Destination Magazin Nr.3/2019 EN

saas.fee

N o 3

December –April

2019/20

Saas-Fee/Saas Valley Magazine

ICE WORLDS


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EDITORIAL

Dear guests,

WELCOME TO YOUR HOLIDAYS!

As I come to write this editorial on this sunny afternoon, I’m sat

on my balcony looking up at the Mischabel chain. The glacier is

glistening in the late autumn sun and the mountain’s lower slopes

are carpeted in yellow-green larch and pine forests. The sight takes

my breath away, but brings little comfort. The roar of cascading

meltwater is occupying my thoughts.

As I am writing this, it has been just one week since Greta

Thunberg delivered her historical, inflammatory speech to the

United Nations and the reaction has been explosive. Opinions of

the young Swede vary, but the 16-year-old has managed to do what

many have failed at before her: she has put the climate change

debate front and centre of the world stage. What struck me most

about Greta‘s speech was its radical nature. But as I sit here today,

literally watching the glacier melt in front of my eyes, I cannot help

but wonder if even Greta is radical enough. And whether “radical”

is an adequate word at all.

Since the industrial revolution, average temperatures in

Switzerland have risen by around two degrees Celsius. That‘s more

than twice the global average. In Saas-Fee, that has meant rapid

melting of the glaciers – glaciers which are both an important part

of our livelihood and an integral element of the Saas Valley. We

have therefore decided to dedicate this winter edition to the ice

world of the Saas Valley. We want to highlight its majesty, both in

pictures and words. In doing so, we hope to do our bit to increase

people’s awareness of climate change and its impact on our environment,

not just in the future, but right now.

I strongly recommend you take a look at the article about

Felix Keller on page 12. The glaciologist is researching ways to save

our glaciers. On page 18 you can discover how Thomas Zurbriggen

prepares the glacier piste of Hohsaas, and on page 60 we introduce

you to one of the Saas Valley’s main attractions: glacier trekking.

Puzzle Media presents a unique series of photographs of

our local Ice Worlds, juxtaposing its different elements across four

double-page spreads.

Enjoy our look at the Ice Worlds on paper, and then enjoy it

in the real world! I wish you a wonderful stay in the Saas Valley and

hope it brings many unforgettable moments.

With warmest regards,

Yolanda Josephine


CONTENTS

Editorial 5

Winter events

Events calendar

10

Guardian of the glacier

Felix Keller‘s utopian plans for glacier rescue

8

12

PEOPLE

17

“We have an understanding, the glacier and I”

How Saas-Grund‘s glacier piste comes to be

“You need nerves of steel”

A day in the life of Saas-Fee‘s head of mountain rescue

The trials and tribulations of an ice master

Otto Zengaffinen and the natural ice rink in Saas-Fee

18

28

24

SAAS VALLEY

33

A new chapter in an eventful story

The re-opening of the Walliserhof Grand-Hotel & Spa

The Rex reborn

37

When a cinema becomes a cultural centre

An impressive spectacle

Experience the Saas Valley Ice Hockey Club

Saas-Fee’s magical Christmas market

The tireless pastor

More anecdotes about Johann Josef Imseng

Christoph’s column

46

40

34

44

42

CUISINE 49

Eating in the Saas mountains

50

Valais pear fondue with air-dried beef

Beetroot and ginger soup

53

Pumpkin gnocchi with sage butter

How a poor man’s soup became a gourmet classic

52

56

57

ACTIVE

59

High up the ice wall

Ice climbing in the Saas Valley

The ever-changing path

A special experience: glacier trekking

Snowshoeing on glacial moraine

62

60

64

FAMILIES 66

Kian the Dragon’s Adventureland for kids 68

Kids’ Days/Kids’ Week

69

MOUNTAINS

71

Events by the cable car companies 72

140 kilometres per hour on ice and snow

The Glacier Bike Downhill experience

The greatest ski race in the world

The 38 th Allalin race in Saas-Fee

Nothing is impossible

The Mentelity Games Saas-Grund

82

80

76

86

Piste map

Community 88

Impressum

90

6

7


WINTER EVENTS

Fire and Flames Night Show

The Snowsports School Saas-Grund lights up the night with its

Fire and Flames Night Show, which takes place next to the Ziebel

lift in the village. Starting at 8:30 pm, the 45-minute show includes

fireworks and choreographed skiing. The legendary “Fireman,” who

provides the grand finale, is not to be missed. You can see a taster

in the image below. The Ziebel lift is available for all to use for free,

from 7:30 pm until the start of the show and from the end of the

show until 10 pm. Why not round off the evening with some Bratwurst

and warm drinks?

Moon Light Fight

On Easter Sunday, the second Moon Light Fight will take place in

Saas-Fee. A thrilling showdown awaits as pairs of racers take on

the illuminated slopes at the edge of the glacier village. Competitors

race each other in a series of head to head battles, which take

place on two parallel slalom courses, starting at 2 pm. The winner

of each battle progresses to the next round.

Racers will start in categories, ranging from under-12s to

over-40s, both men and women. Of course, the sporting highlights

are the finals of the various categories as well as the prize-giving.

You can watch the action with something to eat and a warm drink

from the marquee next to the finish area. At the marquee bar, DJs

are set to keep the party going until one in the morning.

29 th December, 13 th February, and 5 th March

8:30 pm, Ziebel (village lift) in Saas-Grund

12 th April, from 2:00 pm

Sportplatz Kalbermatten Saas-Fee

saas-fee.ch/moonlightfight

Snow & Style Night Saas-Fee

The Swiss Ski School Saas-Fee kicks off the Snow & Style Night

with a torchlit descent from Spielboden to the edge of Saas-Fee.

There, a light show, complete with daring ski jumps and other impressive

demonstrations is set to wow guests. The one-hour show,

which takes place on the Sportzplatz (sports grounds) in Saas-

Fee offers a truly unique experience. The grand fireworks finale

stars the famous “Fireman” (see the adjacent picture). At the end of

the show, guests can enjoy a complimentary glass of mulled wine

alongside the show’s participants, locals, and other guests.

26 th December, 8:30 pm

1 st January, 8:30 pm

5 th February, 8:30 pm

12 th February, 8:30 pm

19 th February, 8:30 pm

26 th February, 8:30 pm

8 th April, 9 pm

Sportplatz Kalbermatten, Saas-Fee

skischule-saas-fee.ch

Après-Ski Parade

At the legendary Après-Ski Parade in Saas-Fee, you can celebrate

the end of the season as it should be celebrated: in costume, with

plenty of music and, of course, alcohol. For years, the event has

been considered THE party in the village - so join us for the end of

the 2019/2020 season!

Starting from midday, the crowds dance their way down

Saas-Fee’s main street. En-route there are no less than eight

decorated bars serving drinks, and various food stalls offering local

and regional delicacies. DJ Kusi and friends man the decks up on

the tower pumping out good vibes and keeping everyone dancing.

Don’t forget to pack a crazy costume, because dressing up is a

must at the Après-Ski Parade. The night continues at a variety of

bars and clubs across Saas-Fee.

18 th April, midday to 10 pm

saas-fee.ch/apresskiparade

8

9


EVENTS CALENDAR

December–March

December–April

Fire and Flames Night Show,

Saas-Grund

skisaas.ch

Various yoga retreats

saas-fee.ch/yoga

December–April

Live music

saas-fee.ch/live-musik

19 th February

Kids’ Day, Fasnacht carnival,

Saas-Fee

December–April

December–April

Every Thursday

Snow & Style Night,

Saas-Fee

skischule-saas-fee.ch

Mountain Hut Magic

saas-fee.ch/berghüttenzauber

25 th February

28 th February

Night skiing

with fondue party,

Saas-Grund

Kids’ Day,

Saas-Almagell

December–April

Night sledging, Saas Valley

saas-fee.ch/nachtschlitteln

6 th March

Comedy, “A town meeting with

Mike Müller,” Saas-Fee

December–April

Kids’ disco, Saas Valley

saas-fee.ch/kinderdisco

7 th March

Tsunami Waterslide Contest,

sports field, Saas-Fee

December–April

Fondue gondola, Saas-Fee

saas-fee.ch/fonduegondel

9 th –13 th March

Kids’ Week,

Saas-Grund

December–April

Sunrise Skiing, Saas-Fee

saas-fee.ch/sunrise-skiing

13 th –15 th March

Saas-Free Heel Telemark

Festival Vol. 3, Saas-Grund

January–March

Full Moon Skiing, Saas Valley

saas-fee.ch/vollmond-skifahren

14 th March

Glacier Bike Downhill

Saas-Fee

1 st −24 th December

Various Christmas events

saas-fee.ch/weihnachtszeit

19 th March

Valley race Talrennen,

Saas-Grund

6 th −8 th December

10 th December

13 th /14 th December

27 th December

28 th December

2 nd January

12 th January

13 th –17 th January

18 th January

20 th –24 th January

54 th Perle der Alpen/

13 th Allalin-Cup

(curling contest)

Sunrise skiing,

Mittelallalin, Saas-Fee

Christmas market,

Saas-Fee

Kids’ Day, New year’s arts and

crafts party, Saas-Grund

Irish pub night,

Alpha, Saas-Grund

Classical music concert with

the Chauvel Family,

Parish church, Saas-Grund

Kids’ Bobrace

Ziebel lift, Saas-Grund

Kids’ Week

Saas-Grund

Swiss Ice Climbing

Championships,

multistorey car park, Saas-Fee

Kids’ Week

Saas-Grund

21 st March

21 st March

27 th /28 th March

24 th –27 th March

27 th March–4 th April

10 th April

12 th April

13 th April

18 th April

MG Alpenrösli Annual Concert,

Saas-Fee

12 Hour Knock Out Challenge,

Saas-Grund

Allalin Rennen (race),

Saas-Fee

Mentelity Games,

Saas-Grund

Photo exhibition Kurt S. Müller,

Aqua Allalin, Saas-Fee

Kids’ Day,

Easter egg painting, Saas-Fee

Moon Light Fight

Saas-Fee

Season end,

events TBD, Saas-Grund

Après Ski Parade,

Saas-Fee

24 th /25 th January

Ice Climbing World Cup,

multistorey car park, Saas-Fee

11 th February

16 th –24 th February

18 th February

Night skiing and fondue party,

Saas-Grund

Carnival Saas Valley

saas-fee.ch/fasnacht

Night skiing and fondue party,

Saas-Grund

The Fee Glacier, which sits above

Saas-Fee, extends from Mittelallalin almost

all the way to the Mischabel Hut. It

covers much of the eastern flanks of the

Allalinhorn (4,027 m), Feechopf

(3,888 m), Alphubel (4,206 m), Täschhorn

(4,490 m), Dom (4,545 m) and the

Lenzspitze (4,294 m). In the background, you

can spot the Allalin revolving restaurant.

Photo: Adrian Myers

10

11


GUARDIAN OF THE GLACIER

Glaciologist Felix Keller is determined to

save our glaciers. It might be an

ambitious plan, but he believes it is possible.

Text: Bruno Bolinger

When Felix Keller talks about his plan,

his eyes light up, bright and blue like the

glacier. Blue and white have always been

his favourite colours. The 56-year-old

naturalist and glaciologist has a mission:

to protect the Morteratsch Glacier in

Sedrun from complete melting. Although

in his words, “it’s not so much about the

glaciers themselves, rather the water

locked up within them.”

In Switzerland, 57 billion cubic metres of water are stored as ice

in its glaciers. And that water is valuable. As the glaciers shrink,

rivers will run lower and lower each year. At present, if the rains fail

in summer, glacial melt prevents the rivers in the valley from drying

up. But once the glaciers are gone, the water supply as we know it

today will cease to function.

Two years ago, Felix Keller was having lunch with his then

supervisor at the Academia Engiadina educational institution in

Samedan. “If you were of any value as a glaciologist, you ought

to save the Morteratsch Glacier,” his supervisor teased. “Forget it,

there’s no way that would work!” was Keller‘s answer at the time.

But he couldn’t get the idea of saving the glacier out of his head.

The very next day while fishing in a wild stream, he began to think

through the possibilities and impossibilities of such an ambitious

project. Glass, metal, plastic and paper – they all get recycled in

this day and age, he thought. So why not the glacial meltwater?

After days of thinking over the facts and turning them over in his

head time and time again, Keller couldn’t find any good grounds

on which to say they wouldn’t be able to successfully rescue the

glacier. So the project was born. The question he found himself

asking was: “Should we try to preserve glaciers as freshwater

storage for future generations?”

Keller presented his idea to friend and fellow glaciologist

Hans Oerlemans from the University of Utrecht. A series of

measurements taken by this university since 1994 makes the

Morteratsch Glacier the world‘s best-studied glacier in terms of

energy balance. Interestingly, Oerlemans, unlike Keller, believed

the plan to be quite feasible. He suggested they could test the

theory by spreading snow produced from the glacier’s meltwater

over part of the glacier itself to protect it from solar radiation.

The projections that followed the experiment were surprising.

If just 10 percent of the glacier‘s surface could be kept snowcapped

during the summer, the glacier would potentially start

growing again within ten years. That would be a dramatic turnaround.

But the numbers in question were enormous. One million

square metres of glacier would have to be covered with metres of

snow. That meant the project would require 30,000 tonnes of snow

to be produced. 30,000 tonnes for each day of the short weather

window between winter and early summer! It would need to be

done in the high mountains and, if possible, without the use of

electricity. Confronted with such a mammoth task, Keller faced

sleepless nights once again.

“If just 10 percent of the glacier’s

surface could be kept snow-capped during the

summer, the glacier would potentially start

growing again within ten years.”

