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Old 29.02.2016, 23:44
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Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

Is it common for Swiss ski resorts to be closed for an entire day, let alone multiple days due to heavy snow?

Saas Fee was closed on Sunday and Monday. I believe it was entirely due to avalanche risk, and not associated with more common things, like high winds.

For whatever reason, I thought that if the wind was not an issue, it would be very unusual to close an entire mountain due to 2-3 feet of snow. Obviously, I would assume that the type of snow that falls, the stability of the snow pack as a whole, and that type of stuff would play into it, but I was quite surprised that an entire mountain would remain closed for 2 days.

This does not seem like a common occurrence in the USA, where they are extremely cautious when it comes to avalanches...

Anyone know more about this time of thing and how common it is in CH?
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Old 29.02.2016, 23:54
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

This year is very unusual in that temperatures are far higher than they normally would be (hottest winter on record)... so a much higher avalanche risk (and a number of deaths in Switzerland and the surrounding countries as a consequence)...

So, expect closures both due to avalance risk, and now for this week a forecast very high level of snowfall plus unstable weather conditions.

No one bothers to go up one mountain if the weather is poor, just find a better one!

It's pretty normal to wait until the weather report is done, and even to check the webcams for your destination (available online) before you leave the comfort of your cosy apartment
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Old 29.02.2016, 23:58
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

PS. not hard to find the weather info that there is a substantial avalanche risk on the Italian side of the Alps at the moment, and the official avalanche report even explains the problem develops from a meteorological point of view...
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Old 29.02.2016, 23:58
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

The avalanche risk is big in Zermatt and Saas at the moment. Zermatt has had a few slopes open yesterday and today, but others have been closed as faces above them, or faces accessible from them are likely to avalanche. The road from Zermatt to Tasch has also been closed and is remaining so.
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Old 01.03.2016, 00:22
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

Was in Saas Fee last year for easter. Not much snow when we arrived. About 12" of new snow in the town by 10am Saturday morning. Managed one run down before they closed all the lifts.
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Old 01.03.2016, 00:31
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

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Is it common for Swiss ski resorts to be closed for an entire day, let alone multiple days due to heavy snow?

Saas Fee was closed on Sunday and Monday. I believe it was entirely due to avalanche risk, and not associated with more common things, like high winds.

For whatever reason, I thought that if the wind was not an issue, it would be very unusual to close an entire mountain due to 2-3 feet of snow. Obviously, I would assume that the type of snow that falls, the stability of the snow pack as a whole, and that type of stuff would play into it, but I was quite surprised that an entire mountain would remain closed for 2 days.

This does not seem like a common occurrence in the USA, where they are extremely cautious when it comes to avalanches...

Anyone know more about this time of thing and how common it is in CH?
I was in the 3 Valleys at the weekend & most of Val Thorens closed on Saturday due to winds. The Grands Montets at Chamonix has been closed quite a lot this season once for 4 days so it's nothing that unusual.

The snow pack has been dangerous for most of the season, I have seen several slides from ground level due to a hoar frost early season.

There have been plenty of deaths this season, so resorts are being careful. A couple of meters is expected this week, expect some closures because of this .
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Old 01.03.2016, 00:45
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

To bind itself to the mountain the fresh snow must slightly melt and then freeze at night, Otherwise with warm temperatures at night this doesn't happen, and large masses of snow slip down the mountain, often triggered by people skiing off piste above the mass of snow, with catastrophic results for people moving below, even when skiing on the marked slopes.

The complete science is very difficult in the calculation. Depth of snow, angle of the slope (steep or shallow), night and day temperatures, wind speed and direction, the slope's aspect to the sunshine, all have to be considered.

With high winds the chair lifts cannot be used as they swing sideways and hit the pylons. Similarly the cabins are stopped with high wind speed conditions. Skiing during an actual snowfall is also very difficult and hazardous: because the skier can only see a very short distance, a bit like driving a car in dense fog, and can easily miss warning signs: so not a good idea.

The resort manager must then decide how many lift operators to employ, when there may be very few customers, or dangerous conditions, and thus often a slope is closed for the day.
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Old 01.03.2016, 01:19
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

I was at Zermatt on Sunday hoping to take advantage of the fresh snow, and was hugely disappointed, as they closed ~80% of the mountain.

