Stranded in Paradise

It was late November and I was starting to get a little anxious about the lack of snow in the Alps. My livelihood depends on the white stuff, no snow, clients don’t show, simples! I shouldn’t have worried. Since mid December the Alps have experienced record breaking levels of snow fall. So much so that for a while my home town, Zermatt, in Switzerland, was cut off and isolated from the outside world. The only way in and out was by helicopter.

Avalanche warnings were at their most severe just as a massive snow slide covered the only road in, while at the same time disabling the rail link. Power outages followed and Zermatt became a village under siege. Skiing was out of the question and the lifts duly ceased operating. Be careful what you wish for! From virtually no snow we now had a winter wonderland, hushed and pristine. It worried me that people stranded in the village who had looked forward to skiing all year were now becalmed but the majority took it in their stride and were quite philosophical about it all. Maybe there would have been more anger and panic had the isolation occurred during the traditional transfer days of Saturdays and Sundays. It was fortunate timing that the heaviest dumps fell mid week.

I must say, Zermatt has never looked so beautiful and I started to enjoy the camaraderie and spirit of the residents and visitors. It was difficult to tell how much snow there actually was if you glanced at the distant mountains but were left in no doubt as the apartments and chalets in and around the village had snow stacked up to 3mts on the roof tops, they looked like marshmallow houses and about ready to collapse under the weight of their topping.

For a while Air Zermatt were running a helicopter shuttle services down to Tasch in the valley below for holiday makers either keen to get home, or new arrivals keen to get in. Zermatt made the TV news in several countries and press agencies were on the phone to me requesting videos and quotes. I was inundated but happy to underplay and give a more balanced view of the severity of the overblown and exaggerated claims by some sections of the media that 13,000 people were stranded with no electricity. It really wasn’t that bad. A first hand lesson at the alarmist nature of breaking news. For a while I became the go-to-guy for news and updates and I was getting calls from friends and acquaintances around the world saying they’d seen me on the news. It was my unexpected 15 minutes of fame.

As much as the snow was exceptional we still have a long way to go to beat the record snow fall recorded on the slope of Mt Ibuki, Japan at an altitude of 1200m on February 14,1927. An incredible 1182cm was measured, that’s close to 12mts and a whopping 98 feet.

As I write this blog, the lifts are open, the road and rail networks are in business again and the excitement of the last few days has abated. I’m off skiing, over to Italy for lunch in Cervinia and will be skiing on the finest powder seen for some time. Bookings are up now Mr Snow has finally shown up. ‘Every cloud’ as they say. This is Dan Frith, News At Nine, Zermatt, over to you Kelly, back in the studio.

Danny Frith is Director at SkiBoutique. SkiBoutique is a luxury ski chalet agency based in Switzerland.

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Comments (3)

  1. John Edwards says:

    Did I read somewhere that they’re worried about some resorts being affected by avalanches because there has been so much snow in the Alps this winter? What kind of things do they do to remove that risk? I think I read something about using explosives on some sections of slopes – all sounds rather extreme but I guess if there’s a risk posed, it’s better to remove it if you can.

  2. Dan Frith says:

    Hi John,
    Avalanches are part and parcel of every ski resort. It’s not just this year but every year resorts are affected by avalanches.
    When ever there has been heavy snowfall the resort lift companies will go out and blast sections of the mountain that are deemed unsafe. This way they trigger the avalanches to happen before clients go skiing on the mountain. It’s not uncommon to hear blasting early in the morning before the resort opens to the public.
    They’ve certainly been working harder this winter and it’s not been uncommon for whole resorts to be closed. It’s very rare that happens, however it has this Winter.

  3. Mickey says:

    I was skiing in the Alps last week and the conditions were fantastic. I go most years and don’t remember it ever being quite as good as it is now…

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