Felix Keller, 56, grew up in Samedan and has three children. He is a co-director

of the European Tourism Institute at the Higher School of Tourism in Samedan. He also

works on various research projects and lectures on the geography of tourism,

resource management, and teaching methods, and conducts international seminars.

Photo: Bruno Bolinger

A passionate violinist, Keller spends half an hour each morning

practising. “My daily violin playing opens up my mind,” he says.

Keller relies on his morning routine to come up with new ideas

and solutions. One example is his plan to produce snow using a

‘Schneelanze’ type snow cannon; it is patented in Switzerland and

works without electricity. It should be possible to spread the snow

using the cable cars that already run over the glacier. Soon, they

hope that funding options will open up, and a working prototype for

the project will be built in cooperation with industrial partners to

prove its practical feasibility.

The estimated cost of the whole project over the next 30

years is 100 million Swiss francs. “That’s only a few million francs

per year,” explains Keller, “even if it prevents just one river drying

out in one of the dry summers we have to come, then it’s a good

investment.” He goes one step further: “I recommend that we

apply our approach to one glacier in each of the catchment areas

supplying the six major rivers in Switzerland as soon as possible.”

The town’s famous Fee Glacier could potentially

benefit from Felix Keller‘s ideas. Until 1850 it reached

the edges of the village. But due to changes in

climate, it has retreated dramatically in recent years.

Photo: Puzzle Media

12

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Ice stupas are man-made pyramids of frozen water. They are built during the winter

months and serve as reservoirs in the arid landscapes of the Himalayas. In spring, they

melt slowly, allowing consistent irrigation of farmland. Photo: Bruno Bolinger

Keller says that the most important thing to do, in terms of the

bigger picture, is to tackle the root causes of climate change rather

than just trying to alleviate the symptoms. “I hope that this project

will convince people that sustainable policies are required to

prevent climate change. And that the enactment of those policies

is not just seen as a necessary evil, but that they become part of

a broader trend in which we’re all inspired to take action, including

on an individual level.”

Felix Keller‘s enthusiasm for his glacier preservation project

and for tackling environmental issues is contagious. Keller is

active in raising awareness of climate change and campaigning

for something to be done. Last year he organized a concert on the

Pers Glacier, inviting media and the public to see the effects of

climate change firsthand. He’s an ambassador for the international

“I AM PRO SNOW” campaign, which motivates winter sports

resorts, enthusiasts and brands to switch to renewable energy for

the sake of preserving the climate and snow they rely on.

Keller is also concerned by similar water and glacier

problems in the Himalayas, and he wants to help find a solution. He’s

already made contact and started making progress. The awardwinning

idea of building ice stupas comes from the Himalayas.

These are meltwater reservoirs in the form of huge pyramids of ice,

often 20 or even 30 metres high. Built in the winter months, the

meltwater from these stupas helps to maintain field irrigation even

through the dry spring months in the mountainous Ladakh region.

To raise awareness of the initiative, Keller has recreated ice stupas

in somewhat smaller dimensions near the Morteratsch station in

Engadine for several years now. Yet despite his efforts, Felix Keller

remains humble. He’s aware that ultimately, there is only so much

he can do. If the glaciers have any chance of somehow surviving, is

not up to him alone.

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14


PEOPLE

“We have an understanding,

the glacier and I”

How Saas-Grund‘s glacier piste comes to be

18

“You need nerves of steel”

A day in the life of Saas-Fee‘s head of mountain rescue

24

The trials and tribulations

of an ice master

Otto Zengaffinen and the natural ice rink in Saas-Fee

28

As head of rescue for the cable car company in

Saas-Fee, Bärti Hegner is the man with

the greatest responsibility in the ski region. Photo: Puzzle Media

17


On the Trift Glacier, not far from

the Hohsaas mountain station, Thomas fills

the crevasses with ice and snow.

“Thomas Zurbriggen knows the Trift Glacier

like no other.”

“WE HAVE AN UNDERSTANDING, THE GLACIER AND I”

By the time Thomas Zurbriggen has finished

his work, the glacier piste in Saas-Grund

looks just like any other ski run. But below

the perfect corduroy lies ice. This is the

story of how Thomas creates an immaculate

piste on top of a glacier.

Text: Jeannine Zubler

Photos: Puzzle Media

The snow cracks under the snowcat’s

caterpillar tracks. The vehicle comes to

a sudden, jerky halt, shaking the cabin

and the driver inside. Thomas pushes

the accelerator pedal to the floor, but the

machine just tips forward further, its tracks

digging deeper into the nothingness

below. He kills the engine and climbs out

of the cabin, radioing his colleague: “I’m

wedged in a crevasse, you’re going to

need to tow me out”. “Understood, I’m on

my way,” comes the reply. His co-worker

soon arrives in a second snowcat, and

fills the crevasse below with snow, freeing

Thomas’ own machine.

No skier has ever fallen into a crevasse on the groomed piste. But

mere metres away from the marked run, it’s a different story entirely.

One skier rescued by piste patrollers was discovered with his pants

down, quite literally. He had ventured just beyond the edges of the

piste to relieve himself, and the snow beneath him gave way into

the crevasse below. Thomas never leaves the pistes when he skis

up here himself. Far too dangerous, he says. “I see the glacier in the

summer, and it’s a real labyrinth of crevasses,” he gestures as if to

dismiss the concept.

The ski season is still a long way off. Hikers in shorts are

sipping coffees on the Hohsaas terrace and bathing in the late summer

sun. Bikers, rather than skiers, descend the trails from Kreuzboden to

the valley floor, the marmots whistling when they stray too close.

Back on the Trift Glacier, not far from the Hohsaas cable

car station, Thomas tips the excavator’s bucket and chunks of ice

tumble down, filling the crevasse. He won’t be satisfied until he can

comfortably walk across the crack in the ice. Then he moves on to fill

the next one. It’s all part of preparing the glacier piste for the coming

winter. Grooming pistes generally involves moulding the snow with a

snowcat - but for Thomas and the glacier piste, there’s a long way to

go before that. In the Autumn, it‘s more of a civil engineering project.

The rubble and boulders deposited by the glacier over the summer

months need to go. Gradually, the slope is smoothed and evened out.

Thomas‘ digger climbs from one plateau to the next, its spiked tracks

bite into the ice like a climber’s crampons.

Skiers have been enjoying the glacier piste at Hohsaas since

1983. Back then, Thomas’ forebears would clear the ice and rock with

chainsaws and a single small digger. Even for Thomas, that’s hard to

imagine. He has heavy machinery, two excavators and four snowcats,

at his disposal. One of them is an even more powerful winch-cat.

These monsters weigh in at between nine and 12 tons each. But even

with this arsenal behind him, building a ski piste on the tongue of

the glacier gets more challenging each year. The scars left by the

retreating ice are hard to heal. Here, climate change is an everyday

reality.

“I often chat to Saas-Fee’s head of slope operations.”

Thomas Zurbriggen has worked for Hohsaas ski resort since 1988. He has been head of

slope operations since 2000.

Thomas looks wistfully up at the summit of the Weismiess, at the

glacier clinging onto its rock face. He reminisces about summers

spent up at the Weismiess Hut with his grandfather. Back then, the

glacier was a huge expanse of ice, almost reaching the hut itself.

Since then it has retreated more than 800 metres. “It’s painful to see

how quickly it’s melting,” he says, “and it just gets faster, year on year.”

Nevertheless, Saas-Grund is committed to preserving the glacier ski

area south of the lift. The icy underlayer keeps the snow there cold

and powdery well into the spring. “There are years when you can

touch the glacier’s seracs from the piste,” says Thomas, and guests

travel from far and wide to experience this proximity to a glacier.

Saas-Fee already preserves the snow over the summer months using

special protective covers, which it then uses to prepare the slopes

the following winter. Now, Saas-Grund is looking into employing the

same technique.

Driving a snowcat is a childhood dream. For Thomas, it was, at

least. But even that can become ordinary when it’s your daily routine.

His daily view out over the eighteen four-thousand-metre peaks no

longer impresses him in quite the same way it does first time guests

to the Saas Valley. “But when a metre of fresh snow falls, then the

excited little boy comes back to the surface,” he says with a wink.

His job certainly isn’t for everyone. The long, quiet nights

can get lonely with snowcat drivers working when the guests down

in the valley are snuggled up in their beds. But Thomas treasures

these quiet nights in the mountains. The stunning sunrises over the

Mischabel range are more than enough to make up for it.

18

19


One autumn, a seemingly normal day of excavation on the glacier

turned into a particularly memorable moment for Thomas. As he was

clearing the ice with his excavator shovel, something caught his eye.

Wait, was that a trouser leg? As it turned out, the glacier had finally

released two Bernese mountain climbers who had been missing for

35 years. Not quite your normal day at the office.

In winter, six snowcat drivers, five piste patrollers, a mechanic

and a snowmaker look after Saas-Grund’s ski slopes. Anyone with

a category F driving license is allowed to drive a snowcat provided

they complete a two-day driving course. But in addition to this,

Thomas has a license to drive lorries and construction vehicles and is

a trained piste patroller. He’s also completed avalanche management

training including avalanche blasting and charge throwing. Only with

all this under his belt, can Thomas, together with the head of the

mountain rescue, guarantee safety on the glacier piste.

As soon as the first snow falls, Thomas‘ crew climb aboard

their snowcats. The weight of the beasts breaks down the snow

crystals. They drive back and forth over the snow, condensing the

snowpack and pushing the air out of it, preparing a perfect base

for the ski slope. The flawless, white corduroy lines come last. The

heavy-duty front tiller spins at 1000 revolutions per minute, digging

five to six centimetres deep into the snow as it crushes lumps and

breaks down artificial snow. The rear tiller is flexible and adapts to

the terrain to create the wonderfully smooth corduroy pistes. It’s time

to enjoy some turns.

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The glacier slope in Hohsaas exists since 1983. Back then, they worked on the ice and rocks only with a chainsaw and a small excavator.

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20

21

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22

23


“YOU NEED NERVES OF STEEL”

The last descent belongs to them. They

trigger avalanches, position piste markers, and

rescue injured skiers. Head of mountain

rescue Albert Hegner on danger and his team’s

role in ensuring guests can ski safely.

Text: Jeannine Zubler

Photos: Puzzle Media

“He needs to turn off the engine.” Bärti, as

Albert Hegner is better known, needs to

focus. Right now, nothing else matters,

not even the helicopter waiting to fly him

to his next port of call. An avalanche has

damaged a monitoring station. Bärti has

to assess the damage and, if possible,

repair it on site.

Bärti Hegner, calmness incarnate?

He laughs, “Sometimes I’ll lose my cool for

five minutes or so... but it never helps.” He

always has a plan B – and nerves of steel.

“I always have a plan B”

The ability to stay calm is indispensable in a job where the situation is

constantly changing. And ‘routine’ is an alien concept to Bärti. The one

fixed point in his schedule is at half-past four each morning when he

is always in his office at the valley station. From there, he analyzes the

previous night, and in particular the information collected by his snowcat

drivers. He uses everything at his disposal to estimate the current

avalanche risk and decides whether the ski area will open that day.

The Swiss Avalanche Institute (SLF) makes a general

recommendation for the area which serves as a guide. In addition to

all of that, he sometimes draws on the experiences of his predecessor

Dominik Kalbermatten, who boasts 25 years worth of valuable

knowledge when it comes to assessing the snow situation in the

area. Sometimes, Bärti has to increase the danger level above the

SLF recommendation. As the head of mountain rescue for the high

alpine ski resort Saas-Fee, he has a huge responsibility and faces

several challenging decisions daily. A particular challenge of this ski

resort is that it starts at an altitude where many others end, at 1,800

metres above sea level. The avalanche situation is rarely clear cut.

As the leader of the mountain rescue team, he is responsible for the

safety of the whole area. It would even be his duty to recommend total

evacuation if the avalanche risk were to reach levels that extreme.

He makes these decisions with the support of the Bergbahnen (lift

company) management team as well as the crisis staff at the town hall.

After a heavy snowfall, the ski resort usually stays closed at

the beginning of the day. It remains closed until Bärti and his team

can detonate explosives to trigger controlled avalanches in highrisk

areas, removing dangerous buildups of snow from the steepest

slopes. They usually use a helicopter, or, when there is no other

option, they ski tour and do the job by hand. When it comes to touring,

Bärti needs to carry around 20 kilograms of explosives in his backpack.

Is that not scary? “It‘s heavy,” he says with a wink. Once the

snow loads on the steep slopes have been reduced, the avalanche

Both in Saas-Fee and Saas-Grund there

are glacier slopes. Leaving the pistes

in glacial areas is extremely risky and

re-quires years of experience, training,

and knowledge of crevasse rescue and

how to use ropes effectively. Mountain

guides know the area well and offer ski

and snowboard freeride tours.

Saas-Fee‘s piste patrol works closely with Air Zermatt. For complex rescues in

difficult-to-access terrain, Bärti calls in the helicopter. This is often the case when the

rescue requires heavy equipment.

situation can be reassessed. And when it reaches a reasonable level

of risk, they can reopen the snowsports area. That doesn’t mean the

risk has totally resolved, Bärti emphasises: “You should never lose

your respect for the mountains. Avalanche danger prevails, as long

as there is snow on the ground.”

Crevasses also present a huge risk factor. In the winter they

lie hidden under a sheet of snow. Even Bärti, who knows the area

and its terrain better than most, says that leaving the marked pistes

on the glacier is too dangerous for him. He has witnessed far too

many rescue missions for that. He recalls the time a young snowboarder

fell into a crack below the Allalinhorn. Despite the efficient

rescue effort, the snowboarder later died in the hospital. Such cases

can really affect Bärti and the team. Especially when children are

involved, he reflects, becoming more pensive. “During the rescues, in

“During the rescues, in the moment,

I’m on autopilot, just following my training

to the word.” But it‘s always tough when

security concerns mean Bärti Hegner has to

make the call to suspend a mission

when he knows people are still missing.

saas-fee.ch/bergfuehrer

Avalanche bulletin

Produced by the WSL Institute for Snow

and Avalanche Research SLF, the

bulletin appears twice daily in winter: find

it on slf.ch or the app for smartphones.

