Monthly Archives: June 2011

30/6/11 – Should we have bought this gear for a dad, husband or son?

Smart smocks - and a twisted cigar that was the staple for yodellers

I never thought I’d be a fan of puffy short sleeves on a bloke. But at the Jodlerfest (see recent posts), this became the case. Dressing up was a big deal: all 11,000 performers, and some of the 200,000 crowd (more than Glastonbury) – were clad from head to toe in splendid regional costume.

Puffy short sleeves on a bloke? Actually this look was quite snazzy

The most widely worn men’s jacket was velvet or wide-line corduroy, in black, with sleeves to just above the elbows and gathering at the shoulder seam.

Decorative floral stitching on the lapel completed the picture.

The jackets, waistcoats and ties of the Dietikon city yodel group

The men were as eyecatching as the ladies (see post ‘I have my eye on an a new apres-ski hat’) – and because most yodel choirs are largely male, they generated more impact, being matching and numerous.

Black, scarlet, brown and occasionally blue or cream were the predominant colours.

Earrings and belt have special significance in this outfit, worn by Martin Hersche, 21

My favourite men’s outfit, scarlet with gold accessories, was from the St Gallen/Appenzell cantons.

We asked Martin Hersche, a roofer, about his outfit and adornment. Apparently the snake looped through the ear represents fertility and the dangly bit productivity, as it’s a butter stirrer. From his belt hangs a fob watch plus a little metal winder the opposite side.

Apart from the odd waiter, we were surprised to see just two visitors in lederhosen (suede shorts) and they were from Bavaria in Germany.

It turns out lederhosen are not traditional costume for the Swiss, who instead favour proper trousers.

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30/6/11 – I have my eye on a new apres-ski hat

A lovely 'hood', but would it preserve a hairstyle in the rain?

As an owner of five Austrian dirndls I was fascinated by the female outfits on show at the recent Jodlerfest.

Dirndls are flattering and easy to wear: I’ve worn mine to weddings, parties, the Tirolerhut restaurant in Bayswater and the Battersea Bierfest. Swiss friends of ours wore brilliant ones to my sister’s wedding.

A happy Haube-wearer

Along with the dirndls, an amazing sight to behold in Interlaken was the headgear, usually in black or white lace.

I asked one lady what her particular design was called and she said it was a “Haube”.

This one would go well with my Armstulpen

It turns out all female traditional headgear is known as a haube, whatever the shape – the translation is hood or, more likely, bonnet. But there are lots of variations.

My favourite was probably the dual fans with ribbons hanging from them, but I’m not sure I have the right hair for wearing that sort of thing.

A fan at each ear - I wonder if it helps with the yodelling

I did do some shopping, though.

Stalls had many items for sale, from dirndls complete with white undershirt and long apron to knee-length, holy, white socks.

My purchase took the form of a pair of Armstulpen – sensible woollen forearm warmers designed to be worn with a dirndl.

Ladies in arm-warmers - and a flower stuffed down the front of the dirndl

They were steepish at 30 Euros but I think they’re rather stylish and I’ve used them twice already back in the UK.

However, the sight of them has so far provoked at least one mystified response, along the lines of, “What a funny garment. Why don’t you just wear a cardigan?”

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22/6/11 – Graham Bell’s midsummer ski trip: feat or fun?

Graham Bell tackles the midsummer crust in style

This morning a press release landed in my inbox bearing the news that Britain’s best known ski personality, Graham Bell, had completed the “challenge” of skiing the Monte Rosa, the second highest mountain in the Alps, on Midsummer’s Day. At the top it was minus-25 and they managed 1,200m of vertical descent before the snow ran out.

My first thought was, “Brilliant, what fun!” Then, “Wow, I wonder if they stayed at the Margherita Hut” – the highest manned hut in the Alps, whose guardian I interviewed for Fall-Line magazine’s March issue (read it here http://tinyurl.com/6a6mol8).

In fact, the five-times Olympian and Ski Sunday presenter, along with photographer Daniel Taylor and mountain guide Gianni Carbone, arrived by helicopter from the Aosta valley – so while they did succeed in making the descent yesterday in rather poor snow and taking some wonderful pictures, I would hesitate to call their trip that much of a challenge, given that they are experienced skiers. Good on them, nonetheless, and anything that encourages people to get up among the peaks, winter or summer, is a brilliant thing in my view.

