Saas Fee time lapses

Last weekend in Saas Fee I had fun making time lapses with my phone. I particularly like how the skiers look like little dots zig-zagging down the mountain (turn on HD to see this properly). The first time lapse shows the Alpin Express cablecar coming and going from its top station at 2990 m.

The next one shows a hyperlapse of the Felskinn cableway. The windows of the Felskinn are blue, which left everything strangely tinted, so I made the video black and white.

Next is the view from (the bar at) Längflue, across the Feegletscher.

The last video shows the Allalinhorn (3027 m) and skiers on the easy slopes on the glacier below, as the clouds boil overhead.

April 22, 2017
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Col des Bastillon (ou Chevaux)

It’s definitely spring here, but there is still snow in the mountains, so a couple of weeks ago Tanya and I went for a ski tour. We started high, because the snow is rapidly melting, and set out from Bourg St Bernard at 1915 m, which is as close as you can drive to the Grand St Bernard pass in winter. We skied towards Monts Telliers, along the same route we took at about the same time last year.

Pre-tour-planning-with-beer is a crucial step.
Bluebird (read: hot) conditions.

There was still a lot of snow around up there, and we were able to ski directly from the car park. It was a stunner of a day, not a breath of wind and sunny, and it was hot and thirsty work climbing up the valley.

After a while we could see Monts Telliers up ahead. There was a giant cornice on top, and some other ski tourers were nearing the summit. While a few walked across the cornice, most stayed back on the ridge under the peak, from where you cannot easily see into the next valley. We made a strategic call to make our goal the Col des Bastillons (2754 m), which would guarantee us the well-known-to-be-awesome view across Val Ferret and onto the Mont Blanc Massif, instead of risking getting to the ridge, being turned around by the cornice, and missing out.

The view we wanted. On left Mont Blanc and Grandes Jorasses, on right Mont Dolent. Val Ferret in between.
Mont Blanc and Grandes Jorasses.
Looking the other way, to Mont Vélan.

Strangely, the Col des Bastillon is also referred to as the Col des Chevaux on maps. In person it was sign-posted only Bastillon, and there was a sign pointing to (another) Col des Chevaux across the way. Mysterious!

Looking across Val Ferret from Col des Bastillon.
Grand Golliat.

With the heat of the day we didn’t want to linger too long, so we fixed our heels and skied quickly down the valley. The snow was beautiful spring snow, super easy to ski, no crust and not too heavy.

Skiing down, with views across to Grand Combin and Mont Vélan.
Tanya skiing backwards while singing and using her ski poles as antlers. She is the best.
Did someone say it was spring?

We were back at the car nice and early, and on the way home we dropped in to Chamonix for lunch, and saw Mont Blanc from the other side. It was a fantastic relaxing Sunday.

April 22, 2017
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Skiing en piste 16/17

Although this winter has generally been considered to be on the low-snow side, Tanya and I have been very lucky and we have done quite a bit of skiing. First, we scored incredibly cheap season passes for Saas Fee, so we have been able to take full advantage of its high altitude, epic views, and amazing après ski vibe. On our first day there Tanya and Pete played snow-cricket:

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Dom, in centre, is the highest peak wholly within Switzerland.
Saas-Fee glaciers in December. The mountain behind is Weissmeiss (4017 m).
Lots of ice.
Dom again (centre, 4545 m).
Sunset from Saas-Fee village.

We took an off-piste ski course that was organised by the Swiss Alpine Club and ran through January and February. It was excellent; for four Sundays in a row we skied off-piste with an instructor, at Portes du Soleil, Leysin, and Ovronnaz. The day we went to Ovronnaz happened to include a huge dump of snow, so we skied powder all day, and it was fantastic.

Leysin with the valley filled with cloud. Dents du Midi behind.

It did also snow a bit in Lausanne — enough to fill my rain gauge.

Accuracy compromised.

A bit later we went to Grindelwald, and skied in perfect weather under the mighty Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau.