“We talk a lot within the team about

the things we experience. Talk,

talk, and talk again, it helps us to

process everything.”

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Bärti Hegner is 51 years old and has been working for the Saas-Fee cable car company

since 2014. As of 2018 he has been head of mountain rescue.

the moment, I’m on autopilot, just following my training to the word.

But as soon as we’ve done what we can, that’s when I find myself

brooding.” Regardless of whether he knows the victims personally,

it still hits hard; they are people with futures ahead of them. The

team come together to discuss experiences like this, to help them to

come to terms with what they’ve seen. As the team leader, Bärti often

seeks to start the conversation, usually sensing when someone else

is dwelling on an incident.

Of course, there are some downsides. Patrollers need

to do their job in all weathers. And even when it’s in the middle

of a blizzard, with temperatures of -30 degrees and winds of

80 kilometres an hour, they still have to take off their gloves and

detonate explosive charges to ensure everyone’s safety. And

sometimes it takes a thick skin. Not all our guests are understanding

when we have to close parts of the resort due to avalanche risks

in the spring. But safety is everything for Bärti. It’s not up for

discussion, even if it means losses for the Bergbahnen (lift company.

Saas-Fee‘s piste patrol works closely with Air Zermatt. For complex

rescues in difficult-to-access terrain, Bärti calls in the helicopter.

This can be because the rescue requires heavy equipment; when

it comes to rescues from crevasses, for example, they sometimes

require winches, and rescues can last into the night, necessitating

specialist lighting equipment. Hegner and his team also support Air

Zermatt on numerous rescue efforts. When weather conditions are

too dangerous the helicopter can’t always fly, and sometimes the

search has to be called off. That is a particularly hard decision to

make if they know that people are still missing. But bad weather

does not stop Bärti and his team from working. If the lifts can’t run

because of high winds, they use snowmobiles and even touring skis

when needed. His patrols are always first to the scene of an accident,

usually making the first diagnosis. “In 98 percent of cases, we get it

right!” Bärti says, proud of his experienced team.

He started life as a farmer, before spending several years

working on construction sites, installing windows. One day, by

chance, Wendelin Keller, managing director of the Hoch-Ybrig ski

resort in Znüni, asked Bärti if he would like to try life as a ski patroller.

He was on the lookout for people for the winter, and Bärti thought,

why not? With no knowledge of ski resorts and no particular interest

in slope markers, he joined a training class in Arosa. He just wanted

to ski as fast as possible, he admits with a laugh.

That said, Keller taught him what it takes to make considered

decisions and ultimately to take responsibility for the ski resort.

Bärti attributes the mental strength he currently exhibits in his role

to Keller’s own tenaciousness. Suddenly his radio crackles, the

helicopter pilot sounds impatient. “Understood, I‘ll bring the chainsaw

with me,” Bärti responds as he hurries out. A mission awaits!

“I can’t imagine a more rewarding

job. I see myself as

the luckiest person around.”

Pictured, Air Zermatt flies over the north side of the Allalin Glacier to detonate

explosives in order to trigger a controlled avalanche.

26


THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF AN ICE MASTER

Saas-Fee boasts one of the most beautiful

natural ice rinks in the world. Otto Zengaffinen

has managed the rink for decades. But what

happens when the weather turns?

Text: Samuel Burgener (Editor for the NZZ)

Photos: Nathalie Taiana

Even on Christmas day, Otto Zengaffinen

can often be spotted at the edge of

Saas-Fee’s ice rink watching the tourists

and locals skate. A group of teenagers

laugh, sliding curling stones over the

rink. Another plays ice hockey. The ice

is an impressive 30 centimetres thick,

comprising 1,200 total cubic metres

of frozen water. Otto, whom everyone

knows and loves, says “ice-making is a

science. With just a touch of magic.”

Switzerland is home to around

400 ice rinks, most of which are either

indoors or artificial outdoor rinks. Otto

manages the most used natural ice rink

in Switzerland. He waters, resurfaces,

shapes, and cleans the ice from the

beginning of November right through to

mid-February. A local newspaper once

called Otto the ice whisperer. Otto is the

Sisyphus of ice and snow.

Otto begins ice-making on the 10 th of November each year. From

this date onwards, the sun’s rays barely touch the Sportplatz

(sports ground) at all. Otto stands in the middle of the field, cloaked

in the dark of night. He’s kitted out in ski trousers, a down jacket,

bright orange gloves, a hat, and winter boots. This is his uniform for

watering the surface of the sports grounds, which he does with a

bulky hose as well as his trusty watering can. Every once in a while,

he walks around, prodding the ground pensively.

Otto ices 4,500 square metres in total. The ground that he

works on consists of rubberised sports pitches and several tennis

courts, in addition to concrete areas. The rubberised ground

conserves heat well, so the water takes a substantial time to freeze.

What’s more, much of the water seeps into the clay tennis court

before ice can form. It’s only on the concrete areas that the water

freezes quickly. Be that as it may, Otto creates layer after layer of

ice, the rink beneath him thickening at around one millimetre per

hour. Best case scenario, it takes Otto three weeks to get the ice

ready. But often, that turns out to be wishful thinking.

Otto grew up in Sierre, in the Valais lowlands, where he

learnt to skate on a frozen tributary of the Rhone. As a child, he

worked on his parents‘ farm, caring for the poultry and the orchard.

And so from a young age, he was used to working with machines,

both at one with nature and battling against it, just as he does

today. In 1964, Otto made the move to the Saas Valley. He played

first division ice hockey for Saas-Grund and later went on to play

for Saas-Fee. There, he met Vreni and decided to stay in the valley,

where they eventually had their three children.

The November day which sees Saas-Fee’s floodlights saturate

the ice rink for the first time all year is a big one for many kids

in the village. It’s like Christmas, Easter, and the annual football

tournament all rolled into one. Otto has been announcing the arrival

of winter in this way for thirty years.

By the middle of November, the ice is usually around five

centimetres deep. But all it takes is an unseasonal heatwave and

that thin layer could melt in a matter of hours, leaving a puddle

where an entire ice rink previously stood. If that happens, Otto is

powerless to stop it.

In 1984, Otto was searching for a job when he joined the

Saas-Fee piste patrol team. Even back then, he says he secretly

would have preferred a caretaker role at the Sportplatz. Just a

few short years later, his dream job became available. And so in

November 1988, Otto found himself preparing the ice for the very

first time. He experimented, failed, then tried again, learning from

each failure. Soon after starting the new role, there was a seniors’

ice hockey tournament. In the days leading up to the tournament,

Otto had sprayed too much water on the ice. Although the ice

thickened, puddles and cavities formed inside, causing the players

to break through, and leaving Otto utterly ashamed.

During his first few years on the job, Otto spent the early

winter sleeping on a plastic deckchair in the small cafe next to

the Sportplatz, wrapped in military blankets for warmth. All this

because he was getting up several times during the night to do the

rounds with his watering can and shovel, sprinkling water over his

growing ice field to solidify the slush. Every time he cycled through

the village in the mornings, the schoolchildren would yell after him:

“Otto, is the ice ready to use yet?”

After a melt, Otto must start the ice-making process all over

again. So naturally it’s a relief when it snows a few inches. When

it does, he mounts an old snowcat roller to his blue Zamboni 440,

vintage 1992. Then he drives it over the entire surface several times

over, flattening the snow and compressing it like a road roller on

freshly laid tar. Then he waters the snow, which in turn absorbs the

water and freezes solid. Storms are usually followed by a respite in

the form of several clear, cold days. But that doesn’t assuage Otto’s

fears. If it snowed again now, he would have to clear the excess

snow with a large tiller, which would inevitably break the ice. And

he’d have to start over yet again.

Every year since 1988, Otto Zengaffinen

has been preparing the ice for the outdoor

ice rink in Saas-Fee.

Otto heads to the Sportplatz every

night and ices 4,500 square metres of ground.

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Each winter is different. Every winter brings warm and cold patches,

rain and snow, fogs and storms. If the humidity is high, the ice builds

quickly. In which case, Otto smoothes it with the sharp, diagonally

mounted blades of his Zamboni. When it’s windy, snow blows

up and sticks to the boards surrounding the rink. Otto scrapes it

off with a shovel. When it gets warm, hockey goals sink into the

ice. All of this means Otto must check the weather report on his

mobile each and every day. At times, it drives him a little crazy.

Otto thanks ice-making for keeping him young. The villagers

say that he has looked the same for thirty years. His unrivalled

experience has taught him that to make good ice you have to work

hard, you have to have a good sense of your potential, and a good

feel for the environment.

Otto uses an old fire engine hose to spray the rink with

water. He has learnt the hard way that if he turns the taps on fully,

he loses control; the hose bucks wildly this way and that, driven by

the water pressure. Once, he had to call his friends to help. It took

three of them to tame the beast.

The ice rink behaves like a glacier, constantly changing.

When the temperature is close to zero degrees, the ice is soft,

supple, almost silent. Hockey players can skate over it perfectly as

if gliding on tracks. But when the temperature drops below minus

eight degrees, the ice screeches, sticks and breaks. Fissures form

in the snow, which Otto must fill with a trowel as if patching up

cracks in a wall.

At the beginning of December, the ice measures 20

centimetres thick on a good day. Yet, the changing weather

continues to make life complicated. Rain and slushy snowfall

bringing dirt along with them. The problem is, Otto has to

keep the ice clean. If dirt freezes in the ice, it will crack and

become impossible to smooth. Challenges like these mean Otto

sometimes spends up to 12 hours on his Zamboni, taking only

short breaks. He must vary his speed to keep the machine ticking

over without breaking down. Eventually, he lies down for

an hour, eats a sandwich and then gets back to work, putting

in another 12 hours shift. He’s soaked, freezing, and miserable.

Otto was the goalie for EHC Saas-Fee for more than 20

years. When he had a game, and he couldn’t find someone to stand

in for him as the rink’s caretaker, he would climb onto his Zamboni

between periods, still wearing his heavy goalkeeper’s pads and

sweep the ice himself. Then he’d drink a quick cup of coffee, and

dive back in the goal. He once applied for the TV Show “Wetten,

dass…” (You bet!) standing in goal, dressed only in swimming trunks,

blocking oncoming shots with his snow shovel. In the summers,

Otto would train with his keeper’s gloves on the meadows.

Neighbouring children would throw potatoes and small stones to

help him train his reflexes. Otto played his last game aged 59, a

third division match in Verbier, and fittingly, he kept a clean sheet.

From 10 th December, the sun no longer shines on the ice

field at all. The Mittaghorn blocks its rays entirely and temperatures

usually stay below zero. By this time, the ice is about 25 centimetres

thick and when it reaches this critical level, it begins to self-regulate,

keeping itself cool. In the middle of December, Otto uses natural

colourings to mark out the pitch on the ice. The colour can cause

its own problems, however. When it warms up, it melts into the ice,

so Otto has to draw the lines, again and again, all winter long.

Otto has spent more than a thousand nights lovingly

tending the ice in Saas-Fee. Ice that disappears entirely when the

sun returns in February. He might be paid hourly, but sometimes he

forgets to clock in, that’s not the be-all and end-all for him. Though

it certainly bothers him when people wonder what’s so magical

about ice-making.

Otto has announced his retirement several times now and

cleared out his desk more than once. He’d had enough, wanted to

spend the winter with his grandchildren instead. They all play ice

hockey, the youngest for SC Bern. But every autumn, Otto gets the

call again: “Could you help out?” He always says that if he’s going

to help, he might as well do the job himself. Something about the

ice draws him in, though he’s still not quite sure what. He says he

likes the cold and the silence of the long nights; “And if I don’t do

it, perhaps nobody will.”

“Ice-making is a science. With just

a touch of magic.”

A version of this article was published in the NZZ

on 24 th December 2018.

Otto has spent more than a thousand nights tending the ice in Saas-Fee. “If I don’t do it,

maybe nobody will,” Otto says.

This is a close-up view of Otto‘s ice on a warmer day. Due to the

higher temperatures, holes and small puddles form inside the ice.

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31


SAAS VALLEY

A new chapter in an eventful story

The re-opening of the Walliserhof Grand-Hotel & Spa

The Rex reborn

When a cinema becomes a cultural centre

An impressive spectacle

Experience the Saas Valley Ice Hockey Club

Saas-Fee’s magical Christmas market

The tireless pastor

More anecdotes about Johann Josef Imseng

37

40

44

Christoph’s column 46

34

42

The view from Hannig of the Almagellerhorn (middle), Plattjen

and the Mittaghorn (right). Photo: Christof Schmid

33


A NEW CHAPTER IN AN EVENTFUL STORY

The Walliserhof Grand-Hotel & Spa celebrates

its reopening in December 2019. This is

a glimpse at the storied history of one of

Saas-Fee’s iconic establishments.

Text: Yolanda Josephine Bond

Photos: Saastal Tourismus AG

The new concept: holistic recovery

From December 2019, a new chapter in the eventful history of the

hotel begins. With new investors came a new hotel director. And

he brought with him a new vision. The exquisite brochure of the

new Walliserhof calls the hotel “your alpine retreat for body, mind,

and soul,” going on to say that through relaxation, activities, and

gastronomy, they aim to “take care of your holistic well-being.” Hotel

director Thorsten Fink explains: “At our hotel, we aim to help guests

to recover from the stresses of daily life. We cater for those who

have busy working lives and might struggle to find time for healthy

eating, sports, or spending quality time with their families. We put

together a complete programme for our guests, promoting active and

sustainable recovery,” says Fink.

