Valais launches referendum campaign for Sion Olympics

The president of Sion and the Valais cantonal government on Monday launched their campaign in favour of staging the Winter Olympics in Sion in 2026, hoping the public will agree with them when they go to vote on the issue on June 10th next year.

Valais launches referendum campaign for Sion Olympics
The Swiss bobsleigh team competes at the last Winter Games in Sochi. Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP
While Sion would be the name on the bid, in fact the Games would be staged in several different cantons under the current proposal, including Bern, Fribourg and Vaud. 
The idea is that those cantons – and others across Switzerland who are not participating – share the cost of the Games, which intends to benefit the whole of the country, according to the canton’s sports minister Frédéric Favre.
The total cost is likely to be upwards of 2.4 billion francs, though the current 300 million franc security budget may well rise, RTS reported last week.  
The Swiss federal government has already pledged one billion francs of taxpayers' money in support of the bid — a move that was criticized by many, according to 20 Minuten
In a press conference on Monday, Favre said the absolute maximum that the canton would have to pay towards building infrastructure for the Games was 60 million francs, reported news agency ATS
That would include transforming of the village of Fiesch, cross-country skiing infrastructure in Conches and a new downhill ski arrival stadium in Crans-Montana – work that needed to be done, Olympics or not, said Favre.
The total bill for that would be 81 million francs, of which the canton would pay a maximum of 60 million, with the federal government, communes and third parties stumping up for the rest. 
The canton would also pay an as-yet unspecified share of the security bill, he said, with other cantons stepping up to provide police and security personnel. 
Hosting the Olympics would be a real boon for the canton, helping to develop the region into a year-round destination, added economy minister Christophe Darbellay. 
He will be hoping residents of the Valais will agree when they go to vote next June. 
The Bernese commune of Kandersteg, which would host ski jumping under current plans, will also vote on the issue in June, while the canton of Bern as a whole – the cities of Bern and Biel/Bienne would host ice hockey games – will vote at the end of 2018.
Currently a referendum is not planned in Vaud, said ATS. The Vaud cantonal capital Lausanne is the intended host of the ice-skating competition, while Leysin in the Vaud Alps would stage slopestyle.
Switzerland has until January 2019 to officially lodge its bid with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which will choose the 2026 host city the following October. 
If Swiss voters reject the plan then the IOC may be left with no choice at all. 
Voters in Austria's Tyrol region recently quashed the idea of bidding for the Games, leaving Calgary in Canada as Sion’s only potential rival.


Weather warning: Part of Swiss Alps placed on high avalanche alert

Due to the heavy snowfall in recent days and more expected until the weekend, an avalanche warning is issued for Switzerland’s southern canton of Valais.

Weather warning: Part of Swiss Alps placed on high avalanche alert
Avalanche warnings should be taken very seriously. Photo by AFP

Valais authorities said the current avalanche risk level is between 4 and 5, meaning ‘high’ to ‘extreme’.

The population is urged to stay at home. When out, they should obey the signs and especially stay away from the avalanche corridors, officials warned.

Significant amounts of snow have fallen in the area in recent days, dumping 1 metre of snow above the altitude of 2,000 metres in the upper part of the canton. Between 30 and 40 centimetres are still expected. 

The highest risk of avalanches is in the Goms valley, the Zermatt valley, as well as the entire right bank of the Rhône. 

Some particularly threatened areas could even be evacuated, authorities said.

People planning to go skiing in Valais over the next few days should check snow conditions and avalanche warnings in place, especially as many roads, mainly in Upper Valais, are cut off, and a number of villages in the Goms Valley, Lötschental and the Zermatt region are no longer accessible by road or train. 

The Avalanche Bulletin is a good source of information not just for Valais, but for all of Switzerland’s mountain regions.

READ MORE: Is the pandemic to blame for Switzerland's spate of avalanche deaths? 

Avalanches have been particularly deadly in Switzerland this winter, having claimed 14 lives so far — well above the average yearly figure of eight people.

Avalanches have caused casualties in the mountains of Valais, Vaud, Graubünden, Obwalden and Schwyz. 

With many people concerned about the potential for contracting coronavirus on the slopes, the idea of skiing off piste has become more attractive. 

But this practice can trigger massive avalanches, so it is crucial to stay away from unsecured slopes.

READ MORE: Large crowds on Swiss ski slopes spark concern over coronavirus spread