Eiger (3970 m) at sunset, from Grindelwald.
Peering into the Lauterbrunnen valley.
Skiing with the north wall of the Eiger as the intimidating backdrop.
Mönch (4107 m) and Jungfrau (4158 m).
Lauberhorn and Tschuggen, and the Grindelwald ski area.
Sunset light on Wetterhorn (3692 m) from Grindelwald.

Portes du Soleil is a favourite place to go. It’s close to Lausanne, is huge and has excellent terrain, and you can ski into France where they make tartiflette.

Dents du Midi from near Champéry on my work lab’s yearly ski day.
Later in the season, rain left runnels in the snow.

More recently we spent a day at Verbier, and ventured up to Mont Fort to ski some steeper moguls. From the top of the station you could see so many of Switzerland’s great peaks — from Weisshorn, Matterhorn, and Mont Blanc de Cheilon, across to the Grand Combin and Mont Blanc Massif.

Weisshorn, Dent Blanche, Matterhorn, Dent d’Hérens, and on the far right, Pigne d’Arolla and Mont Blanc de Cheilon, from Mont Fort.
Grand Combin.
Mont Blanch Massif, and the ski slope off Mont Fort.
Atmospheric ski café at Verbier.

Our most recent piste ski was at Zinal/Grimentz, a little station in the wonderful Val d’Anniviers. Here we skied spring snow, which is super fun because heavy snow will forgive you for almost any mistake. At the end of our first day there I discovered that I had ripped an edge out from one of my skis, presumably through hitting a rock. I took the skis to the nearest ski shop, where the staff laughed while telling me the ski could not be fixed. Later, I took it to a shop in Lausanne where they told me it could definitely be fixed and then fixed it. What a rollercoaster ride!

Great views from Zinal station.
Barrage and Lac de Moiry.
From Grimentz, the Barrage de Moiry and behind it Grand Cornier with Pointes de Mourti on its right.
Spring means walking more.
Zinal town has the best gate in the valley.
The Becs de Bosson, a peak we climbed last summer.
Whiteout at Grimentz.
Left: ouch! Right: the ski rides again!

We are very fortunate to have been able to get into the mountains so much this winter, and I am grateful. Now it’s undeniably springtime, and it has to be said that the warm weather is really rather nice: the fields are turning green and there is blossom everywhere. And we’re still eking out days on the skis, you just have to go higher to find it!

Saas Fee on a recent day when it had dumped snow and nearly all the pistes were shut for avalanche control.
A spring train view on the way back to Lausanne. On this train a man talked loudly about attaques de blaireaux (badger attacks!).
Spring at my work at EPFL.
April 13, 2017

Painted doors in Funchal

The old part of Funchal, the main town in Madeira, has lots of beautiful paintings in the streets. Most often they are on the doors of the houses and restaurants. Here are a few photos of these paintings that I took while there over Christmas.

February 19, 2017

Avalanche course and ski tour

Last weekend I went on an avalanche safety course organised by the EPFL Mountain Club. The course was in La Fouly in Val Ferret, where there was a strong foehn wind blowing up from Italy (side note: in Swiss french, the verb foehner means to blow-dry one’s hair, because the foehn wind is the warm, dry wind). On the first day of the course we did activities in a field: we practiced finding avalanche beacons, looked at layers in the snow, and dug. Even with a team digging in an efficient configuration, digging through snow is really hard work. We also talked a lot about how to reduce avalanche risk.

Pointes des Six Niers (2939 m).
Conditions in the Combe des Fonds.

That evening we went through trip planning and planned a ski course for the next day. Our group set out to ski to the top of Crêta de Vella (2519 m). We approached from Drance, which is in Val d’Entrement and was therefore more sheltered from the wind. Nevertheless, when we got out of the forest the wind was strong enough to be impressive.

Exiting the forest on the way to Crêta de Vella (behind).