I do understand that the avalanche risk was high (I was skiing with partners, and with full avalanche gear incl. airbag) but it really was rather ridiculous, EVERYONE was skiing the "closed" slopes, including Zermatt's own instructors with ski school kids in tow. One of the "closed" black runs was completely covered in huge dense moguls by the end of the day, meaning hundreds of people must've gone down it. A significant amount of closed terrain was quite low angle (< 30 degrees), and didn't present a risk under the normal criteria. There was little wind, and the visibility was acceptable most of the day.

As the OP mentioned, in the US resorts work quite hard to open terrain as soon as possible after large snowfalls, and in return the closures tend to be respected. Zermatt listed a lot of the lifts as "In Preparation" in the morning, but then just decided not to open any of them (after most people bought their tickets for the day), which felt a bit disrespectful to guests in my opinion.

@OP, the impression I get is that the Swiss resorts don't care about freeriders at all, since only the groomed pistes are part of the resort. If the groomed pistes aren't ready, there's no reason for them to run the lifts. If you're coming from any of the big US/Canada resorts (Vail, Squaw, Park City, Alta, etc) it's a big adjustment in philosophy, and to me at least, a very disappointing one.
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Old 01.03.2016, 01:37
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

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I do understand that the avalanche risk was high (I was skiing with partners, and with full avalanche gear incl. airbag) but it really was rather ridiculous, EVERYONE was skiing the "closed" slopes, including Zermatt's own instructors with ski school kids in tow. One of the "closed" black runs was completely covered in huge dense moguls by the end of the day, meaning hundreds of people must've gone down it. A significant amount of closed terrain was quite low angle (< 30 degrees), and didn't present a risk under the normal criteria. There was little wind, and the visibility was acceptable most of the day.
Runs are closed for a reason. Some school children died on a closed run earlier in the season. The teacher faces manslaughter charges. 3 Ski instructors in Tignes got suspended prison sentences after an accident 5 years ago, unfortunately people don't learn.
Ski Instructors are not allowed to teach on closed runs, mountain guides can take clients.
What was the slope angle above the closed run, any cornices?
Did you dig a snow pit or look at the snowpack in any way?
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Old 01.03.2016, 01:55
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

The instructor's jacket definitely said "ski school"...

I did not dig a snow pit, I was skiing at a resort after all. A quick pole test in a few places showed the top ~5 cm being a bit compacted, then pretty consistent below that, no obvious weak layer. Didn't hear any whoompfs or see any natural slides.

I certainly can't speak about all the terrain, as I didn't see it all - but the black run in question is mostly below the treeline, and doesn't have any slopes above it. (#8 on the piste map).

Yellow #10 (where I saw the ski school kids) does have one section where there's a steeper slope above the run, but the steeper section is small, and did not have cornices on it.

Anyways, even giving the resort the benefit of doubt here that things are closed for objective danger and not due to perceived lack of demand, I was expecting them to do some control work (throw some bombs, etc) and open some terrain as the day went on. Perhaps that is just wrong expectation coming from skiing at US resorts.
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Old 02.03.2016, 21:58
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

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I was at Zermatt on Sunday hoping to take advantage of the fresh snow, and was hugely disappointed, as they closed ~80% of the mountain.

I do understand that the avalanche risk was high (I was skiing with partners, and with full avalanche gear incl. airbag) but it really was rather ridiculous, EVERYONE was skiing the "closed" slopes, including Zermatt's own instructors with ski school kids in tow. One of the "closed" black runs was completely covered in huge dense moguls by the end of the day, meaning hundreds of people must've gone down it. A significant amount of closed terrain was quite low angle (< 30 degrees), and didn't present a risk under the normal criteria. There was little wind, and the visibility was acceptable most of the day.

As the OP mentioned, in the US resorts work quite hard to open terrain as soon as possible after large snowfalls, and in return the closures tend to be respected. Zermatt listed a lot of the lifts as "In Preparation" in the morning, but then just decided not to open any of them (after most people bought their tickets for the day), which felt a bit disrespectful to guests in my opinion.

