sit at the head of the valley, plus the other 'little' mountains that fill your horizon - oh and lets not forget glimpses of the Matterhorn right at the back.
Not for the nervous walker
Taking the cable car up to Sorebois saves the 800m climb up from Zinal village and puts you near the start of the 2400m contour that you follow south. The route winds and climbs around the mountain on flower lined paths, crossing streams, waterfalls, rock shoots and in early summer the possible snow patch before opening out in a meadow - the perfect picnic spot to sit and soak up the view.
Picnic spot with wonderful mountain views
Descend through meadows of Alpenrose to the Cabane
After this point the route descends through meadows of Alpenrose to Cabane Petit Mountet (2142m) where you can relax with a beer and look out onto the Zinal Glacier before heading north and down to Zinal through meadows and across La Pla.
Heading back to Zinal through meadows and across La Pla
Total distance: 14.5 km
Time: about 5 hrs to include stops
Ascent: 250 m
Descent: 1015 m

Sunday 15 June 2014

Waterfall way

Huge variety of waterfalls near Zinal
Melting snow from the peaks and spring rain, produce huge quantities of water that tumble down the mountains all around the valley. As the ground steepens, the rivers turn into spectacular waterfalls. Now is the best time of year to see them, and one of the best walks for waterfall spotting is south of Zinal. Walk across Le Pla, in the direction of the Petit Mountet hut, and coming down on both sides of the valley you will see a huge variety of falls, some are tall, thin showers, others wide and thunderous. Some flow just at this time of year, while others are year round - freezing solid in winter to make fantastic ice-climbing walls.

In winter this freezes and makes a great ice-climbing wall
Over in St Luc you walk down right next to a river and it's waterfalls along the 'chemin des cascades'. It's a steep descent through the forest, but fun to follow the water on it's way to the valley.

Saturday 31 May 2014

Top 100

This is the 100th post on this blog so it seems appropriate to list (in no particular order) some of our favourite things to see, do and experience in and around the Val d'Anniviers

Things to see: 

Black-nosed sheep, gentians and edelweiss.
  • Patch of gentians
  • Black-nosed sheep
  • Ptarmigan
  • Edelweiss
  • Sunset on the Besso
  • Crocus poking up through the snow as spring arrives
  • Meadows of summer flowers
  • Marmotts running across the fields
  • Ibex on the cliffs
  • Waterfalls beyond Zinal in spring
  • Golden Eagles
Walking routes:
Tour lac de Moiry, Lac Noir and up to Cabane d'Arpitettaz
  • Up to Cabane d'Arpitettaz 
  • Wiesshorn hotel to Zinal
  • From top of Sorebois lift to Cabane Petit Mountet 
  • Tour lac de Moiry
  • Bisse walk in Vercorin
  • Descent of Vallon de Rechy
  • Crete de Midi
  • Up to Cabane Grand Mountet
  • From Bendolla south to the dam
  • Chandolin along the cliffs
  • Lac noir above St Luc
Best events:
Feeries Christmas Market, Sierre-Zinal race
  • 1st August fireworks in Zinal
  • Feeries Christmas market Grimentz
  • Friday markets in August Grimentz
  • Sierre Zinal mountain marathon
  • Vercorin jazz festival
  • Grimentz three day classical music festival 
  • Marche des Cepages, wine and walking tour though the vin-yards
  • Desalps
  • Grand Raid – Verbier to Grimentz mountain bike race 
Food & Wine:
Locally cured sausages, home-made redcurrant jelly
  • Fresh serac cheese from the alpine diary
  • Vin de glacier from Bourgeois Grimentz
  • Myrtle tart at Hotel Wiesshorn
  • Wild alpine strawberries 
  • Multi-grain bread from Salamin bakery
  • Local cured dried sausages
  • Redcurrant jelly made from the wild berries around the house
  • Glass of white wine from the caves of Sierre
Favorite pistes to ski:
Illhorn red piste, Chandolin
  • Chamois, Zinal
  • Pas de Beouf to Prillet, St Luc
  • Vercorin blue, from top station to the village
  • Blue from Grands Plans chair past Etable du Marais, Grimentz
  • Illhorn red piste, Chandolin
Things to do and visit:
Grimentz old town, moon light walk in winter, Hotel Weisshorn
  • Histoic house, Zinal
  • Walk through Zinal old town
  • Centre of Grimentz
  • Moon light walk in winter
  • Sleep out under the stars on a summer's night
  • Visit old flour mill in Grimentz
  • See cheese being made in the mountain dairies
  • Star gaze from the St Luc observatory
  • Visit hotel Weisshorn – even better stay overnight
  • Visit Tzoucdana cafe and see the farm animals
  • Overnight in a mountain hut 
  • Via ferrata below Moiry dam
  • Snow shoe to the snout of the Zinal glacier and discover the ice-cave
Best off piste:
Down to the dam
  • Down to the dam from Zinal
  • Orzival
  • Vallon de Rechy
  • Variants around Chamois
  • Off back of St Luc into Turtmann valley
  • Zinal free-ride zone
  • Vercorin trees
  • Lona
  • Pylon route 
  • Middle bowl, Zinal
  • Abondance
  • Trees to Chiesso Blanc
Views to see:
Weisshorn, glaciers above Grand Mountet, sunset from Tracuit
  • Sunset from Cabane Tracuit
  • Top of Ilhorn over Rhone valley
  • Col des Arpettes into Turtmann valley
  • Glaciers from Cabane du Grand Mountet 
  • Besso from Lac d'Arpitettaz
  • Glaciers from Cabane du Moiry
  • From Niouc the 'Imperial Crown'
  • Weisshorn from bridge above Zinal 
  • South from Barneuza
  • South into Vallon de Rechy from top of Vercorin
Day ski-tours:
Basset de Levron, Bec de Bosson, Col du Pigne
  • Tourno, St Luc
  • Basset de Lona, Grimentz
  • Cabane d'Arpittetta and on to Glacier de Moming
  • Basset de Levron, Grimentz
  • Off back Grimentz and over to Nax
  • Glacier de Moiry and Col du Pigne
  • Off back of Bella Tola