I have twice before skied this route, but each time the conditions meant that we could not go to the summit and we turned around at the top of the forest. This time the conditions were better and we were able to continue, so we cut across the Plan Devant and around to the east side of the mountain, where we could get to the summit without being on any steep slopes.

The eastern side of the mountain had been heavily blasted by the foehn, and the snow cover is quite light this year in any case. This meant we were skiing on hard snow with various almost-bare patches. We pushed on and were rewarded with amazing views from the top.

Almost there.
Cornices on the ridge, with blowing snow forming trails over the top.
The summit of Crêta de Vella (2519 m).
Le Catogne (nicknamed the “Swiss volcano” for its conical form).
Looking south towards Italy.
Floor on the summit.
It’s hard to see here, but the black smear down this mountain is an enormous avalanche trace on its north face.
Looking across the Combe de l’A and Val Ferret.
Petit (left) and Grand (right, in cloud) Combins.
So much wind!

We didn’t linger on the summit, but instead we took photos, took the skins off our skis, and headed down. The snow at the top was crusty but had nice stashes of wind-blown powder that you could follow for a few easier turns. Down lower in the forest the snow was good but the turns were tight. A great day in the backcountry!

February 18, 2017


For our Christmas holidays, Tanya and I went to Madeira, the tiny Portugese island in the Atlantic Ocean. We left Switzerland on Christmas Eve and arrived in Madeira just after midnight on Christmas morning. Our plane’s landing was “exciting”. After sudden turbulence strong enough to stop the the cabin crew mid-announcement, we got through the clouds and could see the lights of the island off to our right. The plane flew lower and lower until, at what seemed like an unbelievably low altitude, it hooked right into a full 180-degree turn — in front of the island’s steep sides — immediately before touching down. I was impressed, so I did some research when I got home, and learnt two things. First, landing at Funchal airport is notoriously tricky and only specially-certified pilots are allowed to fly there. Second, a flight track shows that the final turn of that approach is made while descending from about 250 to 100 m of altitude, and finishes alarmingly close to the runway. The runway, incidentally, is raised above sea level and has been extended over the ocean on columns. Oh, and the area is subject to strong winds and turbulence (check out this landing!). Our landing was very smooth, though, and we got a cab straight to the main town of Funchal.

Christmas day in Funchal.

Our cab driver wanted to know whether we were interested in football. Funchal is the hometown of Christiano Rinaldo and he, our taxi driver informed us, was in town for Christmas. We didn’t see him, but we did stay two nights at a hotel that he partly owns, in which the hallway carpet was shaggy and green to look like turf.


Funchal is a gorgeous town snuggled in between the hills and the sea. The weather on Christmas day was warm but overcast, and there were flowers blooming everywhere and the smell of cooking garlic in the air. We found a restaurant for Christmas lunch. I had black scabbard with banana – a Madeiran speciality, which was so sweet it was like eating a fishy banana-split. I called it my dessert fish, and we spent the rest of Christmas day wandering the town.

Fishing boats.
Flowers in Funchal.
Circle of green.

On Boxing Day we collected our hire car and drove immediately to the eastern tip of the island, where we could walk out along the narrow peninsular called the Ponta de São Lourenço. Here steep and colourful cliffs drop into the sea, birds swoop and dive (we saw a whimbrel!), and the ocean crashes below. We walked as far along as we could, until a steep hill brought us to a lookout over the water.

It was about here we saw a whimbrel.
Impressive sea spires.
And another!
Looking back towards the island.
The view back from the furthest point we could walk to.
Dog and fishing boats in Canical, Madeira.

Madeira packs a lot of topography into one small island, and correspondingly the roads — except for the main highway on the coast — are small and windy and often accompanied by an abyss to the side. Our little hire car was of the gutless variety, but it nonetheless took us, with great effort, all over the island. We drove to the central point of Encumeada and then across the barren high plains where there is a huge wind farm, and down to Porto Moniz on the north-west point of the island. At Porto Moniz are deep rockpools that are naturally formed out of basalt. They have since been given a slight helping hand in the form of a few discreet concrete walls to make them deeper. They made a great place to go for a dip out of the crashing surf.