She frantically tightens her bright, chiffon

It all began in 1883 as Grand Hotel Belle Vue

sarong around her hips and adjusts her

The Walliserhof started life in 1883 as the Grand Hotel Belle Vue, only

beach hat. Then she wipes a bead of

sweat from her lip, takes a deep breath,

Bill Murray and co.

the second hotel to be built in Saas-Fee. In 1951 it was renamed Hotel

Walliserhof. But in May 1976, a catastrophic fire burnt the old hotel to

and plunges back into the Walliserhof

events hall, a tray full of cocktails in one

It was, however, just one of many. The Walliserhof was known for

hosting the most extravagant events and illustrious guests. Barons,

the ground, and in 1978, the property was acquired by the Anthamatten

family, namely brothers Erwin and Albert Anthamatten. The hotel was

An outdoor shot of the building as it looked when operating under the Ferienart name.

hand. It’s the late 80s and a well-known

politicians, actors and singers streamed through its doors, often

rebuilt and finally reopened in 1983. Albert‘s son, Beat Anthamatten

private bank from Geneva is throwing its

partying until the early hours in its club, Le Dancing. At the height of

and his wife Chantal ran the hotel for more than 30 glorious years,

staff party at the exclusive five-star hotel.

its fame, a simple glass of mineral water cost an immodest 12 francs.

operating in recent years, under the name Ferienart Resort and Spa.

Former hotel manager Beat Anthamatten

TV shows were filmed there, fashion shows were hosted, even Holly-

Now, the couple has finally retired from the hotel, and this winter

has put on a luxurious beach-themed

wood dropped in. Part of the Bill Murray movie “The Razor‘s Edge”

it celebrates its reopening as the Walliserhof Grand Hotel and Spa.

party, complete with sand, a colourful sea

of umbrellas, and waiting staff decked

was filmed at the hotel. Thanks to a spate of food poisoning in India,

where they had been shooting scenes in the Himalayas, the whole

Fink, the hotel’s new director, knows and appreciates hotel’s

long history, and its importance to the village. But he wants to shift

CrossFit box and more

out in beachwear. The party went down

crew had to leave prematurely. They landed on Saas-Fee as the

the focus: “I don’t see myself as the director of a business in isolation,

The new Walliserhof will be a boon for the whole town, not just its

in legend and is still talked about in the

stand-in. And so, approximately 45 members of the cast and crew

but rather as part of a whole destination. It‘s not just about me and

guests. The fitness and spa area has been doubled in size. The gym

village today.

stayed in the Walliserhof for three weeks. During which time, Bill

my team, or even the Walliserhof. It‘s about Saas-Fee – the whole

is fitted with the latest equipment, including a CrossFit box - the first

Murray felt so at home that he even played a DJ set in Le Dancing.

town succeeds together!”

in a 5-star hotel in Switzerland. The whole wellness area totals more

than 2,000 square metres – it’s on a whole new scale for Saas-Fee.

Fink says the facilities are not only aimed at visiting sports teams,

A photograph of Saas-Fee circa 1916. On the left,

you can see the original Grand Hotel Belle Vue.

but also a great opportunity for locals. “If you are serious about sport,”

he continues, “this is the perfect place to train.“

The refurbishment has left practically no stone unturned, and

the whole building now shines with new splendour. However, there

are one or two things that have been left untouched, for the better.

The exceptional hospitality will, of course, remain a cornerstone. As

will its renowned restaurant, Caesar Ritz. Many of the Ferienart’s

employees too have been carried over, so regulars will be sure to see

some familiar faces.

Walliserhof Grand-Hotel & Spa*****

Dorfweg 1, Saas-Fee

+41 27 958 19 00

walliserhof-saasfee.ch

34

Fink, the hotel’s new director, knows and appreciates hotel’s long history, and its

importance to the village. But he wants to shift the focus: “It‘s not just about me and

my team, or even the Walliserhof. It‘s about Saas-Fee – the whole town succeeds

together!”

35


THE REX REBORN

Saas-Fee has a new arts centre. The old

Rex cinema has been carefully redesigned,

and from 7th December 2019, a wide

cultural offering will be coming to the

glacier village.

Text: Christoph Gysel

Photo: Puzzle Media

In a delightful stroke of luck for Saas-Fee, German theatre actor, director

and producer Michael Klemm has settled in the Saas Valley. And he’s

not just here to enjoy his retirement with wife Nadja and dog Jonny. No,

he wants to make waves, to bring something big to this special town.

As a true man of the theatre, he has come with a vivid vision:

“Our mission in Saas-Fee should be to offer quality entertainment,

complete with a surprise or two. Above all, we want to give locals and

guests alike a cultural hub, one that they might not expect to find at

1,800 metres up.”

The beautiful natural surroundings and welcoming people are

what drew the Klemms to the Saas Valley in the first place. Their

story is reminiscent of that of the great writer Carl Zuckmayer, who,

like Michael Klemm, came from Rheinhessen and found a home in

Saas-Fee.

Programme

7 th December–22 nd December

The Little Prince (8 performances)

31 st December–2 nd February

She’s So Lovely (12 performances)

14 nd February–1 st March

Road to Woodstock (10 performances)

13 th March–22 nd March

Singer and Songwriter Music Festival

30 th March–5 th April

Film festival

Michael Klemm has big plans for The Rex as a new cultural centre in Saas-Fee.

The reopening of The Rex is due to take place on 7 th December, following

completion of the renovations. In addition to a refurbished auditorium,

they’ve added a charming new bistro for guests to enjoy, as well as

backstage areas with dressing rooms and a technical preparation

area. Owners Egon and Barbara Lehner, and operations manager

Michael Klemm are looking forward to presenting a broad cultural

offering to guests and locals alike. At The Rex you can look forward

to plays, films, concerts, and book readings. The first play, “The Little

Prince,” will be the curtain up for the new venue on 7 th December 2019.

Local professional actor Gabriel Zurbriggen will also be in attendance.

The new 165-seat Rex will be a perfect place to get together,

with its variety of theatrical and musical performances as well as the

very best of film. To experience such diverse cultural offerings amid

the highest four-thousanders is quite unique – just one more reason

to visit the Saas Valley.

36 37


39


EHC Saastal has been playing in the First

Division for 32 years. The club is the last in

Switzerland still training under open skies.

Get close enough to smell the action

EHC Saastal’s legendary home arena, Wichel, is one of a kind. It’s

an outdoor rink, making the club the only first division side in the

country still playing under open skies. And it’s the closest you’ll

ever be to the action. So close, that you can see every detail, the

puck, the players. You’re almost close enough to smell the stars in

action. So it’s no wonder that the Wichel rink is ranked among the

top 10 cult sites in the world of Swiss sport.

You can buy tickets for the ice

hockey games directly at the

evening box office at Wichel. For

game dates please consult

ehc-saastal.ch

I have always admired the EHC Saastal

ice hockey players. They are top-level

athletes who fear no opponent and

shy from no weather. Ice hockey itself

is thrilling. The combination of speed,

skill, and fighting spirit is hard to match.

Of course, the older and slower one

becomes, the faster these athletes seem

to fly across the rink as the puck flicks

from one player to another.

A visionary ice hockey president

As a small mountain valley with limited resources, the fact that this

Saas team plays in the first division is truly remarkable. Numerous

dedicated people are making it happen, including their unrelenting

president, Barbara Anthamatten. The board, the ice rink staff, the

cooks, the coaching teams and many more all play a huge role

in their success. The president is one of many who dream of a

home rink where games could be played whatever the weather.

An indoor rink could also offer holiday-goers an indoor alternative

for bad weather days. After a short meeting with the unrelenting

Club President, one is convinced that that this is far more than a

pipedream, within just a few years of becoming a reality.

The various EHC Saastal teams are made up of more than

160 players of all ages. The fact that this small mountain club has

been able to keep its place in the first league for an admirable

32 years has much to do with its superb youth programme which

currently boasts a total of six EHC Saastal youth teams... in a valley

of just 3,000 inhabitants.

The woman who made ice hockey history

EHC Saastal is an exceptional ice hockey club in many ways: it

has its famous open-air ice rink; it has a female president, a rare

thing even nowadays; and its goalkeeper is Sophie Anthamatten,

now 28. She is the female goalkeeper of a first league team. For 13

years, the president’s daughter has stood guard in the Saaser goal.

She won the bronze medal with the Swiss Women‘s Team at the

2012 World Championships and again in the 2014 Olympic Games.

Then, at the beginning of last winter, she became the first woman

to score in the Swiss Cup against a National League club (Geneve-

Servette), thus writing her name in the ice hockey history books.

A must-visit

An ice hockey match under open skies, up close and personal,

is certainly an experience not to be missed. But the legendary

Wichel rink offers so much more than the chance to enjoy thrilling

matches. During the day the ice is open for guests; and if it takes

your fancy you can enjoy a spot of curling, the oldest of the ice

sports, with games organized by the tourist board.

AN IMPRESSIVE SPECTACLE

The Saas Valley offers countless opportunities

to enjoy the ice, including watching

high-level sport. “Wichel” is the name given to

the storied outdoor ice rink in Saas-Grund.

Text: Christoph Gysel

Photos: Puzzle Media

Barbara Anthamatten, Club President, makes it all happen.

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SAAS-FEE’S MAGICAL CHRISTMAS MARKET

Winter in Saas-Fee is picture-perfect:

sun-kissed and blanketed in snow,

it’s magical. The sixth edition of the Christmas

market brings out the charm in the

village square, with its twinkling lights, vibrant

colours, and amazing aromas.

Text: Nicole Bielander

Photo: levin.studio

The market, which takes place on the third weekend of advent

each year, is a very special event. Exhibitors at this crafts market

offer lovingly handcrafted products. Sisters Erika Zurbriggen

and Bernadette Bolli can be found at their neighbouring stands.

Erika sells her mother‘s colourful hand-knitted SUN caps, handcarved

models of animals like the local black-headed sheep and

goats, wooden angels, and ornate wooden nativity scenes carved

by her husband. From mid-November to the end of the year, she

also exhibits her original nativity scenes in Sun Flower, her shop

in Saas-Grund. Meanwhile, her sister Bernadette offers natural,

organic products such as ointments, tinctures, herbal salts and

herbal tea, the ingredients for which she forages with her mother.

Foraged natural products featuring local alpine plants can

also be found at several other stands, including that of Trudy Senn.

Visitors will also find hand-knitted scarves and crocheted headbands

which can be individually personalised. At the Wollnadelfee

(knitting fairy) stand, an assortment of products awaits eager

shoppers, including woollen and textile accessories as well as

greeting cards.

Of course, there are all sorts of delicacies to tempt visitors’

tastebuds too. Pierre-André Schwab, for one, offers home-made food,

including fine terrines. Beyond that, the market has plenty of freshly

baked goods like pear strudels and even home-brewed liqueurs.

This winter, wander from stand to stand, browsing for

presents and other goodies. For the little ones, there will be a

children‘s cinema, storytelling, and face painting available on both

days. They also have the chance to paint their own shopping bags

or create glittery paper stars, which is sure to get them in the

Christmas spirit. The market is open from 4 pm on 13 th and 14 th

December.

13 th /14 th Dezember

from 4 pm

saas-fee.ch/wiehnachtsmaert

shopping paradise

saas-fee

A REAL

GIFT IDEA

At the Christmas market, you’ll find unique

gifts, all handmade and special.

Surprise your loved ones with a gift voucher from Shopping Paradise Saas-Fee.

Valid to spend in all Shopping Paradise Saas-Fee partner establishments. The

vouchers, worth CHF 10.-, 20.-, 50,-, and 100.- are available for purchase by cash

only at the Saas-Fee Tourist Office.

42 43


THE TIRELESS PASTOR

Tourism pioneer. Hotelier. Mountain guide.

Botanist. Father Johann Josef Imseng

(1806-1869) filled the winter months with

scientific work that is still admired to this day.

Text: Christoph Gysel

Photo: Saastal Tourismus AG

The Saas Valley’s pioneer of tourism never saw winter as an excuse

to take a break. Even when he had no guests to entertain, Father

Imseng kept himself busy. He goes down in history as the firstever

skier in the Alps. On 20 th December 1849, the valley pastor,

who was living in Saas-Fee at the time, fastened two boards to his

mountain boots and skied down to Saas-Grund as quickly as he

could to care for a dying man.

But that wasn’t all. Father Johann Josef Imseng was also a

scientist and he used the less busy winter months for numerous

research projects. Canon Berchtold of Sion inspired him with his

works, and as time went by, Imseng spent more and more time on

his research. He studied the formation of the Saas Valley’s glaciers,

their historical ebb and flow and the impact of these changes

on the topography of the Saas Valley. He catalogued the various

geographical features of the Saas Valley: its mountain ranges,

passes, glaciers, and alps. The valley floor and its villages and

hamlets were also noted down. He logged the various paths as well

as what land was cultivated, and uncultivable, as well as examining

the forests in depth. He described each village in detail and noted

the location of each building within.

The pastor also knew the ins and outs of the Saas Valley’s

flora and its healing properties like no other. He was a great scientist

of the time. In fact, many of his works are still relevant today, some

of which can be found in the ‘Saaser Chronicle’. Imseng, a treasured

natural scientist. A theologian true to his faith. A great person, and

still an inspiration today.

Dorfweg 1

3901 Saas-Fee

Improve your Health and Fitness in the heart of the Swiss alps

24 Hours Open Gym | Personal Training | Group Trainings

www.crossfit-saas-fee.ch

info@crossfit-saas-fee.ch

Find us at Hotel

Walliserhof Grand-Hotel & Spa

An oil portrait of the young Pastor Johann Josef Imseng (1806-1869).