@OP, the impression I get is that the Swiss resorts don't care about freeriders at all, since only the groomed pistes are part of the resort. If the groomed pistes aren't ready, there's no reason for them to run the lifts. If you're coming from any of the big US/Canada resorts (Vail, Squaw, Park City, Alta, etc) it's a big adjustment in philosophy, and to me at least, a very disappointing one.
Thanks for saying this, because no matter who I talk to, I felt like I was the odd one out. I think part of the difference is that in the USA, people absolutely love to freeride in powder. What I have gathered from the Germans, Swiss, inexperienced American skiers that are now skiing in Switzerland, French, Austrians, etc etc etc, is that for the most part, people want to ski in "nice weather." This "nice weather" to the aforementioned people seems to be sunny groomers where the temperature is about 0 degrees C.

Coming from riding Park City, South Lake Tahoe area, Snowbird, etc. it is an absolutely different mindset. I can remember so many times where Snowbird finished bombing the Mineral Basin, only to open it in the early afternoon. It just seems very surprising to me, considering that in the USA, if you get caught up in-bounds in an avalanche, the resort and company can be in a lot of legal trouble. Compared to Switzerland, I understand it to be that everything (on piste included) is at your own risk and you do not have much legal recourse.

Nevertheless, it was difficult to have to get on a bus Sunday morning seeing so much pow everywhere.
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Old 02.03.2016, 22:35
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

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Thanks for saying this, because no matter who I talk to, I felt like I was the odd one out. I think part of the difference is that in the USA, people absolutely love to freeride in powder. What I have gathered from the Germans, Swiss, inexperienced American skiers that are now skiing in Switzerland, French, Austrians, etc etc etc, is that for the most part, people want to ski in "nice weather." This "nice weather" to the aforementioned people seems to be sunny groomers where the temperature is about 0 degrees C.

Coming from riding Park City, South Lake Tahoe area, Snowbird, etc. it is an absolutely different mindset. I can remember so many times where Snowbird finished bombing the Mineral Basin, only to open it in the early afternoon. It just seems very surprising to me, considering that in the USA, if you get caught up in-bounds in an avalanche, the resort and company can be in a lot of legal trouble. Compared to Switzerland, I understand it to be that everything (on piste included) is at your own risk and you do not have much legal recourse.

Nevertheless, it was difficult to have to get on a bus Sunday morning seeing so much pow everywhere.
The culture of safety is completely different here. In general Europeans have comparatively no avalanche safety training. If you take a AST-2 course in Canada you'll dig a whole bunch of snow pits in close proximity, the point to show you how unreliable and unrepeatable they are. In Europe digging a pit is considered the pentultimate snowpack assessment test. Don't get me started on the internet avalanche risk reports.

I've asked people about skiing with a transceiver at a resort and said people think it's bizarre. Yet there are plenty of side country resorts in the USA and Canada where that's the norm. People are especially blasť when it comes to skiing on a slope that's already been skied, as if that implies it's safe.

My feeling is that it comes down to the cultural differences forged when the more active population absconded to the Americas. North America is far more individualistic, and that readily extends to assuming responsibility for risk. In Europe no-one accepts responsibility for risk, and in North America someone always accepts responsibility.
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Old 02.03.2016, 22:46
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

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The culture of safety is completely different here. In general Europeans have comparatively no avalanche safety training. If you take a AST-2 course in Canada you'll dig a whole bunch of snow pits in close proximity, the point to show you how unreliable and unrepeatable they are. In Europe digging a pit is considered the pentultimate snowpack assessment test. Don't get me started on the internet avalanche risk reports.

I've asked people about skiing with a transceiver at a resort and said people think it's bizarre. Yet there are plenty of side country resorts in the USA and Canada where that's the norm. People are especially blasť when it comes to skiing on a slope that's already been skied, as if that implies it's safe.

My feeling is that it comes down to the cultural differences forged when the more active population absconded to the Americas. North America is far more individualistic, and that readily extends to assuming responsibility for risk. In Europe no-one accepts responsibility for risk, and in North America someone always accepts responsibility.
I'm not sure I necessarily agree with all of this. At least for me personally, drawing the sharp distinction between on-piste and off-piste in Europe (and knowing that I have little interest in on-piste skiing) led me to take an avalanche safety course, equip myself appropriately, and assess my actions much more than I ever did back in the comparative safety of the US resorts, where the entire ski area is avalanche controlled. Here I really do feel like I'm making a critical decision every time I go off piste. I suppose I could be the exception.

