Snowmaking, Skiers Response To Mother Nature

When Mother Nature doesn’t deliver, man takes things into his own hands.  Usually, it involves some sort of big, noisy machine.  Snowmakers are no exception.  Those are snow cannons in the photo above.

Snowmaking creates snow by dispersing water and air-under-pressure into freezing ambient air. They can even choose whether to make it into light powder or a wet base snow (which lasts better at higher temperatures) by regulating the water content of man made snow.  Still, the lower the temperature, the better for snowmaking.  It usually needs to be below 25 degrees fahrenheit (-3.89 Celsius) for it to work, which is part of the reason it is done at night.  The lower the humidity, the higher the temperature can be.   Aaah… the miracles of modern science….

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Bellinzona’s Churches

 

Bellinzona is probably Switzerland’s most Italianate town.  Therefore, it is not surprising that it has tons of churches.  Being the idiot that I am, I was still surprised that such a small town had so many.  Being a trading center, Bellinzona drew people from all over, including religious folk.   There are many churches and convents in the area.  The local tourist office has even developed a walking tour that covers some of the highlights.

Piazza Collegiata (also known as Piazza Grande) is one of Bellinzona’s center squares, When you step into Piazza Collegiata, your eyes are drawn to its elegant, imposing Renaissance church.  Its rich baroque interior is incredibly ornate.  Perhaps because it isn’t very large, the Collegiata dei Ss. Pietro e Stefano somehow manages to be intimate, even cheerful.

Dating from 1424, was largely rebuilt by Tommaso Rodari from Maroggia.  He was the master builder of Italy’s Como Cathedral.   Just around the corner, toward the path to Montebello, you pass ancient church buildings.

The 14th century oratory of San Rocco is known for its frescos of St. Christopher and the Virgin Mary with Christ.  These frescos are 20th century restorations, but the Chiesa di San Biagio has some originals.  The Church of San Biagio in Ravecchia, known as the red church, also has frescos.

The walk from Castello di Montebello to Castello di Sasso Corbaro provides a stunning view of the Chapel of San Sebastian (Chiesa San Sebastiano).  On a hilltop with the alps derriere and the vineyards in front, it is sunning.

 

Why Hiking In Switzerland Is Wunderbar

 

We have been traveling a lot lately, but we spent most of the summer in Switzerland.  Switzerland is wonderful in the summer.  We love it, in part, because it is a hiking mecca.  Here are some reasons why hiking in Switzerland is wunderbar.

  • cable cars
  • there is plenty of opportunity to hike above the tree line, affording breathtaking views

  • the trails are incredibly well-marked and well-maintained
  • the trails are everywhere, they criss-cross the country, including the cities
  • its cities are compact so you are out of the city into the mountains quickly
  • the views are varied
  • at the end of almost every hike, there is a crystal clear blue lake to dip your feet in

  • I have yet  to find a mountain in Switzerland where my cell phone doesn’t work
  • even at altitude, you pass many cafes where you grab a bite

  • the fountains for cows mean that you can refill your water bottle all over the place

 

How Hot Was It?

Mid-morning hydration break. I drank all of it and, well, let’s just say I wasn’t running around in search of a bathroom.

We had heard that December through March is the best time to visit Dubai and to avoid going during Ramadan.  July and August have average temperatures mid-30s to 40s Celsius.  We went at the end of June.  Oops.

You can see where the drip irrigation lines are located.

I’d been warned about the heat.  People actually used the word boil.  Knowing about the heat and actually experiencing it are two different things.  It was 48, 45 and 47 (118, 113, 116 Fahrenheit) on the three days I was there.  I melted.

Bus shelters are air-conditioned.

I have run marathons where I hydrated less.   Like Jane Austen, the heat put me in a perpetual state of inelegance (which unfortunately seems to be the status quo for me).  More accurately, I was dripping, a hot mess.  Luckily, I wasn’t the only one.  Anyone I encountered walking around outside was melting as well.

The inside. Not frigid air-conditioning like in the US, but it kept me from melting.

The heat is incessant.  It doesn’t let up.  Even after dark it is intense.  When I went to the airport at 5:00 a.m., it was already over 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) intense, even after dark.

It was so hot that even the wind towers had air-conditioning.

Just how hot was it?

  • It’s so hot, today I saw a chicken lay a fried egg.
  • Birds have to use potholders to pull worms out of the ground.
  • It’s so hot you need a spatula to remove your clothing.
  • Potatoes cook underground, so just pull one out and add butter, salt and pepper.
  • It’s so hot that I saw two trees fighting over a dog.
  • It’s so hot the robins are laying their eggs sunny side up.

They joke that at one time, water was a more valuable resource than oil. I believe it. It hasn’t rained there in over 3 years!