Graham has written an excellent piece on the Ski Club of GB website – read it here http://tinyurl.com/5wj786k. And it turns out that 21 June was the day the Margherita Hut opened for the summer season, so if they’d wanted to stay overnight there, it would have been in the winter room.

At Col de Lys in March. Lyscamm is behind, with the north face dropping off in the shade

Regular readers of this blog may remember that I went to the Monte Rosa recently, on skins from the Alagna side, on a five-day ski tour organised by Zuba Ski (see various March posts). We picnicked on the first day at the Col de Lys after quite a tough climb from Punta Indren to about 4,200m, where Graham also stopped yesterday to admire the views over Italy and Switzerland.

Right in front of us, and to our left throughout our subsequent descent to the Monte Rosa Hut, was the magnificent Lyskamm north face, a 45-degree-plus slope of ice and rock that plummets more than 1,000m from the domed summit to the Grenzgletscher.

Lyskamm's north face, which is skied now and then. In the background is the Matterhorn

As we admired it I was astonished to hear from our guides – Michele Cucchi and Mario Zaninetti – that every few years a handful of people ski this face. The conditions have to be right, of course, and I am told August is the best time, as the type of snow falling then is wet enough to stick to the steep slope.

Now that really would count as a challenge for Graham Bell…

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Filed under Italy, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Off-piste, Ski touring, Switzerland, Transport

21/6/11 – Meet my new friends…

Can you imagine a gang of British brickies breaking into song mid-morning over their tea and biscuits and warbling away together in perfect harmony? Me neither. But last weekend, at the Interlaken Jodlerfest, we discovered that many of Switzerland’s finest voices belong to roofers, builders and carpenters.

Forget the singing detective and enter the yodelling chippie: Hansueli and Roman Hersche (left and right) are carpenters and Martin is a roofer. They were as charming as they are handsome

Take the Hersche family. We watched Hansueli, a carpenter, and his son Martin, 21, a roofer, sing a beautiful duet accompanied by his other son Roman, 20, also a carpenter, on the accordion. All three belong to a 17-strong yodel choir from Ebrat-Kappel in the eastern canton of St Gallen, half of whose members are under 35.

Roofer, composer and yodeller Fredy Wallimann with his daughter Renate (left) and my sister Teresa. We're drinking weak coffee with schapps

Then there are the Wallimanns. We met Fredy, a roofer, outside a cafe at about midnight on Saturday, after being drawn to the spot by an especially compelling sing-song. We got talking to his daughter Renate, who spoke excellent English having once had a boyfriend in London. “When he’s at work on the rooftops, my dad loves to sing and yodel,” she told us.

Fredy has written numerous songs and when we headed with them to a late-night cafe he was greeted like a celebrity. Despite this, each time he heard a bunch of people striking up one of his compositions, he appeared as delighted as if it were the first time.

With Regula Bieri, who sings with a Zurich group. Her advice about which groups to watch was spot on

Of course not only tradesmen yodel. We spent a fun couple of hours in the Appenzoell tent with Regula Bieri, who works in child and adult protection, and Ueli, 38, who researches maize varieties. Theirs was a Zurich-based group, which Ueli joined aged 22 when he moved there and wanted to meet people. Yodelling is on the rise in the city: Ueli and Regula’s group, Stadtjodler-Dietikon, takes tuition from Nadia Raess, who classes are fully booked for the next five months (visit http://www.jodel.ch).

Ueli (we didn't get his surname) bought us some cakes from this menu. We met him and Regula after they helped us open a very stubborn bottle of wine

Dietikon’s competition song was by another ‘new’ composer, Marie-Therese von Gunten: it was about taking time to laugh, love, dream, play, greet and think. So is there a big difference between ‘old’ and ‘new’ songs? “The old songs are about cows and mountains and the new ones are about life,” Regula declared. “The new ones are popular but the old ones are starting to come back in.”