According to the owner, both the artist and date are unknown.

The memorial exhibition marks the

150 th anniversary of Pastor Johann

Josef Imseng’s death:

Old Rectory Altes Pfarrhaus,

Saas-Grund

8:30 am to 8:00 pm

pfarrer-johann-josef-imseng.ch

The exhibition book is available

from all tourist offices in the valley.

SAASTAL

WITH LOVE

44

erlebnisbank.ch/liebe

45


Christoph’s column

THE THINGS GLACIERS LEAVE BEHIND

As the glaciers retreat, they reveal their

hidden secrets. Discover the intriguing and

macabre stories our glaciers have to tell.

With the BLS Lötschberg

Car Transport to the Valais

The retreating glaciers reveal extraordinary things. Objects can be

transported in glacial flow for decades on end. Until one day, what’s

been trapped is finally released along with the summer meltwater.

We’ve found all sorts. In the past, backpacks full of cigarettes have

emerged, dumped in crevasses by smugglers on the run from the

law. In 2018, a propeller emerged on the Gauli Glacier; it turned out

to be part of a Dakota which crashed back in 1946. The passengers

all survived; the plane, however, got snowed in and disappeared

into the ice for more than 50 years.

Last year, the Valais History Museum in Sion hosted an

exhibition titled “Icy memories – vestiges in danger.” The book

“400 Jahre im Gletschereis” (400 years in glacier ice) describes

a particularly special find: the belongings carried by a mercenary

who is believed to have fallen into a crevasse on the Theodul

Pass near Zermatt back in the 17th century. Among a collection of

personal items, the find included his sword, several knives, coins, a

pocket watch, and a small shoehorn…

The glaciers can reveal some truly incredible - and sometimes

eerie - things: munitions of war, smuggled goods, mountain equipment,

even corpses that have spent decades locked in the ice.

I discovered references to this phenomenon and more during

my studies of old Walser legends. It was only around 200 years ago

that mountaineering came to grow in popularity and enterprising

Englishmen together with young, courageous locals began to climb

the Valley’s four-thousanders. Before then, even the inhabitants

of mountainous regions avoided the perils of the mountains and

their glaciers wherever they could. Because up there, it was said,

lived evil spirits and demons – thousands upon thousands of them,

banished to the neverending glaciers to pay for their misdeeds.

It’s one thing for the glaciers to retreat and reveal the secrets

hidden within. Aeroplane propellers, knives, coins, and cigarettes

are not particularly alarming. Corpses are certainly more sinister.

But if you believed spirits and demons trapped in the ice might

suddenly be freed, that could give you a real fright...

Of course, local superstitions are no longer as widespread

today as they were in the past. I certainly don’t know anyone who

would reject their thirteenth month’s salary...

Christoph Gysel, President of the Saas-Fee/Saastal Tourism Association and Pastor of

the Reformed Church of the Saas Valley. Photo: levin.studio

Timetable changes owing to

refurbishment work:

bls.ch/autoverladloetschberg

46

47


CUISINE

Eating in the Saas mountains

50

Valais pear fondue with air-dried beef

Beetroot and ginger soup 53

52

Pumpkin gnocchi with sage butter 56

How a poor man’s soup

became a gourmet classic

57

The Steinhütte Längfluh (front) and Längfluh

mountain restaurant (back). Find out

what is served in each on the next page. Picture: Finnegan Laver

48

49


EATING IN THE SAAS MOUNTAINS

What is a day on the slopes or hiking in the

mountains without stopping off for a warming

pick-me-up somewhere local? The Saas ski

area and its most popular winter hiking trails

are home to a plethora of places to warm up

and enjoy a delicious meal.

Text: Lotti Blum

SAAS-FEE

Revolving restaurant Allalin

Situated at 3,500 metres above sea level, it is the highest revolving

restaurant in the world. It offers both regional and international

cuisine served in front of the ever-changing backdrop of the

surrounding mountains. This winter, the chef’s specials include the

Saas beef tartare with rye bread and pickles, Saas veal stew with

Genepi and potato mash, and gnocchi in cheese sauce, with celery,

cabbage and walnuts. We’d also recommend Grosi‘s ‘first-aid kit’

for dessert, perfect for those with a sweet tooth.

+41 77 459 30 71

drehrestaurant@saas-fee.ch

saas-fee.ch/drehrestaurant

Opening hours:

Daily 9 am–4 pm

Mountain restaurant Alpenblick

This restaurant, with its beautiful terrace, can be reached on foot

from Saas-Fee, even in the winter months. A favourite haunt of

famous German author Carl Zuckmayer, the Alpenblick is known

for its Swiss cuisine and homemade cakes. The tasty Saaser sausage,

made with meat from local Eringer cattle, served with rösti

and apricot chutney is an absolute must-have.

+41 76 539 32 78

info@alpenblick-saasfee.ch

alpenblick-saasfee.ch

Britannia Hut

Opening hours:

11 th December to 26 th April,

9 am–5 pm

Closed Tuesdays, except for

24th & 31st December

The Britannia Hut, at 3,030 metres above sea level, is one of the

most visited SAC huts. Hut manager Dario calls it „the hut that

never sleeps.“ As well as the terrace with its magnificent views of

the surrounding mountains, the hut offers guests röstis, fondue, and

cakes. In winter, it is around an hour and a half hike to the hut from

the top of the Felskinn cable car. Those with skis or snowboards can

reach the hut via the t-bar lift to Egginerjoch in about 15 minutes.

+41 27 957 22 88

info@britannia.ch

britannia.ch

Opening hours:

from 5 th March

daily, all-day

Mountain restaurant Felskinn

This mountain restaurant serves a variety of homemade dishes and

offers a sheltered terrace with panoramic views at 3,000 metres

above sea level. It can be reached via the Alpin Express and Felskinn

cable cars.

+41 79 231 27 58

bf3000.saas-fee@gmx.ch

+41 27 957 14 19

info@morenia.ch

Opening hours: subject

to cable car operating hours

Mountain restaurant Gletschergrotte

This cosy, traditional restaurant has a beautiful sun terrace. It can

be found in the Spielboden area, right next to the piste. Offerings

include typical Swiss cuisine, seasonal delicacies and a selection

of cakes. Winter specialities include house-smoked venison

carpaccio, Valais “Cholera” (a savoury stuffed puff pastry), the

mega burger, and new for this winter, a veggie burger.

+41 27 957 21 60

info@gletschergrotte.ch

gletschergrotte.ch

Mountain restaurant Terminus Plattjen

The Terminus Plattjen mountain restaurant is located at the

summit of the Plattjen gondola 2,570 metres above sea level. It

offers a combination of Swiss and international cuisine. Whether

you choose to sit in the restaurant or on the terrace, to make the

most of its view of the surrounding four-thousanders, you can feast

on tortilla wraps, burgers, and cheese fondue made with a secret

house-blend of cheeses.

+41 27 957 15 16

lodigiani@plattjen.com

plattjen.com

Mountain restaurant Hannig

Opening hours:

daily from 9 am to 5 pm (hot

food served until 4 pm)

Opening hours: from 21st

December subject to the Plattjen

cable car operating hours

The restaurant at 2340 metres above sea level is a popular

destination for winter hikers and sledging fans. Enjoy a fondue, a

currywurst or a nice dessert on their panorama terrace with views

on the surrounding mountain peaks and the town of Saas-Fee

Opening hours:

from 21 st December subject to

cable car operating hours

Steinhütte Längfluh

Soups, and hot and cold snacks can be found at the Längfluh

mountain hut. The large terrace offers fantastic views of the valley

and the Fee Glacier, as well as the peaks of the Mischabel chain.

+41 79 417 68 16

laengfluh@saas-fee.ch

Opening hours:

Mountain restaurant Längfluh

This self-service restaurant with a terrace sits at 2,870 metres

above sea level and offers both international and traditional Swiss

cuisine. Enjoy the unique view with a plate of fresh meatloaf, crisp

salads, and tempting desserts. There’s plenty on offer with a daily

changing menu.

+41 79 417 68 16

laengfluh@saas-fee.ch

+41 27 957 18 81

info@morenia.ch

morenia.ch

from 21 st December to 19 th April

subject to cable car operating

hours

Mountain restaurant Morenia

Opening hours:

from 21 st December

8:45 am to 4:15 pm

This large restaurant, known for its spacious terrace, sits right in

the middle of the Saas-Fee resort, at 2,550 metres above sea level.

A self-service restaurant, it offers a huge selection of hot dishes

and a generous salad buffet.

Opening hours:

Mountain restaurant Spielboden

daily from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm

This restaurant, with its scenic sun terrace, offers an ever-changing

winter and spring menu. Dishes range from trendy poké bowls with

rice or quinoa to more simple meat and vegetable dishes and even

a seafood Bolognese. Barbecues in the snow and various other

events evenings guarantee an unforgettable visit to Bergrestaurant

Spielboden.

+41 27 957 22 12

spielboden.ch

SAAS-GRUND

Mountain restaurant Hohsaas

Opening hours: 8:30 am to 4:15

pm, from 21 st December

On this mountain restaurant’s sun terrace, which sits at 3,200

metres, you will be spoiled with a selection of cold and warm Valais

specialities. Whether you are looking for an overnight break during

a long mountain hike, or you want to be the first to hit the slopes in

the morning, this restaurant has the cosy rooms to make it happen.

+41 27 957 29 45

+41 78 789 07 87

info@hohsaas-bergrestaurant.ch

hohsaas-bergrestaurant.ch

Opening hours: subject to the

cable car operating hours

Weissmies hut

The Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) Weissmies hut at 2,726 metres above

sea level is situated on the west side of the Lagginhorn. It is the

starting point for a number of tours, and can be reached by marked

trails from the Kreuzboden and Hohsaas cable car stations. House

specialities include Saaser [italics] meat soup and spaghetti with

wine and cheese sauce.

+41 27 957 25 54

huette@weissmieshuette.ch

weissmieshuette.ch

Panorama restaurant Kreuzboden

Even at 2,400 metres above sea level, this restaurant can be easily

accessed via the gondola from Saas Grund. On the terrace, you

can enjoy delicious homemade tarte flambée, with toppings of

mushrooms, and classic or vegetarian options. All of this comes

alongside stunning views of the Mischabel chain. The chef

recommends the “hot stone” grilled meat.

+41 27 957 29 45

hohsaas.ch

Opening hours: 14 th and 15 th

and from 21 st December to

26 th April from 9 am–3:30 pm

Opening hours:

from 14 th December

restaurant.kreuzboden@hohsaas.info daily from 9 am to 4 pm

SAAS-ALMAGELL

Mountain restaurant Alpina

This restaurant, located in the hamlet of Furggstalden at almost

1,900 metres altitude, offers Valais specialities and home-cooking

style dishes such as cordon bleu on its scenic sun terrace. On night

sledging evenings it hosts themed dinners from 7:00 pm to 9:45 pm; on

“Game Evening,” for example, they serve meat hunted by their team.

+41 79 607 33 10

info@bergrestaurant-alpina.ch

Bergrestaurant-alpina.ch

saas-fee.ch/nachtschlitteln

Opening hours: subject

Mountain restaurant Furggstalden

to the cable car operating times

This rustic mountain hotel, restaurant and terrace is located in the

middle of the Saas-Almagell ski area. The menu includes fondue

chinoise (meat fondue), and bourguignonne, as well as steaks

cooked on an original Beefer high-temperature grill, which cooks

meat to perfection at 800°C. A shuttle service is available upon

request for guests visiting after the chairlift has closed.

+41 27 957 55 55

landenmatt61@gmail.com

furggstalden.ch

Mountain restaurant Heidbodme

Opening hours: from 21 st

December to 29 th March, subject

to the cable car timetable or by

prior agreement by telephone

This restaurant’s terrace, positioned at 2,400 metres above sea

level, offers a unique panoramic view over the Saas Valley. The

house speciality is rösti, of which there are in 18 different varieties

on offer. Raclette and fondue are also definite favourites. Corporate

and family events, including torchlight skiing and snowshoe hikes,

can be arranged on request.

+41 79 174 02 20

olapawelczak@yahoo.de

Opening hours: 9 am

to 4 pm from

21 st December to 29 th March

50

51


VALAIS PEAR FONDUE WITH AIR-DRIED BEEF

BEETROOT AND GINGER SOUP

Ingredients

1 shallot

80g

mushrooms

80g

sliced Valais Trockenfleisch

(air-dried beef )

1 large pear

1 tsp butter

400g

Valais Bergkäse

(mountain cheese)

400g

strong Emmental cheese

2 tbsp corn starch

500ml Valais white wine, for example,

Fendant or Johannisberg

1 glass pear schnapps

1 tbsp lemon juice

400g

ground pepper to taste

whole grain or white bread,

cut into bite-sized chunks

Method

Finely chop the shallot, slice the mushrooms, cut the dried meat

into thin strips and slice the pear into small cubes. Roughly grate

the cheeses.

Heat the butter in a fondue pot, add the shallot and saute for a few

minutes. Then add the mushrooms, dried meat, and pear, and cook

for two to three minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

Add the cheese to the hot fondue pot along with the cornstarch

and mix. Then add the wine and lemon juice, and continue to stir,

bringing the mixture to a gentle simmer before reducing the heat.

Continue to simmer, stirring well until all the cheese has melted.

Add the pear schnapps and season. Serve the fondue immediately

on its gas burner, adding the warm shallot mixture as a topping. If

eating with children, you can replace the wine with non-alcoholic

cider (or dry apple and pear juice) and leave out the schnapps.

