Switzerland’s Siberia readies for ‘cold festival’

A valley known as the Siberia of Switzerland for its bone-chilling winters is celebrating the fact with its third annual "festival of the cold".

Switzerland’s Siberia readies for ‘cold festival’
Dog sledding at La Brévine. Photo: Neuchâtel Tourism

The valley of La Brévine in the canton of Neuchâtel aims to attract tourists with its weekend festival, which gets under way on Friday, February 7th.

Roads are banned to motor vehicles for a “snow-up”, where people use cross-country skis, snow shoes or just durable boots to get around.

A frozen lake, dog sleds, snow sculptures, balloon rides, dogsledding and an artisanal market are all part of the festival, which was unveiled on Monday.

“People come here in winter and we hope that they’ll return in the summer,” said Jean-Maurice Gasser, chairman of the “Valley of the Brévine — Siberia of Switzerland” association, according to a report from the ATS news agency.

A village of snow and ice will be built on the Lac des Taillères and the Wind Band Neuchâtalois, a 60-person ensemble, are set to perform a concert to kick off the event on Friday night.

Only one minor problem with the festival that aims to make a virtue of adversity: it seems La Brévine is not quite as cold as it used to be.

To be sure, a temperature of minus 41.8 degrees was recorded there on January 12th 1987.

But this winter, the coldest day was a mere minus 22 degrees, on January 25th.

And a return to biting cold is not expected for the weekend, when the freezing level for snow is expected to range from 1,000 to 1,500 metres above sea level.

La Brévine is located at 1,045 metres.

“We are tributaries of the times,” Gasser said, referring to the mild weather this year, ATS reported.  

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Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.