Thursday 31 December 2015

2015's Weather

This has been one of the warmest and driest December's on record (here in Switzerland). Lots of blue sky days and no new snow. So what was the rest of the year like?

January 2015

Started pretty mild, with rain to over 3000m, then strong winds and not much snow below 1500m. But the upper slopes had some good snow, and the month ended with a 2 day storm.

February 2015

A delicate start, with all the fresh snow on top of some unstable layers - the resort blasted practically every slope to make it safe. Temperatures rose for a mild half-term week. Overall some good skiing

March 2015 

Some great snow and skiing especially if you hiked

April 2015

Some great snow ended the season. However, the overall impression of the winter; not many big dumps of snow - just small storms.

May 2015
The winter snow melted away quite quickly, opening up the walking routes early.

June 2015
Beautiful warm weather, and the meadows were soon a mass of flowers 

July 2015
July was a heat-wave and a fire ban was enforced - this lasted well into August.

August 2015
No fireworks for the 1st August celebrations (despite heavy rain on the day). The heat-wave ended, but fine weather continued with an occasional summer storm bringing much needed rain.

September 2015
The hills were very dry and the grasses golden. Wonderful autumnal walking weather.

October 2015
The larch colours where stunning this year - getting more golden by the day. There was the usual early dusting of snow down to valley which soon melted away.

November 2015
Very little precipitation and the fire ban was brought back in. The autumn colours continued to look stunning. The resort delayed opening for skiers by two weeks - the snow finally arrived around the 20th.

December 2015
Sunny, warm and settled with no new snow. A huge high sat over this part of Europe forcing all the bad weather further north, across the UK and into Scandinavia. 

Saturday 21 November 2015

Skiing - going downhill?

Just come across some interesting statistics published by Laurent Vanet ( relating to the ski industry.

Ten years ago, Swiss ski resorts had a total of around 28 million skier days (ie the number of days tickets were bought for), last winter this figure had dropped by 20%. Fewer ticket sales means fewer francs - 10 years ago receipts totalled chf 806,000,000, last year that figure was down 12%, but in real terms that's a drop of 16% in revenue. Those declining numbers have lead to 12 resorts closing during this time.

World wide there are estimated to be 115 million skiers, and each year 80% of skier days took place in just 400 (20%) of possible resorts. So what's business like in a resorts such as here?

This years' annual report by the Grimentz-Zinal lift company ( showed the following. In total the lift company took over chf 15,000,000 from the sale of lift tickets, food & drink in the restaurants it runs, and ski locker rental. It also sold 2% more lift tickets than the previous year. Great news, and we hope it's not just down to the novelty of the new lift, and the fact that Zinal-Grimentz was one of the few places last Christmas to have good snow - only time will tell.
Over chf 15, 000, 000 in revenue 
So over chf 15 million, doesn't sound too bad - but then there are costs, which ate up most of the money (especially with a big investment to service, and to which most of the profit could be written off to). They broke down as follows, with the largest slice going to wages.
and what most of it got spent on
However, one mustn't forget the core ingredient to running a ski business - the weather - and that you can't control. You need bad weather to bring snow, but at the weekend you need blue sky and sunshine to draw the locals who boost ticket sales! What a business...

Sunday 18 October 2015

Bisse des Sarrasins

Part of the board walk along the Bisse de Sarrasins
This is the perfect time of year to walk this low level path from Vercorin to Pinsec. The route was originally built in the early 15th century to duct water the 9km from the Torrent de Pinsec, around the cliffs, to the pastures and village of Briey above Chalais. After 400 years of use, it was finally abandoned in the early 1830's when a major landslide did irreparable damage.

Boardwalks follow the old route across the cliffs 
In 2004 a group of local enthusiasts started a 10 year project to reinstate the route. Board walks, cantilevering off the cliff now link the lovely forest paths and make this a wonderful walk, especially good in autumn with the golden colours.

Old bisse route, now a wide footpath between Vercorin and Pinsec

Sunday 20 September 2015

Trails and Tales of the Turtmann

Heading south on the eastern slopes of the Turtmanntal
This summer we've spent several days walking in the magical, wild and near deserted neighbouring valley - the Turtmanntal.  It was here that the last bear was killed, and is now the terrain of a wolf, as well as home to eagles and of course marmots, chamois and ibex.

Old paths and waterways
There's a road up from the valley, but arriving by cable car in Oberems gives a real sense of separation from what's below, as does walking down from one of the passes. Walkers on the long distance 'Tour du Cervin' or 'Summer Haute Route' from Chamoix to Zermatt cross this valley. Descending from the Meidpass, most stay at the Hotel Schwarzhorn in Gruben, an old victorian hotel, before continuing their route on up to the Augstbordpass and over to the Zermatt valley (at 2893m it's name gives travellers a clue as to when it's reliably passable).