Photo: Shutterstock

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, roughly chopped

1 clove garlic, roughly chopped

1 ½ tbsp ginger, roughly chopped

750g

cooked beetroot, in cubes

1 ¼ litres water

1 tsp dukkah (spice mix)

1 tsp salt

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

To garnish

crème fraîche or cream

40g

pecans

2 tbsp flax seeds

4 tbsp sugar

½ tbsp fresh lemon juice

Photo: Shutterstock

Method

Start by dry roasting the nuts and flax seeds in a frying pan over

medium heat. Then add the sugar and lemon juice and continue to

cook until the sugar has dissolved and coated the nuts. Promptly

transfer the nuts to a sheet of baking paper, spread them out and

leave them to cool. Once chilled, roughly chop the candied nuts.

Heat the oil in a pan and then add the onion, garlic, and ginger.

Sauté the mixture until the onions are translucent, then add the

beetroot, and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the water and

bring everything to a boil. Season with the dukkah and salt, and

simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes. Just before it’s done,

add the lemon juice and simmer for a few more minutes. Puree the

soup before serving in bowls. Garnish with some crème fraîche (or

cream) and the candied nuts.

52

53


54

55


PUMPKIN GNOCCHI WITH SAGE BUTTER

Ingredients

700g

pumpkin

2 tbsp olive oil

½ tsp

salt

350g

flour

50g

grated parmesan

1 egg yolk

1 pinch cinnamon

1 pinch nutmeg

pepper

30g

butter

20 fresh sage leaves

Method

parmesan

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Cut the pumpkin (skin

on) into chunks approximately three centimetres thick. Add them

to a bowl with some oil and salt, mix well and spread evenly over a

baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for about 30 minutes in

the centre of the oven.

Once cooked, press the hot pumpkin with its skin still on through a

potato ricer and leave it to cool.

Add the flour, parmesan and egg yolk to the pumpkin puree and

season with cinnamon and nutmeg, mix, then knead well until the

mixture forms a smooth dough.

Then, on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a long, thin

sausage shape approximately one and a half centimetres in diameter.

Cut each roll into pieces about one centimetre long. Roll

each piece of dough over the prongs of a fork, using your thumb

to create a grooved pattern in the gnocchi. Set the gnocchi to one

side on a floured surface until you are ready to cook it.

To cook the gnocchi, place them in gently boiling salted water until

they rise to the surface. Remove the gnocchi with a slotted spoon

and let them dry.

Finally, heat the butter in a frying pan and add the gnocchi along

with the sage leaves. Fry everything together for around five

minutes.

HOW A POOR MAN’S SOUP BECAME A GOURMET CLASSIC

Saas meat soup: an insider tip for gourmets.

This Saas speciality has grown somewhat

more luxurious than it was in the past, and

even more tempting than ever.

Text: Christoph Gysel

Photo: Shutterstock

Some dishes which have been traditionally thought of as paupers’

fare have grown to become culinary classics. The most obvious

local examples are Valais raclette and cheese fondue. In earlier

days, when farmers returned to their alpine pastures for the summer

and found dried out cheeses from the previous year in their huts,

there was no way they were letting the old cheese go to waste.

In these times of extreme poverty, a ‘waste not, want not’ thrift

was key: nothing edible was thrown away. Even if the cheese had

hardened so much that a knife wouldn’t do, even if only a hatchet

would go through it. In that case, the pieces of hacked apart

cheese would be placed in a pan and heated over the fire until

they melted. This was where our beloved fondue originated, eaten

with jacket potatoes. If the cheese simply couldn’t be chopped, the

whole wheel would be held over the fire. The melting cheese could

then be scraped off and eaten alongside potatoes. The result was

what we now call a raclette. Born out of necessity in poorer times,

these dishes became well known and loved.

The history of Saaser Fleischsuppe (Saas meat soup) of the past

is somewhat distant from what we enjoy today. Calling it meat soup

at all back then was certainly stretching the definition of meat. The

Saas folk of the past used every single part of the animals they

slaughtered, even using the bones several times over. They added

rock-hard bread to the ever-thinner bouillon. So hard, in fact, that

it had to be chopped with a “Brothacker” (a kind of axe). Some sort

of dry cheese or possibly a cheese rind followed. At times, they

might also add some potatoes. The soup of the poor was filling if

not much else.

Today, Saaser meat soup is a speciality. It can be found in

various restaurants in the Saas Valley but it’s starkly different from

the old days. Today‘s gourmet chefs use high-quality bouillon, fresh,

pillowy bread and delicious cheese blends. I wanted a detailed

recipe for this Saas delicacy to publish in this magazine, but none

of the chefs I asked would tell me theirs. Trade secret. They all

admitted to using bouillon, bread, and cheese, but that was the end

of the conversation.

So those of you wanting to discover this traditional Saas

speciality have no choice but to go out and try it for yourselves.

This author would be grateful for your recommendations.

Serve with parmesan to taste.

Photo: Shutterstock

56

57


ACTIVE

High up the ice wall

Ice climbing in the Saas Valley

The ever-changing path

A special experience: glacier trekking

62

Snowshoeing on glacial moraine

60

64

FAMILIES

Kian the Dragon’s Adventureland for kids

Kids’ Days/Kids’ Week

69

68

Photo: Finnegan Laver

59


HIGH UP THE ICE WALL

In January, the world’s best ice climbers

compete at the Ice Climbing World Cup in

Saas-Fee. But the Saas Valley’s ice walls

have plenty to offer for beginners as well as

the professionals.

Text: Patrick Gasser

Photos: Saastal Tourismus AG

For the athletes participating in the UIAA (Union Internationale

des Associations d‘Alpinisme) World Cup (run by the International

Climbing and Mountaineering Federation), the Saas-Fee stop is

the highlight of the annual event calendar. Nowhere else can the

spectators get so close to the action. The atmosphere is legendary,

and so is the afterparty. This winter, on the 24th and 25 th January

2020, the multistorey car park in Saas-Fee will once again become

a cathedral to climbing. Hundreds of spectators will hang on

every moment as the athletes take on the 32-metre-tall ice wall

found in the belly of the multistorey car park. The cheering crowd

can be almost deafening at times. During the 2019 edition, they

nearly raised the roof when Swiss competitor Yannick Glatthard

took to the wall, eventually winning the event in the face of stiff

competition from Eastern Europe and Asia. “The atmosphere here

is sensational. I‘ve never experienced anything like it,” the 21-yearold

said in his winner‘s interview.

Beginners welcome

Having seen the pros in action, you’re bound to want to try ice

climbing for yourself. And there are more than 20 ice walls in the

Saas Valley with varying difficulty levels and plenty to challenge

even the most experienced climbers. But for beginners, the walls in

and around the Saas-Fee multistorey car park are extremely popular.

These sheltered walls also provide an ideal place to practise at

night and when the weather is bad. The best way to start is with

lessons. Local mountain guides provide support and show you how

it’s done, sharing the most important tips and tricks. Fun comes

first but there’s no denying that climbing is a challenge, especially

for beginners. But that makes it all the more satisfying when you

do finally master the ice.Ice climbing equipment and techniques

differ significantly from rock climbing, though a climbing harness

and rope are still essential. An ice axe in each hand and crampons

on your feet provide purchase on the ice.

MISTRAL

HOTEL RESTAURANT SAAS FEE

REGIONAL - SEASONAL - FRESH

Reservation: +41 (0) 27 958 92 10, www.hotel-mistral.ch, info@hotel-mistral.ch

Chalchofen: an icy paradise

Directly behind the cable car station in Saas-Grund, you will find

the Chalchofen ice climbing garden. This is another great place

with plenty of options for beginners to take their first steps.

Although, the secured top rope routes offer plenty for intermediates

and advanced climbers too. Thanks to floodlights, the routes here

are good to be climbed well into the evening. And under the lights,

the icy walls shine in all their glimmering glory.

Ice Climbing World Cup

24 th /25 th January, car park Saas-Fee

saas-fee.ch/ice-climbing

at

HOTEL BRISTOL

Contact the local mountain guide

offices for more information about ice

climbing in the Saas Valley.

INFO / REGISTRATION +41 78 790 13 98

FOLLOW US

YOGA HOUSE SAAS-FEE

YOGAHOUSESAASFEE

Every year, in January, the world‘s best athletes compete in

the Ice Climbing World Cup. It all takes place on the 32-metre-tall ice wall

in Saas-Fee’s multistorey car park.

STUNDENPLAN / TIMETABLE

HOTEL-BRISTOL-SAAS-FEE.CH

60


THE EVER-CHANGING PATH

The Saas Valley mountains offer a rare

opportunity to get close to glaciers. A guided

mountain tour on the Fee Glacier

is the perfect way to get even closer.

Text: Patrick Gasser

Snow crunches under our snowshoes.

From a distance, we are but specks on the

huge field of white that is the Fee Glacier.

Precipitous walls of ice tower overhead,

shimmering like giant sapphires.

The glaciers have been a big part

of life in the Saas Valley for centuries.

Back in the 1930s, schoolchildren would

hack off chunks of our ice giants to take

back to the village in wicker baskets and

sell to the local hotels to keep things

cool. Eventually, though, electricity

and refrigerators made this practice

redundant. Every summer, shepherds

redirected the glacial meltwater to their

pastures. Such artificial flooding kept

the meadows green and the soil fertile,

thanks to the nutrient-rich sediments

the meltwater transports.

Unending fascination

For the glaciers, winter is a time of rest and recovery. The meltwater

that flows down from the valley via the Vispa and Rhone rivers to

the Mediterranean stops flowing. Meanwhile, the snow builds up,

metres deep under our snowshoes. And just as energy bars keep

us going on a tour of the glacier, snow re-energizes and replenishes

the glacier. Locals and guests alike remain unwaveringly fascinated

with the ice world, year-round. Luckily for many, the ski slopes on

the Fee Glacier remain open almost all year. As a result, Saas-Fee

is one of the most important summer training bases in the world for

winter sports professionals.

A victim of climate change

Our glacier tour takes us to the quieter parts of the glacier, away

from the pistes and the usual hustle and bustle of aprés ski which

is already well underway in the village below. The only sounds we

can hear are our footsteps and the rhythm of our own breathing. It’s

an oasis of calm at the foot of the Mischabel chain. But despite the

silence, the Längfluh mountain restaurant is in sight. There, we’ll

enjoy a generous Walliserteller (a selection of Valais specialities)

and a refreshing glass of white wine.

They’re a way of life, a vital resource, and so much more.

Beyond being the much-loved subject of many a tourist’s photo,

these ice giants are an indicator that our planet is warming, and fast.

In the 1860s the Fee Glacier reached down into the valley, where

the Felskinn cable car station sits today. Since then, the ice sheet

has been disappearing. The worldwide retreat of glaciers has been

accelerating in recent years. In fact, ETH Zurich‘s measurements

show that during just a few weeks of the hot summers of 2017 and

2018, Swiss glaciers lost as much as two to three percent of their

remaining mass.

For a tour please contact one

of the local mountain guide offices.

saas-fee.ch/bergfuehrer

After a short rest, we resume our trek. A thunderous roar in the

distance pierces the silence. An avalanche has been triggered

by the fierce midday sun. The tumbling snow plunges down the

cliffs of the Täschhorn, coming to a halt on the upper slopes of the

glacier. That will nourish the glacier during the draining summer

months.

A formative experience

The ice on the Fee Glacier is still up to 80 metres thick. It’s one

of those places you can truly feel the power of nature. Mountain

guides offer guided tours over the ice year-round. The starting point

for these glacier explorations is at the Längfluh mountain station.

And thanks to the new gondola, it only takes about 20 minutes

to reach the 2,800-metre-high station from the village. Just a few

metres after setting off from that point, you leave the prepared

ski slopes behind. The tour leads between glistening columns of

ice and over crevasses which must be carefully navigated. Many

of these crevasses are more than 20 metres deep, and often, you

need a trained eye to even know they’re there. This route is far too

dangerous to attempt without a mountain guide.

The entire group is roped together via harnesses, with the

guide in the lead. Like a colourful pearl necklace, we navigate the

crevasses as one. Later, at home, we spot ourselves in the images

captured by Längfluh webcam. Thanks to the experience of today’s

mountain guides, this trip over the Fee Glacier is accessible even

for those without any prior experience. Nevertheless, the tour,

which lasts approximately two hours, does require a good level of

physical fitness.

The glacier is constantly moving. It flows slowly but steadily

downwards towards the valley. The friction that results from the

ice’s movement over the rocky mountainside distorts these powerful

rivers of ice, birthing deep crevasses and giant ice towers. Rarely

does one feel as small as when travelling through this bizarre ice

world. One thing is for sure, a journey over the Fee Glacier is an

experience you’ll never forget.

Glacier tours let you experience

the Fee Glacier first-hand. Photo: Adrian Myers

Local mountain guides lead you safely through the

maze of crevasses. Photo: Stefan Kürzi for Bergwelten

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SNOWSHOEING ON GLACIAL MORAINE

We're hiking from Kreuzboden to the

Hohsaas mountain restaurant on snowshoes;

enjoying the fresh powder on the sunny

side of the Saas Valley, and a coffee at the

Weissmies Hut.

Text: Jeannine Zubler

Photos: Puzzle Media

The snow crunches underfoot. Now

and then, laughter drifts towards us

from the ski slopes. I stop for a moment,

squinting in the sunlight. Huge mountain

peaks, freshly covered in snow, tower in

every direction, topped by a clear blue

sky – not a cloud in sight. As I continue,

the terrain gets steeper and I adjust

my climbing equipment to make my

progress comfortable. My destination,

the Weissmies Hut, is in sight. The hourlong

walk has flown by.

