Ski resort competition winner: ‘Being snowed in has its good sides’

When marketing manager Thomas Frei recently won a unique competition that gave him and up to 999 of his friends sole use of an entire Swiss ski resort for 24 hours, things didn’t quite as planned.

Ski resort competition winner: 'Being snowed in has its good sides'
The Fideriser Heuberge resort in far better weather conditions than those enjoyed by Thomas Frei. Photo: AFP

The competition organized by the Fideriser Heuberge ski resort in the canton of Graubünden offered one lucky winner access to 15 kilometres of ski pistes, a 12-kilometre sled run and beds for 220 people in three mountain lodges.

Frei and his friends turned up last Sunday to enjoy the prize valued at an estimated 100,000 Swiss francs (€89,000). They were set to stay from Sunday 4pm to Monday 4pm.

Read also: Entire Swiss ski resort up for grabs in one-off competition

Things started well, with drinks, fondue and night skiing on Sunday but then the weather decided it wasn’t going to play along.

On Sunday night, there was heavy snowfall and an avalanche. Roads back down into the valley were subsequently closed because of snow and fallen trees.

With forest workers unable to clear the roads of trees because of the snow, Frei and his friends found themselves snowed in.

Ski lifts opened briefly on Monday morning but another winter storm forced their closure, Swiss news site 20 Minuten reported.

“We are making the best of the situation,” said Frei on Monday as the prospect of a Monday departure from the resort looked slim. 

“It would have been nice to have good weather, but this is OK with me,” he said.

Another guest also saw the bright side of the situation. “There are also positive aspects [of being stuck indoors]. We are talking to each other a lot and meeting new people,” the guest said.

Frei and his friends were finally able to leave the resort on Tuesday at around 6pm, or a little over 24 hours later than planned, a spokesperson for Fideriser Heuberge told The Local.

Their departure was made possible after a helicopter was used to set explosives in eight different locations to trigger avalanches, the spokesperson said. The roads into the resort were then cleared.

Conditions at the resort on Wednesday are described as “perfect”, with bright sunshine.

Many parts of the Swiss Alps are currently at level 3 (or “considerable”) risk for avalanches after heavy snow in recent times.

The Swiss snow and avalanche research institute, the SLF, is warning inexperienced people to stay on open ski runs and trails.

On Tuesday, a 20-year-old Swedish woman died while skiing off piste in the canton of Valais, while on Monday a ski patroller died in the same canton while he and a colleague where laying explosives in a bid to ensure the safety of pistes at huge Portes du Soleil ski area.


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