Heading up to the Augstbordpass
The trails and paths that run south from Oberems are less travelled, some are overgrown and parts have fallen away. There are bisse to follow and old shepherd huts that tell of times when this was an important summer grazing area. Hanging in the chapel at Gruben is a wonderful painting depicting the 1822 rescue of a girl from the river. She was swept downstream for over 2km before a shepherd spotted and plucked her from the water.
Bear paw, 'man of the forest' and rescue story
Continuing further south from Gruben the valley ends at the snout of the Turtmann glacier, from here it's mountaineering and ski-touring country.
Looking across to the Turtmann glacier from Col des Arpettes
To find out more:

Saturday 29 August 2015

A rocky existence.

This summer we've done lots of walking up to 3000m - well above the tree line of around 1800m. At these higher altitudes the terrain is harsh and exposed, and snow patches can last all year. But somehow things still grow - a quick glance across a grey scree slope just below the Hohtürli pass and it appeared to be just thousands of stones and certainly no soil. Look a little longer and your eyes adjust to see splashes of green and pink - a 'field' of Glacier Crowfoot grow in splattered patches across the slope. The record for high alpine flowers goes to Saxifrage biflora, a pretty pink flowering plant, which has been found at above 4000m in the alps

Just below the Hohturli pass - Glacier Crowfoot - Ranunculus glacialis
A little lower down, a crack in the rock becomes the perfect 'flower-pot' for some Dwarf Rampion

Dwarf Rampion - Phyteuma humile

At the mouth of the Zinal glacier amongst large rocks Alpine Toadflax blooms and Pansies cover another scree slope

L: Alpine Toadflax - Linaria alpina. R:Alpine Pansy - Viola alpina
Dwarf Soapwort and Harebells flourish in hairline cracks in boulders near the Cabane Bec de Bosson and above the Moiry reservoir

Dwarf Soapwort - Saponaria pumilio 
Dwarf Harebell - Campanula collina
A small depression in a boulder is filled with Moss Campion near the Gemmi pass

Moss Campion - Silene acaulis
And along a much travelled path, Alpine Saxifrage manages to survive the altitude and passing walkers tramping through.
Alpine Saxifrage - Saxifraga nivalis

Monday 27 July 2015

The Grand Tour of the Val d'Anniviers

Spectacular views of the Imperial Crown

After 8 years of living here we've walked most of the valley's footpaths and yet the views still stop us in our tracks. Walk the same route twice (or more) and it's different every time - changing with the weather and seasons. So it was a great pleasure when Inntravel asked us to re-walk and adapt their existing tour of the Val d’Anniviers. The journey has high and low level routes to allow for bad weather and tired legs, and includes some of the best this area has to offer - alpine meadows, old chalets and villages, ridges and lakes, and all with the spectacular snow capped mountains to the south. With a bit of luck, there's a chance to see some of the local wildlife too - red squirrels, chamois, ibex, marmots, eagles, adders, fox - to name a few.
From Vercorin explore the 'bisse' and Vall on de Rechy

Starting in Vercorin, the perfect warm-up and introduction to the old valley routes is to follow the 'bisse' - the 500 year old channel which brings water around from the Vallon de Rechy to the village. It’s a gentle walk through woods to the open meadows around the buvette at La Lé where you can stop for a drink and something to eat, before heading back to the village.
The dramatic high route along the Crete from Vercorin to Grimentz
To walk from Vercorin to Grimentz via the Crêt du Midi and Brinta is a highlight. Taking the gondola up from the village to the Crêt, you save your energy for this long ridgewalk with fabulous mountain views. But if the weather's bad there's a lovely walk through the woods and alpages with old chalets, lovely flowers and views too.
Low level walks through meadows and alpine villages
From Grimentz you can spend your day getting closer to the snow with a walk around the Moiry reservoir and on, up to the Cabane de Moiry. The new restaurant extension, with floor to ceiling windows, looks straight out onto the glacier and is a great place for lunch.
A circuit around the Moiry and up to the Cabane from Grimentz 
Some of the most spectacular mountain scenery is from Zinal. The walk up to the Cabane Arpitettaz is as dramatic as it comes with backdrop of the 4506m Weisshorn and the snowy Blanc de Moming giving a Himalayan sense of scale. Then there's the walk over the Roc de la Vache and to the Petit & Grand Mountet refuges through lovely alpine terrain.
Many spectacular walks around Zinal
The high 'balcony' walk from Zinal to St Luc is another classic with views of the Matterhorn, Weisshorn, Pointe de Zinal, Besso and Dent Blanche.
High 'balcony' walk between Zinal and St Luc
From St Luc, to finish your week, there's the wonderful panorama from the top of the Ilhorn. From here you can see your entire route around the valley to the west and south, and perhaps plan a trip north into the Bernese Oberland.
Panoramic views from the Ilhorn above St Luc
So when’s good to walk? From mid June (when the lifts open for walkers) right through until late October. Autumn is one of our favourite times here - perfect walking temperature, golden larches and early snow dusting the mountain tops. And barely a soul to be seen.
Autumn colours in Val d'Anniviers

To find out more about the walking on tour visit Inntravel, or if you fancy to stay put and explore at your leisure then self-catering from one of our chalets is a great option.