The snowshoe trails in the Saas

Valley are well marked with regular

signposts along the entire route. A map

is always a good idea though, if only

for the extra peace of mind. If you want

to start your walk in the sun, take the

gondola to the Kreuzboden and start

from there. But if you’d prefer to log a

bit more vertical, you can always begin

your walk in the valley.

A pitstop at the Weissmies Hut

Roberto, the manager of the hut, serves up Alpine rösti and Saas

soup on the sun terrace, choice fuel for the walk ahead. We’ll need

the energy for the final climb! But we don’t let the impending workout

stop us from sampling his homemade Genepi. Here, at the Weissmies

Hut, skiers, snowshoers and sunbathers come together to indulge.

The Weissmies Hut sits at 2,726 metres above sea level. Built

in 1894 as a mountain hotel, it was always an ambitious project,

dreamt up before the convenience of cable cars and helicopters.

As a result of financial difficulties, the hut was later taken over by

the Olten arm of the Swiss Alpine Club. Since then it has served

as a refuge for climbers and hikers and has been both expanded

and renovated several times. The old hut still stands, a reminder

of simpler times; we revel in our modern-day luxury as we sip

elderberry cordial on the sun terrace.

Your efforts are rewarded with incredible views of 18 four-thousanders.

Do not forget avalanche equipment and warm

clothing. Snowshoes can be

rented from local sports shops.

Snowshoeing in the high alpine

Despite the avalanche kit, my backpack weighs next to nothing – I

don’t need much in the way of provisions today. We climb higher,

under perfect views of the Lagginhorn and Fletschhorn, the trail

leading through the glacial moraine. Recent high winds have swept

away much of the recent snowfall, leaving us from time to time to

search for patches of snow between the rocks. Our guide Enzio

points towards the Lagginjoch, from there you can see as far as Italy.

But today we’re headed for the Hohsaas mountain restaurant with

its unbelievable views of eighteen four-thousanders, the end of this

stretch provides a brilliant viewpoint for watching skiers whizz by

on the Trift Glacier.

Our final destination, though, is the 3,200-metre-high

Hohsaas mountain restaurant, just a few hundred metres away.

The former mountain hut is a modern mountain inn nowadays with

panoramic windows, a restaurant and accommodation for skiers

and mountaineers.

We sit down for a well-earned round of celebratory drinks

on the Hohsaas sun terrace and enjoy the view of the snowy

Weissmies. The vista beggars belief and we wait for the final lift of

the day to return to the valley

This snowshoe tour can be easily adapted to suit any

level of experience and fitness.

Some sections of the tour can be completed by gondola.

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FAMILY WINTER IN THE SAAS VALLEY

Valais is known as the most family-friendly

canton in Switzerland – and we aim to live up

to that reputation. In addition to the many

kids’ activities offered by local ski schools, the

tourist office hosts its fantastic Kids’ Days.

Photo: Vernon Deck

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KIAN THE DRAGON’S ADVENTURELAND FOR KIDS

KIDS’ DAYS

KIDS’ WEEK

13 th /14 th December

27 th December

19 th February

Christmas Market, Saas-Fee

from 4 pm

Dorfplatz (village square), Saas-Fee

Kids’ programme:

saas-fee.ch/weihnachtsmarkt

New year’s crafts party

1:30–3:30 pm

Kreuzboden, Saas-Grund

Carnival party, Saas-Fee

4–5 pm

face painting, Town hall

This year, Bergbahnen Hohsaas (lift company) will be running

special kids’ weeks especially for children (up to year of birth 2014).

The price includes:

−5 days of ski lessons including ski equipment rental and ski

passes;

−5 days of kids’ lunches in either the Kreuzboden Restaurant,

Hohsaas Restaurant, or in the Weissmies Hut;

−for the youngest kids, 5 days of daycare in the Hohsi-Nest nursery

at Kreuzboden.

The 5-day programme costs CHF 70.- per child.

28 th February

10 th April

5–6 pm

Kids’ disco, Dorfplatz

Visit Kian’s Adventureland

1:30–3:30 pm

Furggstalden, Saas-Almagell

Easter egg painting

4:30–6 pm

School hall, Saas-Fee

Registration at the Tourist Office until

11.00 am on Friday, 10 th April

+41 27 958 18 58, CHF 5.- / child

13 th January–17 th January

20 th January–24 th January

09 th March–13 th March

Snowsports School Saas-Grund

+41 79 689 67 55

skischule@saastal.ch

!

saas-fee.ch/kidsdays

Kian‘s Adventureland is an attraction for the whole family.

The Furggstalden ski area above Saas-Almagell is home to Kian the

Dragon. He’s built an adventure park right next to the nursery slope,

where you can ski amongst the dragons, penguins, lions and other

animal friends. And the fun doesn’t stop there. At the end of the run,

you can visit the teepee, and the ball pool as well. Don’t miss the

children’s films on show in the igloo, or the free snow tubing track

where the whole family can race down the slope on huge rubber

rings. There are also children‘s Skidoos available every day from

1:30 to 3:30 pm: seven laps of our special track cost CHF 5.-. For

the really little ones, there is a playground with a merry-go-round

and comfortable seating for the adults.

Kids and adults alike can also enjoy Kian‘s treasure hunt. Collect

a treasure map for CHF 6.- at the mountain railway in Saas-

Almagell, to help locate the five treasure chests hidden around the

Furggstalden ski area. Find them all and you can pick up your prize

from the lift station.

Every Wednesday is face painting day, where our littlest

guests get the chance to transform into magical creatures.

Meet Kian in the ski area, where you might also encounter his

friends, Papa Smurf, and Stuart the one-eyed Minion. Kian will be

there giving out sweets two or three times each week – perhaps

it’ll be your lucky day!

Entry to the adventure park is free

with your ski pass.

saas-fee.ch

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MOUNTAINS

Events by

the cable car companies

140 kilometres per hour on ice and snow

The Glacier Bike Downhill experience

The greatest ski race in the world

The 38 th Allalin race in Saas-Fee

Nothing is impossible

The Mentelity Games Saas-Grund

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82

76

80

The views of the Mischabel chain from Hohsaas are spectacular.

Photo: Christof Schmid

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EVENTS BY

THE CABLE CAR COMPANIES

Fondue gondola

A delicious fondue, fine wine, tea and a tasty dessert to finish,

just what you would wish for in any high-end restaurant. But no

restaurant quite matches up to the atmosphere in this night-time

gondola ride. The experience lasts a good hour, during which time

you are served a rich fondue under the candlelight. The views over

the moonlit mountains with the village of Saas-Fee lit up below are

unforgettable.

The family-sized gondola, which caters for two adults and

up to four children, is furnished with toys to keep the little ones

entertained. For couples, this candlelit gondola makes for a perfect

romantic fondue night for two.

Sunrise skiing

Experience a mountain sunrise at a vantage point of 3,500 metres

above sea level while you holiday in Saas-Fee. Early morning

wake-up calls are worth it to watch the first sunbeams of the day

illuminate the Mischabel chain; and when you get to be the first to

lay tracks on the freshly groomed slopes.

Once at the top, you can enjoy the sunrise from the

Drehrestaurant (revolving restaurant) and take in the scenery

before your descent. Their rich breakfast buffet offering perfectly

complements the incredible views and the sunrise to cap it off.

Please remember that reservations are required for breakfast.

Events begin at 6:30 pm at the

Spielboden valley station.

Details can be found at

saas-fee.ch/fonduegondel

Meet at the Alpin Express valley station.

Times and dates at

saas-fee.ch/sunriseskiing

Free Heel Festival Vol. 3

From 13 th to 15 th March 2020, Bergbahnen Hohsaas (lift company)

brings you the third annual Free Heel Festival. Test out the latest

telemark skis from the mountain test centre where the biggest

brands will be ready to tempt you with all the new gear. Newcomers

can get a feel for the world of telemarking with taster courses, while

the more experienced can make the most of Saas-Grund‘s slopes

with tours led by professional guides. At the sunset après-ski event,

you can end your day with a drink or two with fellow snow lovers.

Full moon skiing

Full moon skiing is about more than just skiing under the light of

the full moon. After your ascent from Saas-Fee to Mittelallalin at

5:30 pm, a Valais tasting menu awaits you at the Drehrestaurant

(revolving restaurant). Dinner comprises creative takes on

traditional Valais specialities presented by the chef. From the

restaurant’s prime position at 3,500 metres above sea level, this is

a unique opportunity to enjoy the magnificent 360-degree views of

the surrounding scenery under the moonlight.

The highlight is, of course, the night-time descent from

Mittelallalin. For that, we recommend taking a head torch with you.

If you’d prefer not to ski in the dark, you can always take the lifts

back down to the village at 8:30 pm. Make sure to book in advance,

as there are limited places for dinner at the revolving restaurant

info@hohsaas.info

hohsaas.ch

Night sledging

Sledging is typically a daytime activity, but here in the Saas Valley,

you might just discover it’s even more fun by night. Before setting

off for your sledge ride through the snowy forests into the village,

you can rejuvenate in one of our mountain restaurants with a

delicious fondue. Night sledging can be enjoyed in Saas-Almagell,

Saas-Fee, and Saas-Grund. Please keep in mind that for some runs,

booking in advance is required. Don’t forget your head torch!

saas-fee.ch/nachtschlitteln

Events begin at 5:30 pm

at the Spielboden valley station.

Details can be found at

saas-fee.ch/vollmond-skifahren

Night skiing

Saas-Grund will be extending its hours to make night skiing available

on three Tuesdays this February. The cable cars in Saas-Grund will

run until late at night and you can navigate the freshly groomed upper

slopes by the light of your head torch. Begin the evening with fondue

in the Kreuzboden mountain restaurant before returning to the

slopes. The pistes from Kreuzboden back to Saas-Grund are floodlit,

so you can enjoy a relaxed descent through snow-covered forests.

info@hohsaas.info

hohsaas.ch

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140 KILOMETRES PER HOUR ON ICE AND SNOW

When the starting pistol sounds for the Glacier

Bike Downhill, more than 200 people

jump on their bicycles and tackle the ski slopes

from Mittelallalin to Saas-Fee. Mountain

bike guide Kyle Harris explains.

Text: Yolanda Josephine Bond

Photos: Puzzle Media

“Before the starting pistol fires, a deathly

quiet reigns. Nobody moves. The only

sound is the icy wind swirling around us

and the thumping of my own heart. The

atmosphere is electric as we wait for

the moment. The Mischabel chain looms

overhead, the course we are about

to descend veering round to the right

beneath her. A mixture of fear, excitement

and anticipation hangs in the air.

Then the gunshot rings out and

everything changes in an instant. The

charge to our bikes begins, every one

of us howling and shouting like warriors

entering the fray. But the chaos around

me fades into the background. I’m in

race-mode, it’s just me and the bike.

Within seconds of the start, one rider is

catapulted over his handlebars right in

front of me. In my periphery, I can see

dozens of crashes and I’m thinking: “If

so many riders are crashing at this point,

what about further down? What about

when we’re charging down the red run

at upwards of a hundred kilometres an

hour on ice and snow?”

My first Glacier Bike Downhill experience

Kyle Harris, 27, took part in the race for the first time two years ago.

He’s been riding mountain bikes since he was just eight years old

and has been racing for the past six. But a downhill race on snow

and ice was a totally different prospect. In the Glacier Bike Downhill,

participants race over glaciers and snow from Mittelallalin at 3,500

metres down to Saas-Fee, reaching speeds up to 140 kilometres

per hour. The record time for completing the 8.4-kilometre-long

downhill is an impressive 7.1 minutes.

All the riders start the race simultaneously but in three

waves, with a safe distance between them to minimize the risk of

crashes. “I was nervous, for sure. I love to ride fast and have a lot

of experience on bikes. But I had no idea how to control one at up

to 140 kilometres per hour – and on snow,” says Kyle, remembering

his first experience. Although the racers can do a practice run the

day before the race, the real thing is never quite the same. “I had

certainly never ridden my bike straight down the fall line on a ski

run before – practice day was my very first time. But it went ok. I‘m

a pretty good mountain biker, I can pretty much ride anything, on

normal dirt at least. I figured that with my experience I’d be able to

handle the snow fine,” he explains.

Spectacular scenes and sporting excellence are on the menu at the Glacier Bike Downhill.

For three years now, Kyle has been a mountain bike guide in Saas-

Fee. That means that in the summer, at least, he’s on his bike

practically daily. “With a few turns of the test run, I picked up ‘the

basics‘ pretty quickly, learning what you need to do to ride on snow.

Turning is pretty different from normal, you have to position your

body weight properly for it to work. And you can’t use the front

brake as much as you normally would either, else you lose control.

You have to tilt your bike slightly and use your feet to drift around

corners. It‘s not easy. And I didn’t have it totally dialled down after

practice either, I crashed pretty hard in the last race,” laughs Kyle.

The race covers 8.4 kilometres;

the fastest biker on record finished in just 7.1 minutes.

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“It’s a feeling unlike any other, a real

adrenaline rush.”

DISCOVER THE

IMPRESSIVE COLORS

OF PEARLS

AND RADIANT

DIAMONDS.

Mountain bike guide Kyle Harris, 27, advises newcomers to prepare well for the

race and to stick with a speed they are comfortable with, don‘t try to exceed your own

riding skills.

Glacier Bike Downhill

14 th March

+41 27 958 11 00

bergbahnen@saas-fee.ch

saas-fee.ch/glacierbike

Riding down red runs

In spite of everything, he was raring to go again last year but

unfortunately, the race had to be cancelled at the last minute

because of heavy snowfall on race day. The Glacier Bike Downhill

is dangerous, but not always, says Kyle. “If you ride fast like me,

you can crash hard – it’s true. I did, three times, and the last one

was a big one. I was turning hard and slid out. I took out a crash

barrier... with my head. Luckily I had a helmet on. After that, I was

pretty slow to the finish, it was too much for me, “he confesses. But

in spite of the big crash and last year’s cancellation, he’s looking

forward to the next race in March. “It‘s just unbelievably fun, and

even for experienced bikers like me it‘s a challenge – that‘s the

attraction. Where else could you bike on red runs, snow, and ice?

