Runners Who Eat Raw Meat, Run Naked And Sleep In The Snow…Dog Sledding

When you think of Switzerland’s winter sports, you probably think of skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, ice skating, hockey or maybe even Telemark.  When you think of dog sled racing, mushing, you probably think of places like Finland, Canada, Alaska, Colorado or even Minnesota.  Chances are, Switzerland isn’t your first thought.  In the 1950’s Switzerland encountered sled dog racing.  It didn’t take long for it to become popular.

While they don’t host the Iditarod, Switzerland hosts many large races.  Les Mosses, near Chateau d’Oex, hosted the Mara Cross-Country Dog Sled Race, one of the most important of the season, this past weekend.

The race was 16 kilometers long and the dogs traveled of speeds averaging around 20 mph (32 kph).  In the competition there was no limit on the number of dogs that could pull the sled. Generally, the number ranged from 5 to 10.

The dogs can be any breed, although most were some type of husky.  There were also Malamutes, Labrador Retriever, Samoyeds and Greenland Dogs.

The level of cooperation between the dogs and the mushers was astounding.  The musher would say “left” or “right” and the dogs would turn accordingly.  When they crossed the finish line, the musher would stay stop and immediately the dogs obeyed.

Speaking with some of the participants, they said that the hardest part is training the dogs.  They said that it was in their blood so, most of the dogs picked it up quickly, but there is always an occasional dog who is never able to master the necessary commands.

They said that the next most difficult part is choosing which dogs to put where in the harness (the lineup).  The smartest, most obedient and most dominant go up front.  The strongest go in the back.  The dogs must be arranged so they can work together and maintain the same speed.

The dogs get extremely excited when they are hitched up to the sled as they know they are going to get to run.  They bark and jump.  People hang on to the dogs to ensure (along with the brake), that the dogs don’t take off too early and things stay under control.  When the officials count down to the start, the assistants let go and the musher gives the start command, the dogs sprint off the line.

When the dogs finish, they are scanned to ensure that the dogs that finished were the same ones that started and no dogs were swapped for fresh ones while out of sight on the course.

It looked like tons of fun.  We are dog lovers.  Watching the race made us want to try a lesson, a dog sled tour, or even a trip.  It looked like so much fun.  Although I don’t think you will see us participating in the Iditarod anytime soon, dog sledding has definitely been added to the list of things we would like to do next year.

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Danger!!!!! What We’ve Learned About Avalanches

No, I’m not talking about the Chevrolet Avalanche, or any other SUV.  It will come as no surprise that the last time I saw one of those was before we moved to Switzerland.  This post is about snow, lots of it…tumbling down mountains.

3 = Marked Danger of Avalanches

The Alps have around 250,000 avalanches every year!  To have an avalanche, all you need is a mass of snow and a slope for it to slide down.  Specific topographic, snow and weather conditions increase the likelihood of avalanches.  They include:

  • Steep slopes of 30-45 degrees are more likely to avalanche.
  • Convex slopes are more prone than concave slopes.
  • Just looking at bowls and gullies, should alert you to their avalanche danger.  What happens when you pour water into a funnel?
  • Slopes that gather drifting snow, accumulate more of it and do it more quickly.  The snow is also looser, less compacted.  You can see how these factors all increase the likelihood of an avalanche.
  • Smooth, grassy slopes are much more dangerous because there is nothing to anchor the snow to the mountain.
  • Moist, dense precipitations are typically less dangerous than loose, dry snows.
  • Wind. It moves snow about the slopes and exerts pressure.  Need I say more.
  • Changes in temperature.  Change is destabilizing.  High and rapidly rising temperatures create wet snow prone to slides.  That’s likely what happened in the pictures below.
  • Thawing and refreezing.  When old snow melts, it becomes smooth (or icy after a rain).  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out new snow on top might slide off.
  • Similarly, loose, underlying snow is unstable.  It doesn’t take Copernicus to predict what is likely to happen.
  • A foot or more of soft, new snow is dangerous. It puts pressure on the existing snowpack.  New snow has to go somewhere, right?  Some of it might rest where it lands.  Some of it might come tumbling down.
  • Even the shape of the snow crystals can make a difference!

Avalanches can be deadly, but people buried in avalanches have a good prognosis if they are found and dug out quickly (within 15 minutes to have a reasonable chances of survival).

  • Much of North America is so large that the chances of a professional rescue team arriving in that time frame can be slim.  Nevertheless, Canada‘s average time to dig someone out is 18 minutes (with a survival rate of 46%)!  In Europe, where everything is closer, things vary by country.
  • In France, the average time to dig someone out is 45 minutes.  As a result, France’s death rate from avalanches averages 25-30 per year (60% of extracted victims die).  France (where we do most of our skiing) had more avalanche fatalities than any other country.  The winter of 2005-2006 was a difficult avalanche season and over 50 people died from avalanches in France alone.
  • Switzerland takes 35 minutes (with a survival rate of 47%).

Just last month, Prince Frisco of the Netherlands was caught in an avalanche in Austria.  He was buried under the snow for over 25 minutes and it took nearly 50 minutes to resuscitate him.  He remains in a coma and may never recover.

Avalanche deaths have been on a rise.  Equipment has improved over the past couple of decades, making “off-piste,” backcountry skiing without the benefit of marked trails composed of compacted snow, possible for many more.  It looks like tons of fun, but many are ill-prepared and not sufficiently knowledgeable.

This was taken at Les Contamines, near Mt. Blanc. If you look closely, you can see the aftermath of the avalanche.

Several technologies are essential for anyone backcountry skiing as they help improve the chance of survival.