Favourite time of year:

Autumn colours, Zinal
  • January – low sun and wonderful light
  • February – early on, good snow and no people
  • March – warmer and longer ski days
  • April – spring snow
  • May – crocuses appear through the melting snow
  • June – meadows around the house are full of flowers
  • July – higher alpine meadows come into flower
  • August – lots of music and other events in all the villages
  • September – warm days, no people and great walking
  • October – larches turn golden and first snow on the peaks
  • November – Zinal opens for weekend skiing
  • December – Feeries market in Grimentz

Thursday 10 April 2014

Look back on winter 2014

As winter melts away it's fun to look back at some of the great days we've had this season....

Monday 10 February 2014

Seeing the wood for the trees.

Followers of our Facebook page will have noticed that I often take pictures of snowy trees. Snowy and cloudy days obscure the mountains and the forests around the chalet come to the fore. On these 'dull' days I love the natural monotone caste and the layers of snow and branches are great to photograph. Recently, we've had some pretty snowy days so I've put together the following collection of colour photos...

Thursday 16 January 2014

'The Ski' reborn for the 21st Century

Scott have launched a new ski with an old name. 'The Ski' first hit the slopes in the 1970's as a must have freestyle ski designed by Sun Valley local Bobbie Burns.

'The Ski' - more fun on piste than seems right, and a brief test last season told us it's nice off piste too
Four sizes, four colours, 'The Ski' from Scott has been designed as one ski for all conditions. The shaping gives 'The Ski' a longer radius underfoot making it easier to handle on all types of terrain and conditions. The core is 100% wood from tip to tail which gives consistent flex and torsional stiffness.

Last winter we got a a pre-launch taster day. This season we have the whole fleet available for testing; we took them to St Luc for a blast around the piste with Scott UK general manager Steve. Verdict - great; we look forward to trying them in powder...

Monday 6 January 2014

Bar-e-Vox rescues Cabane de Tracuit

Just before Christmas a new bar opened in Zinal - the Bar-e-Vox. It's name is inspired by the Mammut transceiver the 'Barryvox' - used by many skiers and mountaineers to aid the rescue of avalanche victims. 

The old stove, baskets and shutters from the Cabane de Tracuit
(left: their original positions - right: their new home in the Bar-e-Vox)
The Bar-e-Vox has also done a bit of rescuing, and is the new home for several items from the original Cabane de Tracuit. Following the completion of the new Cabane last spring the old building was deliberately destroyed with these few pieces being saved. 

Tables, stools and honesty box now in their new home
Now you can have a glass of wine sitting around the same tables, on the same stools, 1600 vertical meters lower. You can see more pictures in our Facebook album.