Then there were the Canadians. At the opening ceremony we met Hans, from the 24-strong Calgary group Heimattreu, most of whom are of Swiss origin. Their most famous member, Bill, however, is not. A professional musician with the Calgary Philharmonic, Bill chanced upon Swiss music when someone asked his help – as a horn player – to blow an alphorn. After having a go he wanted one: now he plays, makes alphorns (156 at the last count) and teaches it – sometimes even in Switzerland.

It goes without saying that most people we met were skiers or snowboarders – and that, of course, makes them even more brilliant.

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Filed under Link to film, Music, Switzerland

19/6/11 – After this weekend, only-a-yodel-will-do

Once their indoor 'competition' performance is over, singers relax by striking up harmonies outdoors

Yesterday my sister and I listened to Swiss mountain music almost continuously from 9.46am to 4am. Yes, more than 18 hours of “jo-lo-lu-lu-uuu”. In a concert hall, in a church, in a sports centre; on a street corner, in a cafe, at a sausage stall; at a bar, beneath a tree, on a meadow. It was heaven.

Let me explain – briefly, because in the next few days more will be revealed in posts, pictures and in a little film Teresa and I have made (once I have discovered how to download and stitch together the clips taken with my new movie camera).

A few voices begin, strangers join in, and soon it's a yodel-jam

We were in Interlaken, in the Bernese Oberland, for the Swiss national Jodlerfest (16-19 June), where 11,000 yodellers, alphorn players and flag-wavers flocked, having qualified last year to perform there. A crowd of 200,000 awaited them over the four days, as did 140 judges, who gave them marks music-exam-style rather than in a ‘who-beat-who’ competition. The festival takes place every three years: recent past hosts include Luzern and Frauenfeld.

Bands played in some of the beer tents until 5.30am

Throughout Friday evening and from 9am to 9pm on Saturday, 14 venues came alive with the sounds of the mountains, with an act every eight minutes – as did 18 Bierfest-style marquees, some of which had live bands till 5.30am.

Interlaken’s cafes and bars, too, rang with sing-songs, as did its very streets. All day and all night long hundreds – probably thousands – of impromptu vocal jam sessions filled the Festgelaende (festival meadow). Even this morning at 6.45am, as Teresa and I walked to the station en route back to England, a group of four young people passed us yodelling softly in harmony.

Unless you followed a link I posted on my blog of 10 June, I bet most of you have never heard an authentic yodel (and no, The Sound of Music definitely does not count).

Not everyone who joined in wore traditional clothing. These boys sang beautifully

Well, you are in luck. In advance of our own forthcoming Jodlerfest film, you can watch one of our favourite acts from the festival here – Kuettel Family at Interlaken. This is a mother and daughter, accompanied by the son. The backdrop has been imposed by the way – in the auditorium it was a black curtain. Listen all the way to the end, and I defy you not to fall in love with the yodel!

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16/6/11 – Next season, carrying your skis with Easyjet will cost nearly 40 per cent more

It seems early to be thinking about winter flights - but this year especially, it's worth saving money wherever possible

Tomorrow I am flying from Gatwick to Basel with Easyjet, then taking the train to Interlaken for the Jodlerfest (yodel festival) that I mentioned in my post of 10 June. As it’s usually winter when I’m flying this sort of route, my impending trip made me want to glance at Easyjet’s flights for the 2011/12 ski season, which have been on sale now for a couple of months.

You can book flights up to 24 March 2012 and the good news is that for people who can be organised enough to do so now, there are still bargains, especially to Geneva. Even Saturday to Saturday fares during the school holidays are reasonable. There’s a twice-weekly new route from Luton to Salzburg, starting 17 December, and daily Innsbruck flights begin on 10 December.

A quick look shows that a return from Luton to Geneva, at civilised times of day, departing 24 December and returning 31 December, costs £114.98 including a 20kg case at £9 each way and a £8 debit card fee. Similar fares are available over New Year, though the price climbs if you want to return on Monday 2 January.

Not bound by weekends or school holidays? Even better. For a long weekend in December you’ll pay £73.98, including luggage and debit card fee, to fly from Luton to Geneva first thing on Thursday 8 December, returning last thing on Monday 12 December. It’s similar in January: my probable flights to Zurich for the Inferno are £83.98.

So that’s the good news.

However, there is very bad news for Easyjet passengers who take their own skis or snowboards on holiday next winter. The carrier’s price for ski carriage has risen by almost 40 per cent. Last season the cost was £18.50 each way for a ski bag; this year it is £25 each way.