Anecdotally, I see vastly more people here in CH with airbag backpacks, although perhaps people choose to get them as a substitute to avalanche education...
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Old 03.03.2016, 00:29
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

Fatmansfilm also pointed out, quite rightly, that the large ski bowls of the USA are geographically very different to the Alps- with totally different avalanche risks.
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Old 03.03.2016, 09:10
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

Veering slightly off topic, but since many of you are experienced off-piste skiers, perhaps you might know...

A colleague mentioned that if one is skiing pff piste and there is an accident or avalanche, the skier (or his estate) must bear the cost of any rescue effort, not just the typical Riga ambulance helicopter but all costs of all personnel involved, and if found to have caused or contributed to an avalanche could be liable for ensuing damages.

True, not true?

If true, is there insurance one can take out against this?

(I don't ski, so forgive me if this is a stupid question.)
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Old 03.03.2016, 09:51
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

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Veering slightly off topic, but since many of you are experienced off-piste skiers, perhaps you might know...

A colleague mentioned that if one is skiing pff piste and there is an accident or avalanche, the skier (or his estate) must bear the cost of any rescue effort, not just the typical Riga ambulance helicopter but all costs of all personnel involved, and if found to have caused or contributed to an avalanche could be liable for ensuing damages.

True, not true?

If true, is there insurance one can take out against this?

(I don't ski, so forgive me if this is a stupid question.)
That's what 3rd party liability insurance is for.
Your more likely to end up with a criminal prosecution in the event of an accident or death.
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Old 03.03.2016, 10:09
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

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That's what 3rd party liability insurance is for.
Your more likely to end up with a criminal prosecution in the event of an accident or death.
How about a tourist? Is there a liability insurance one can take out if not resident?

(I don't recall seeing something like that in the US-based travel insurance I've organized for visitors, but then I wasn't really thinking about skiing..)
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Old 03.03.2016, 10:13
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

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How about a tourist? Is there a liability insurance one can take out if not resident?

(I don't recall seeing something like that in the US-based travel insurance I've organized for visitors, but then I wasn't really thinking about skiing..)
If you take ski insurance there should be some liability cover. What happens if you hit another skier in the US?
Holiday insurance is very standard for British skiers which includes liability.
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Old 03.03.2016, 10:22
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

Minor correction Melon- just in case anyone is interested in joining or looking this up. The Air Ambulance charity is REGA. They do a fabulous job- for a very small donation a year- it's 70CHF for a family or for a couple per year.

However- there has been huge discussion about this since a young REGA doctor, father of several young children- was swept away and killed bay an avalanche during a rescue a couple of years back. The question remains open 'should rescue people go and risk their lives rescuing totally irresponsible **** who go off piste in the most dangerous terrain when the avalanche risk is known to be very high? And for many, the answer is NO- enough is enough. There are just too many adrenalin freaks who are excellent skiers and boarders, but do nto understand or respect the mountain- and are prepared to go out in very high avalanche risk- knowing full well it is a massive risk. If they choose to take it and die doing what they want to do- fine- but others shouldn't have to risk their own lives rescuing them in extreme risk conditions. Most REGA employees are keen skiers and boarders- and love off-pisting- but they also know that some risks are acceptable- and others are just plain idiocy.
Liability insurance may not cover you for killing others below you or rescuers- if it is clearf that avalanche risk was maximum and you didn't listen to advice. Just as it wouldn't cover you if you threw a rock from the Mway bridge onto a car!

Most tourist insurance that includes skiing does not include off-piste- but there may be one out there, I don't know. REGA is available to all, foreign or not- but you have to have a Swiss address and adequate health + accident insurance. They will not repatriate to abroad addresses.
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Old 03.03.2016, 10:29
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Re: Ski Resorts in Switzerland closed...

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If you take ski insurance there should be some liability cover. What happens if you hit another skier in the US?
Holiday insurance is very standard for British skiers which includes liability.
The lawyers begin to salivate.


An old neighbor of mine has an entire practice in Utah for just this scenario.

Last edited by VFR on top; 03.03.2016 at 11:50.
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