It’s a feeling like none other, a real adrenaline rush.”

Tires and tire pressure

For those who want to race, but have little experience or have

never ridden on snow, Kyle advises you practise on a beginner‘s

slope or a small hill. Above all, it’s crucial to learn how to brake and

how to turn, because both are pretty different from normal riding.

“It’s also important that riders know what kind of tires they need

and what tire pressure works best. And of course, to make sure you

have protective gear like pads and a helmet. The key is to stick to

speed you’re comfortable with, and don’t try to exceed your own

riding skills. If you do that, you can’t go wrong,” says Kyle.

www.gellner.com

EXPERIENCE THE

ICE PAVILION SAAS-FEE

REVOLVING RESTAURANT ALLALIN

SAAS-FEE.CH/EISPAVILLON

www.bijou-abgottspon.ch

78


THE GREATEST SKI RACE IN THE WORLD

Come March, it’s that time again. Downhill

fever grips the town, as the world’s craziest

race returns. The legendary Allalin Race

traverses the glacier pistes of Saas-Fee.

Text: Christoph Gysel

Photo: Saastal Tourismus AG

This is the 38 th edition of the Allalin Race

in Saas-Fee, and it’s still the highlight

of the year for many passionate skiers.

The first-ever Allalin Race took place

in 1946 when nine young skiers set off

from the 4,027-metre-high summit of

the Allalin and raced towards Saas-

Fee, 2,227 metres below. Only five

riders completed the unpisted route to

the finish. Nowadays, the racecourse is

perfectly groomed and more than 1,000

people took part in last year’s “ Volksabfahrt”

(peoples’ race).

As racers charge towards the finish line they reach top speeds of

more than 140 kilometres per hour. The extremely demanding Allalin

Race is probably the longest glacier race in the world, descending

from 3,600 metres to the village of Saas-Fee, which sits at 1,800

metres above sea level. With even the professionals’ thighs burning

by the time they reach the finish line, it’s a tough physical test for

all. Even those taking part in the fun race for teams, face a big

challenge – but as one exhausted participant put it at the finish line

last year: “It’s the greatest ski race in the world.”

Of course, a historic race like this has produced more than

its share of legends. Jonas Bumann, the downhill race president,

tells us of one man who crashed so hard on the first day of racing

that he was hanging from the safety nets, but came back on the

second day and won the thing. Incidentally, the Bergbahnen (lift

company) offers discount lift tickets for racers, to enable them to

train in the days leading up to the race. Spectators also get their

money‘s worth, with musical entertainment provided in the finish

area, where Swiss group ChueLee will also make an appearance.

Allalin Race

27 th /28 th March

+ 41 27 958 11 33

allalin-rennen@saas-fee.ch

saas-fee.ch/allalinrennen

The number of participants is limited.

The course used in favourable weather conditions is 8.7

kilometres long, with racers descending 1,700

thigh-burning metres to Saas-Fee. Photo: Puzzle Media

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NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE

From 24 th to 27 th March the Mentelity Games

will take place in Saas-Grund for the second

time. We talk to three para-snowboarders

about their experiences at this winter sports

event for people with disabilities.

Text: Nicole Bielander

Pasta is a popular choice for carbloading

sportspeople. I met three Swiss

para-athletes, Luzia Joller, Gaël Suhner

and Andreas Schroth, one lunchtime for

a plate of the good stuff at Saas-Fee’s

Arvu-Stuba. All three are avid snowboarders,

and they are in the Saas Valley

for the para-snowboard weekend, which

is run three times a year by PluSport.

PluSport is the umbrella organization

of Swiss Disabled Sports which has

around 12,000 members. Joining the trio

at the event are four PluSport coaches.

Luzia, Gaël, and Andreas take

every opportunity they can to get on

the slopes. They participated in the

first Mentelity Games, which ran from

10th to 12th April 2019. The games are

the brainchild of three-time Winter

Paralympic gold medalist and five-time

world champion in para-snowboarding,

Bibian Mentel. They’re all excited to

take part in the games again, with the

Mentelity Games returning to Saas-

Grund for the second time in March

2020. The three-day ski and snowboard

event brings people with disabilities

from all over the world together for

training and workshops.

The first Mentelity Games

Para-snowboarding is a fairly new discipline in Switzerland. Silvan

Hofer is the project manager for para-snowboard at PluSport,

as well as a snowsports instructor and trainer for students and

snowsports teachers alike. He has been building its profile for about

three years now. It was Silvan who encouraged Luzia, Andreas and

Gaël to attend last year‘s Mentelity Games. The event offered skiers

and snowboarders with disabilities a comprehensive choice of

activities and training. At the “ Wissensstrasse” (Knowledge Street),

newcomers were given the chance to figure out which sports they

wanted to try out, and then a program was selected tailored to

the individual disability. During the three-day event, participants

were given lessons, either in ability-matched groups or with private

trainers. They were also informed about further courses run by ski

and snowboard professionals and learned more about the different

disciplines within the sport, like slalom, freestyle and touring.

Andreas, who has been snowboarding in Saas-Fee for

years, whole-heartedly recommends getting involved. “It was quite

a challenge to ride with guides I didn’t know to start with, especially

as they used different snowboarding techniques from those that I

was familiar with. But I benefited greatly and learned a lot.” For

Gaël the highlight was meeting other attendees and he looks

forward to the next Mentelity Games “to see everyone again, it was

so much fun!“ Luzia also had a great time during those first days

in the Saas Valley. All three were assigned to top-level athletes

and Paralympic medalists at the workshops because of their high

level. But, as Luzia humbly puts it, “it’s the coming together that’s

important, not your athletic level. It’s the fun of trying new things

and sharing your tips and tricks. You see on their faces just how

grateful the attendees are for being able to be a part of an event

like this one. I was amazed at what people can do, and motivated

by everyone’s incredible spirit. I think it would be cool if there were

more participants next time.”

Andreas Schroth is marketing manager at the Swiss Association

for the Blind and Visually Impaired (SBV). Photo: Sonja Thöni

Luzia Joller, from Grisons, is an avid para-snowboarder. A serious accident meant that

her left shoulder joint had to be amputated. Photo: Sonja Thöni

Luzia: one bad accident changes everything

Luiza Joller started skiing at the age of two. When her brothers

made the switch to snowboarding, the then six-year-old followed

suit. At twelve, she raced for the first time. Snowboarding became

her life and at fifteen she joined a sports-college in Engadin, to

realize her prodigious talent.

But after an accident in 2010, the graceful woman with the

wild dark curls from Grisons was forced to take a long break. The

former student fell so badly that ultimately, her left shoulder joint

had to be amputated, leaving her disabled. Back and phantom limb

pain have dogged her life ever since. Whilst she lives a relatively

independent life, she needs a little help around the household.

In addition to the consequences of her accident, her ADHD (an

attention deficit disorder) causes problems. I start to notice it when

the salad is brought over. The 34-year-old falters while telling her

story, obviously distracted by the interruption.

In 2017, she got back on a snowboard once more. For a long

time, she’d only ride in her garden. “I was afraid I’d fall over again,“

she recalls. But that very same year, doctors gave her the all-clear

to resume snowboard training. Now she dreams of making it to the

2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing.

Gina van der Werf, from the Netherland, took part in the

first Mentelity Games and on a

sit-snowboard of her own design. Photo: Mathilde Dusol

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Gäel: Born with a disability

At just 12 years old, Gaël Suhner is the baby of this group. He’s

sponsored by PluSport as a junior para-snowboarder. Gaël was

born in Bavaria with a deformity of his hand and arm. But I don’t

notice his impediment as he spears Penne Rigate alla Bolognese

with his fork. The A-grade student comes across as very grownup

for his age. There are only a few situations in which he feels

disadvantaged as a result of his disability. “If, for example, I can’t

do something with my little brother, then I notice it,“ he explains.

His family moved to Switzerland eight years ago. At six

years of age, he started snowboarding – but it’s not his only hobby.

He also sings with the Zurich Boys‘ Choir. Although, a career on

stage isn’t on the cards according to his plans; he wants to be a

maths teacher. “So you can set the homework?” I ask. “Exactly,“

Gaël shoots back, playfully. His grin sets the group off laughing,

before he goes on to explain that “no, really it’s because I like

teaching others and I like mathematics best.“ Time and again he

makes everyone around him laugh. When asked how he balances

his hobbies and training, he replies, “when I’m injured, then I’ll sing

for a bit instead. When I’m not, I go snowboarding... so I actually

end up spending about as much time in the choir as I do on the

piste.”

Mentelity Games

24 th to 27 th March

mentelitygames.com

Andreas: “The biggest hurdle is a lack of

understanding”

Andreas Schroth was born with serious visual impairment. The

30-year-old marketing manager for the Swiss Blind and Visually

Impaired Association (SBV) can only snowboard when led by a

trained adaptive snowboard guide. Away from the piste, Andreas, a

budding home cook, is candid about his limitations: “For example,

I can’t just spontaneously decide to go snowboarding because I

need a guide. There are some hurdles that I can handle better than

others. But when I‘m feeling down, I‘m certainly more sensitive to

obstacles, especially those that I can’t control for myself. One of

the things I’ve found to be the hardest is the job market. When

you apply for a job with a visual impairment, the employer usually

can’t fathom that it might be possible for you to do the job as

well as someone without a disability. Sure, there are restrictions

in graphical work, of course,” explains the Schaffhausen local.

“but with the appropriate aids, things like screen readers and

magnification software, I can do just about anything.”

Three different stories, one shared message

As different as these three para-athletes are, they all share

something in addition to their passion for snowboarding: their

zest for life. Their conviction that nothing is impossible. None of

the three has let their limitations get in their way. Their incredible

skills will be on show again at the second edition of the Mentelity

Games this March - where they will reunite as friends, but also as

competitors on the slopes.

Monique Wijnen, from the Netherlands, enjoyed the first Mentelity

Games, conquering the slopes with her guide Gijs van Heijst.

Photo: Mathilde Dusol

Para-snowboarder Gaël Suhner’s other hobby is singing. He’s

part of the Zurich Boys Choir. Photo: Sonja Thöni

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85


PISTE MAP

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COMMUNITY

Reader’s letter: Edith Voßen

Dear Editorial Team,

I wanted to congratulate you on the first

edition of ‘4545,’ a remarkable fusion of

the traditional and modern aspects of the

Saas Valley. The magnificent imagery and

design really shone through thanks to the

beautiful finish of the magazine.

This was no vague collation of articles

and inordinate advertisement, just a

true appreciation of what makes the Saas

Valley so special. As a reader, I was captured

by the words, which transported me

back to a place I love.

I picked up a copy by chance at the

bus station as I was departing the village;

a great memento of my two-week holiday

in Saas-Fee. 20 years ago, I was a regular

visitor and relished skiing in Saas-Fee. My

summer visit, all these years later, brought

back great memories...

That is to say, thank you for a wonderful

read, I’ll be back.

Share your experiances with us!

Send us your letters to the editor to

input@saas-fee.ch

If you post something on social

media, hashtag #saasfee

and tag us @saasfee!

Warmly,

Edith Voßen

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89


IMPRESSUM

Publisher

Saastal Tourismus AG

Obere Dorfstrasse 2

3906 Saas-Fee

Editor-in-chief

Yolanda Josephine Bond

Editorial staff

Yolanda Josephine Bond

Christoph Gysel

Diego Kalbermatten

Nicole Bielander

Patrick Gasser

Jeannine Zubler

Samuel Burgener

Bruno Bolinger

Picture editors

Yolanda Josephine Bond

Isabelle Krummenacher

Graphic designer

Isabelle Krummenacher

Translators

Danielle Moore

Adam Spensley

Copy editors

Danielle Moore

Adam Spensley

Photography

Puzzle Media

Nathalie Taiana

Sonja Thöni

levin.studio

Christof Schmid

Finnegan Laver

Bruno Bolinger

Vernon Deck

Mathilde Dusol

Adrian Myers

Stefan Kürzi

Saas Ice Worlds picture gallery

Puzzle Media

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Contact

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+41 27 958 18 87

Editions and

launch dates

Launch date:

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1 st September 2020

1 st December 2020

MAGIC OF THE VALAIS MOUNTAIN HUTS

TORCH LIGHT TOUR

WITH FONDUE FUN

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Inside front cover (2/3 page): CHF 500.-

Opposite contents page: CHF 300.-

SUBSCRIBE TO “4545”!

N o 2

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Destinationsmagazin Saas-Fee/Saastal

Technical details

- Format 230 x 300 mm (perfect binding)

- The magazine is published in German and English.

- The advertisements must be delivered

in both languages.

- High-end PDF, image resolution min. 300 dpi

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- Bleed edge trimming advertisements: + 3 mm bleed

If you would like a little bit of the Saas Valley delivered to your

home, sign up for an annual subscription. Simply email

finance@saas-fee.ch and get that Saas holiday feeling delivered

right to your door three times per year. Each issue of 4545

contains ~ 80 pages of spectacular content. CHF 25.00.- for residents

in Switzerland, or CHF 50.00.- outside of Switzerland.

Editorial deadline:

June edition: 15 th April 2020

Circulation:

Summer - 8,000 copies

Autumn - 5,500 copies

Winter - 10,000 copies

...den Winter im Saastal aktiv erleben

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Tel +79 78 8258273, beatburgener@bluewin.ch

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