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow…Or Just In Time To For It To Set

After a morning’s aborted hike in the mountains and the drive in a snowstorm, we’d lost hope that the weather would turn around or that we would be able to fit in a decent hike.

The weather in Switzerland is changeable  By mid afternoon, the weather Grindelwald had begun to clear.  By late afternoon, we’d taken our coats off.  What’s not to love?

Us…in front of some mountains

A Snowstorm…On Easter?!?

Two weeks ago, we woke up to a snowstorm.  We took the chairlift down so that we wouldn’t get stuck on the mountain.  We went for a drive to on the way to our next stop and saw lots of snowy farms.  Oddly, driving in a snowstorm wasn’t stressful.  It was peaceful and almost calming.

In case you were wondering, we headed from the Interlaken area to Meringen.

Tomorrow, I’ll post pictures from our hike a few hours later.  You’d never know it’d been this grey.

Check out the waterfall

I’m writing this from Lugano with the window open and palm trees in the yard.  Oh, what a difference two weeks make!  

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

 

Geneva (And Europe’s) Cold Weather

It is the middle of winter so I wasn’t expecting warm weather in Geneva, but I wasn’t really expecting this either.  Europe is experiencing extremely cold temperatures.  The weather forecast: more severe cold.  The bitterly cold weather will continue  through the weekend thanks to a dip in the jet stream that has allowed a large area of high pressure to move west from Siberia.

freezing in Geneva

Cold weather gear, check.  Hats, scarves, sweaters, coats, gloves, mittens, long underwear, wool socks, boots, I have been wearing it all.  At once.  While drinking hot tea.  Sitting underneath a blanket.  With the radiators blasting.

The Jet d’Eau is off until further notice for obvious reasons

This weekend,  it was -12 C (10.4 F) when we got on the chair lift to head to the much colder mountaintop.  While the chair lift wasn’t warm, we are lucky because the cold snap hasn’t created major problems for us.  Others have not been so fortunate:

  • Occupy Geneva has been disbanded, not because the government is broke it up, but because someone froze to death.

A Death In The Stronghold Of Occupy Geneva

An Eccentric Distantly Related to Occupy Geneva Dead At The Camp

Courtesy of World Bulletin.net

  • In Hungary, people combed through a disused mine’s refuse pile with their bare hands to get coal.

Courtesy of MSNBC/AP

Courtesy AFP/Getty Images

There have also been some more (and some less) humorous stories about people’s experiences with the cold.

  • Our friend from Poland told us that they are leaving their cars running overnight because temperatures are so cold that they won’t start.
  • Bosnian snowboarders took advantage of a record snowfall and snowboarded down the streets of Sarajevo. People also snowboarded next to the Colosseum.

  • When I opened the paper yesterday, I saw a story about someone who went swimming in Lac Leman (Lake Geneva)!

courtesy of You Tube

  • In Belgium, temperatures of -10 C kept intoxilyzers, machines to test motorists’ alcohol levels, from functioning.

    courtesy of BBC and AFP

  • Cars parked by Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) have frozen in place.  They are stuck because scraping ice off can take the paint with it.  Today, someone told me a story about this happening to an expensive sports car.  The owner elicited professional help to melt the ice so he could get his baby to a garage.

 

Swiss National Day

 

August 1st was Swiss National Day. The date refers to a historic alliance concluded in 1291 by the three cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden. This alliance became the basis of the regional alliances that forms today’s Switzerland.  Yeah Switzerland!

Switzerland has been good to us so far. We have been very lucky and feel very lucky to be here.  Here are some of the ways we’ve been lucky:

  • Apartments are hard to come by in Geneva.  It is on a lake and surrounded on three sides by the mountains.  This makes land scarce. None of the buildings are taller than six or seven stories tall (preserving the mountain views).  It has made the perfect storm.  I have heard that there is .5% vancancy (it may even be less). When we only put one offer and got our dream flat we were extremely lucky.
  • We were even luckier that we could get the keys within hours of landing!
  • We were able to have a washer and dryer delivered before we had to do laundry at a laundrymat.
  • We how have wireless (Swisscom)
  • Our belongings arrived in Switzerland before we did.
  • Our dogs have good new homes
  • It is extremely beautiful here.
  • The weather has been nice. Summer in Geneva seems a bit like summer in Chicago, there is tons going on and everyone is trying to make the most of the good weather.
While it hasn’t been without headaches and it is still early, our move has been about as smooth as possible. We have been lucky to have had advice from people who have done this before.  It is really nice not to reinvent the wheel. They have helped us navigate things.  A lot of it is also due to our wonderful friends and family.*  Thank you.
*Especially thank you if you took a dog.