It may therefore be time to pack cleverly to save a few pounds. According to Easyjet’s own baggage statement (http://www.easyjet.com/EN/Planning/baggage.html), a ski bag (sports equipment) can weigh up to 32kg. Therefore instead of booking a normal bag (£18 return) and a ski bag (£50 return), there seems no reason not to book solely a ski bag. As long as it’s not too slim, you should be able to stash within it pretty much everything you need in terms of ‘sports equipment’ – jacket, salopettes, socks, gloves, shovel, probe, transceiver, suncream and so on. Maybe you can even double up and put in a second pair of skis for your travel buddy.

Your boots you can take in your hand-luggage, which can be up to 56 x 45 x 25cm – my wheelie case is just big enough for a pair of boots – and your snow boots and evening clothes, if there is no more room, you can wear.

This is my advice, and I have clarified by phone with the Easyjet press office that the baggage situation is as explained above, but I take no responsibility for anyone’s excess baggage charges should it be off the mark…

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Filed under Austria, France, Italy, Switzerland, Transport

13/6/11 – Chalet girl, chambermaid, resort rep or ski instructor?

Sarah Royston and me wearing our Inghams summer uniforms in 1997

On Saturday I went to a ski jobs fair – not to look for a job but to make what I hoped would be useful contacts in the wintersports world. It was organised by Natives.co.uk (company strapline ‘Knowledge is Powder’), which has found jobs in the alps and beyond for thousands of mainly seasonal workers. As I write, Natives has more than 47,000 registered applicants and around 850 positions , so competition is fierce. Recently, for one especially juicy job, there were 3,000 people interested.

At the fair in Hammersmith, companies such as Inghams, Crystal, Scott Dunn, Skiworld, Esprit, Ski Power, Alpine Action and Ski Total were there to talk to would-be applicants; there were also three operators of ski instructor courses, who send hundreds of Brits to places like Canada and the US to improve their skiing and get a qualification. It is all very well organised and a far cry from when I was 18 and went to work a season for the Swiss Ski School in Anzere, Valais (where I’d skied throughout my childhood).

Back then we took a week’s course with the deputy head of the ski school, were given booklets on the Swiss teaching system in three languages (very useful for terminology) and went straight into Christmas high season. My first group was a Swiss-French-Dutch-English-Belgian-German gang of first-timers aged three to 12. But the most difficult part of my job turned out to be taking tiny kids to the loo in a hurry – on or off the slope – and trying to prevent them peeing all over their salopettes.

Going back further in time, I recently interviewed a brilliant lady called Julia Beldam for Country Life magazine about her days in the early 1970s as a chalet girl – which led to her running a chalet company for 40 years. I loved her stories of near-disasters, eccentric guests and fun times. You can read my article about Julia, from the 23 February issue of Country Life, here – Chalet girl interview Country Life.

I still think it’s far easier to be a rep, ski host or instructor than a chalet host (as they are now known due to the many boys in the job). When I was 23 I shared a room with a chalet girl in Obergurgl, and her job required way more stamina, skill and time than mine as ski host and rep (and I think I was paid more). All those beds to make and an open kitchen where everyone could see if she dropped something on the floor. Another friend of mine cooked for a barrack-load of British army officers in Verbier – quite a scary prospect for an 18-year-old – and another joined us in Obergurgl as a chambermaid in a hotel and was sacked after being caught fast asleep on a bed she ought to have been making.

With Anzere colleagues in 1991 - not a qualification between us, but the Ski School provided good training

By contrast, as a ski host and rep all I had to do was turn up on time and take people for great days out on the slopes – often continuing into apres-ski. I never minded the weekly airport run to Innsbruck – it was a chance to chat to reps from other resorts and read guests’ sometimes entertaining questionnaires. Gripes were few, as Obergurgl has great snow and hotels – and when things kicked off our formidable resort manager, Sarah Royston, came into her own. (The guest who brought his previous evening’s meal to our office hour, asking, ‘Would you eat that?’ got short shrift.) No wonder I stayed  on for a summer – and a second winter – before returning to the real world.

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Filed under Austria, Canada, Food and drink, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw