Postcard from Belalp
In Belalp, above the village of Blatten, PlanetSKI’s Vanessa Fisher took part in the “Belalp Hexe” race, the first in the ‘Super 3’ series.
It’s the first of three amateur ski races.
A regular ‘Inferno’ skier – 75 Years of Inferno – I was told about the Super 3 last season.
Looking to try something fun and different I grabbed the opportunity to take part with a small team of others, one of whom had taken part last season – then he was the only British person among 500+ skiers.
This season we initially had a team of five, me being the only British female to enter, then three other British skiers joined us, Cleeves Palmer, President of the Kandahar Ski Club and fellow Kandahar skiers Ed Killwick and Nick Kennett as well as one lively Aussie, Andrew.
We had two days in the resort to check out the course and surrounding the ski area at Belalp.
This looks small on the piste map with only six lifts but a tunnel at the top of the mountain opens up a huge off piste bowl below Belgrat at 3,334m.
Sadly we didn’t have the time (or the fat skis) to explore this off piste area but we skied over to the far side of the resort to see the old Belalp Hotel, built in the late 1850s “to look after English Guests’.
English Naturalist and Alpinist John Tyndell visited for 44 consecutive summers and the black run down to the hotel is named after him.
The views from the hotel up to the Aletsch Glacier are stunning and the original tiny church above the hotel still sits like something out of a fairy tale.
The night before the Hexe race we watched a series of fire throwers dancing wildly around a towering ‘witches cauldron’ before setting this alight, followed by more wild witch dancing and Swiss oompah band joining in the ritual.
Legend has it a witch who could turn into a raven pooed in to the eyes of her cherry-picking husband (she had a more favoured lover).
The husband fell out of the tree and died…
This annual ski race and dressing up witch festival honours this poor man!
Back to race day and we soon realised that our race was just one of the highlights of the day.
The other and far more fun event is the witches’ race.
Costumes are worked on all year apparently and this was evident as the witches gently parade down the course.
This was a far cry from our race earlier in the morning, won by Valais local, Christoph Escher who smashed his own record with a time of 10 minutes flat becoming this year’s “Hexen Meister”.
My 14.25 time earnt me a ‘silver’ place – among our team we had 3 silvers and 5 bronzes between us.
The oldest participant was 81, and among the 478 total racers only 50 were women.
For race day we had perfect conditions, creamy pistes and bluebird skies.
We raced on the full course – the first time in over five years that the full course has been able to run – from the top of Hohstock at 3,118 m down the 12km course finishing in Blatten at 1,322m – 1,800m of descent.
The course starts on the black piste with a couple of scary tight hairpin bends in the steeper upper section with a compression to suck the air out of you and then moves on to a series of straight rollers where the best racers tuck the entire way.
Moving down the valley the track becomes a series of rutted switchbacks past ancient buildings and finishing down in Blatten village.
With all of our team safely down we took the lifts back up to enjoy the party on the slopes as the many wizards and witches entertain the crowds.
Later in the afternoon, the highly contested ‘best dressed witch group’ is awarded to pumping music and a huge crowd.
This years ‘Adams family’ were the stand out winners.
Next up in the Super 3 series is the ‘Inferno in Murren’, taking place later this week.
Good Luck in the Inferno .. the word is loosly defined “as a large fire that is dangerously out of control” – could that be an apt description of the race?
Vanessa will report back next week!