Saturday 20 June 2015

Go with the flow - follow the bisse...

Vercorin Bisse
Within the Valais there are over 2000km of 'Bisse' - as they're called in French, and Wasserleite or Suonen in German. These ancient, man-made water channels, traverse the mountains, bringing valuable water from rivers to villages and fields. Once they were a life-line, but after WWII many fell into disuse and disrepair as technology advanced, and the cost of maintaining them rose.
Paddles and locks control the flow of the water along the Vercorin Bisse
Today, many have been restored and you can walk the well graded paths next to the channels. Here, in the Val d'Anniviers, there are several dotted around (although not all have water). Vercorin is a favourite - through forest, and around the hill into the Vallon de Réchy. It's a great walk, and on a hot day the water acts as a natural air-conditioner below the trees. Elsewhere in the Valais, there are more 'sporting' routes, such as the Torrent-Neuf above Savièse. A great example of the risks and feats of engineering that were achieved to get water to where it was needed.
Torrent-Neuf, Saviese
The Torrent-Neuf dates back to 1430, with many extension and even tunnels added over the centuries. It has recently been restored and is open to walkers between May and November. But you need a good head for heights -  bouncy new suspension bridges, link cantilevered sections of boardwalks across the tall cliff face. An amazing route, and the information panels with old photos show just how dangerous this was to build and maintain:

For more hiking routes that follow bisse in the Valais:

The Museum of bisses is in Anzère:

Some wonderful old footage of a 'guardian' of the bisse at work:

Tuesday 9 June 2015

White Russian

This year our end of season ski tour took us away from the Alps to the Caucasus Mountains, Russia. A very different adventure, and the chance to climb the highest mountain in Europe - Mt Elbrus 5642m.  Thanks Olly and Mountain Tracks for putting together a wonderful trip with great people.

Here's a 3 minute slide show (best viewed on YouTube) of the trip and a few stills to give you a taste...

Brown and white, mixed with ice - the perfect White Russian

Fresh snow around the Ullu Tau Lodge
Flying from London via Moscow we ended up at the Ullu Tau Lodge in the Adyr-Su Valley close to the Georgian border. So close in fact that each morning required a 45minute stop at the army checkpoint to go through papers. Time to look up at the mountains and our day ahead.

The mountains around the valley
A wonderful place to ski tour and acclimatise...

Wonderful touring
before heading over to Elbrus and its infamous accommodation - 'the barrels'...

Elbrus and it's views
after 2 days of storms and some more altitude acclimatisation, we got lucky with the weather and all made it to the top (along with 100's who were competing in the 'Red Fox Race')...

A successful summit after 2 days of storm
before returning to the valley and the villages.

Some local characters

Sunday 19 April 2015

Rule Britannia

The Britannia Hutte at 3030m
Paid for by the British members of the Swiss Alpine Club, the Britannia Hutte first opened in 1912, and was given to the SAC in thanks for the hospitality British mountaineers had always received. One hundred years on and the connection is still strong. For the centenary anniversary the British members bought the hut seven new solar panels.
Starting out to summit the Strahlhorn 4190m
Today the Britannia Hutte isn't just popular with the British in fact its the most popular hut run by the SAC in the alps. Why? As they say it's location, location, location. So close to Saas Fee (in winter ski tourers can use the lifts almost to the door - it's just a 15 minute slide and walk from the top of the Egginerjoch drag lift), and it's so close to some stunning mountains. From the hut you can summit the Strahlhorn 4190m, Fuchthorn 3795m, Rimpfischhorn 4198m, Alphubel 4206m,  Allainhorn 4027m and join the Haute-Route ski tour. And don't forget those amazing sunsets.
Stunning sunsets
But the accommodation and food is also top notch. Having undergone an extension and renovations in 1997, it can comfortably sleep 134, has 3 dining rooms, indoor loos and running water and is run by a small, extremely cheery team who work from before 5 am to gone 10pm each day. It's popularity with guides may be down to the free pre-dinner glass of wine.

One of the three dining rooms

The hut is open for ski tourers from March-May, and for summer mountaineering and climbing from middle of June to end of September. To book visit the website