  • Transceivers, otherwise known as avalanche beacons, send and receive radio signals, helping rescuers to quickly pinpoint the location of a buried victim.  Nevertheless, not even half of those with beacons survive.  It cannot save you if you are severely injured or buried deeply.
  • Avalanche airbags are recommended and gaining in popularity.  We have even seen them advertised at bus stops.  Worn like parachutes, the ripcord causes an airbag to inflate, encircling the head.  It  protects their head and their neck and provides floatation, decreasing the likelihood of burial.
  • Other crucial safety tools include: collapsible probes and shovels.
  • The best defense is a good offense.  It is best to avoid an avalanche altogether.

You can see where the snow slid (and might again).

Here are some YouTube links to videos of Avalanches:

During our Swiss travels in Switzerland, we have seen evidence of the Swiss infrastructure to prevent and deal with avalanches.

An avalanche shelter in Switzerland’s Lauterbrunnen Valley

Avalanche snow fences in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland

Don’t worry mom, ski resorts try to eliminate the possibility of an avalanche on the slopes by compacting the snow or using explosives.  We aren’t good enough (or brave enough) to really go off piste.

Covering to prevent snow from covering the road into the Lotschental Valley

 

Les Soldes! Who Doesn’t Love A Sale?

What are “Les Soldes“?  It translates to “the sales”.  Here in Europe, sales don’t happen like they do in the US.  This is not the land of constant markdowns and bargain shopping.  Twice a year for about a month (in August and January), they sell off the previous season’s merchandise at a discount.  In France, the dates are set by the government!

At first, they start with 20-30%.  After a couple of weeks, they mark things down to a second reduction of 50% off.     If you get really lucky, they will mark things down to a final reduction of 70% off.  Even though “never pay retail” should be tattooed on me somewhere, I haven’t gone buck nutty.  I still think you can buy things less expensively in the US.  Knowing there is a better deal out there somewhere takes all the fun out of it.

Les Soldes are practically a national sport around here.  People will scout things out ahead of time, stalk the remaining garmets in the store and play the waiting game to get the best deal.

Some stores splash the discounts all over their storefronts.

Others (like Valentino) are a bit more discreet.

I didn’t even see any markdowns at Gucci.

By the way, the crazy storefront had this in the window for him.  Unfortunately it hasn’t gone on sale yet.

If you are planning on doing some shopping, EuroCheapo and Europe Up Close have some good ideas for tackling the sales.

A Giant Spider Traveling The World

When I visited Geneva on my apartment hunting trip, I spent an afternoon in Bern, Switzerland. In front of the parliment building, there was a fantastic statute of a giant spider. When we moved to Geneva a month later, the sculpture had moved here!  It made me curious and I wanted to learn more.
The spider gets around; it is better traveled than us. The statute first appeared as part of an exhibition as part of the Tate Modern in London (below).
Since then, it has vacationed in fantastic spots all over the world. Temporary locations include:

Permanent locations of bronze cast replicas include:

Maman has been well received in each place and has become very popular.* It’s easy to see why.  The sculpture photographs well, children love to play around its legs and it’s a hit with art connoisseurs.

 
It was made by French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois. Before passing away in 2010 at age 98, she was the world’s highest paid living female artist. The sculpture is called “Maman“. The spider’s sac contains 26 marble eggs.  You can see them looking up from underneath the spider.
It’s called “Maman” and is an homage to her mother who worked as a restorer of tapestries in Paris (get it, spiders weave webs, her mom rewove tapestries).
She made a giant spider statue for her mother, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that she had daddy issues. When she was a child, she learned that her tyrannical, sadistic, father was having a long-term affair with her live-in nanny!  Insert Freud jokes here.  She spent her career exorcising these demons.  Much of her work dealt with revenge, feminism, women’s roles and power.
She saw spiders as clever, protective, life-giving and useful.  Others see it/them as both frightening and/or threatening.
*Maman has its own Facebook page with its picture in different locations.
 

Padlocks of Love – “Luccheti d’Amore”

When we were in Copenhagen, Denmark, we walked across the Brygge Broen, a bicycle and pedestrain only bridge.  When I saw these locks, I had to stop and look. I’d read a story about padlocks from the Pont de l’Archevêché on the Seine in Paris. They disappeared in the middle of the night after the city of Paris said they were concerned about their effects on their architectural heritage. People were upset over their disappearance and the locks “magically” reappeared.
Although this custom has allegedly been around since before WWI, it has become much more widespread. An Italian book that was made into a movie Ho Voglia di Te (“I Want You”) was released in 2006 featured the “Luccheti d’Amore”. In Italy, the movie became like Twilight in the U.S. increasing the padlock’s popularity. As the locations for and numbers of padlocks have risen, their notariety has grown. They are now widespread and getting media attention. Some are even listed in travel guides.

Other places where this occurrs include:

Some people decorate or write on theirs.  50 years!  Everyone should be so lucky.I don’t think that I am a particularly romantic person, but seeing 50 years written on one is really touching. Who knows, maybe we will put one up in our travels? On the other hand, this seems to be the new trendy thing, so maybe we won’t.

I don’t think that I am a particularly romantic person, but seeing 50 years written on one is really touching. Who knows, maybe we will put one up in our travels? On the other hand, this seems to be the new trendy thing, so maybe we won’t.

We Have Visas!

As I was packing up the car today, I received a call from him with BIG news. Our permission for visas has arrived. I delayed leaving to get all the things we need together and am headed to the Swiss Consulate in ATL tomorrow morning. They will then process our information and issue the visa from the consulate. I guess this should be titled “We Almost Have Visas”.

By the way, wasn’t she the cutest little puppy.  This is from when we moved in.