Porto Moniz.
Rock pools! There were fish in there too.
Tanya called this one “nature’s infinity pool”.

The north coast of Madeira is a special place. It is less populated than the south, and the terrain is steeper. Often there are cliffs that fall almost uninterrupted into the sea, and as we drove past we would catch glimpses of waterfalls appearing out of the sheer rock. It’s incredible.

Madeira’s north coast.
Puzzle-piece concrete.

We decided to check out the laurisilva forest by going for a walk along a levada, which is a small agricultural channel just like the Swiss bisses, but specific to Madeira. After some searching, we found the levada running quietly through dense forest. Little birds hopped about where there were insects gathered in shafts of sunlight. One type was particularly small and I think it may have been the Madeira Firecrest.

Tanya at the first Levada we visited.
Laurisilva forest.
A giant old laurel (left).

A few nights into our trip we changed hotel to stay at an organic farm which was at the bottom of a huge cliff, and only accessible by cable car. There the only noises were the wind and sea.

The cable car cat.
A long way down.
View onto the Atlantic.

On our other days in Madeira we went on short walks. We climbed a hill near Encumeada to look at the mountains at sunset, and found another levada walk. On our last day on the island we walked to the highest point, Pico Ruivo (1861 m), where we had incredible views over the island and got to watch the swirling cloud around the tops.

Looking across to the highest peaks on Madeira from near Encumeada.
Tanya was a bit excited about the levada.
View from the path to Pico Ruivo.
Looking across to the third highest peak (Pico do Arieiro, with radar).
View from the top, looking east.
Tanya on Pico Ruivo.
Atmospheric clouds.
View from the top, looking west.
At an emergency shelter on the path.
Madeiran landscape (looking east from the path to Pico Ruivo).

Somewhat luckily for us, we only discovered the local “strong drink” on our last night in Madeira. It’s called poncha and consists of a type of locally-made rum, fresh lemon juice and sugar. It is strong, sour, and delicious. It was served with an unusual kind of white, flat bean, covered in garlic and herbs. Mysteriously, both times we ordered poncha we were delivered a spare plate that was placed carefully next to the beans. We figured it was for bean husks, but the second time the beans were skin free. So the plate remained empty, a symbol of our foreignness.

Delicious poncha with beans and mystery plate.

We left Madeira early in the morning; we had great views of the airport and island as we left, and then pushed up through the clouds into the blue sky above. Landing in Switzerland again we descended again into winter, happy after our few lucky days in Madeira in the sun.

The airport – note the runway extended on columns (there is a fairground under it!).
Aerial view of the spit we walked along.
About to land back in Switzerland.
January 28, 2017
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Tiles in Porto

One of the iconic things about Porto is that, like Lisbon, it is a city that is covered in beautiful tiles. The tiles have all manner of patterns and appear in all states of repair; they cover little walls and whole facades of buildings. I took a lot of photos of these walls. Here is a selection of them.

January 1, 2017
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In early December, while my mum was visiting Europe, we went to Porto in Portugal for a long weekend. It was fantastic — we enjoyed great food and the warmer weather. Porto itself is very pretty with steep old streets and plenty of street art. It is set next to the Douro river which leads out to the Atlantic Ocean nearby. We took a bus out to Foz do Douro and saw the sea. In Porto city we climbed the Torre des Clérigos, and walked the Ponte Luís I. Here are some pictures from the trip.

A vending machine came to the rescue during the trip to Porto.
Tanya at the Lello & Irmão bookstore, which is rumoured to have inspired some of J.K. Rowling’s descriptions in Harry Potter.
View from the Torre des Clérigos.
Torre des Clérigos views.
Ginkgo colours.
Night time next to the river.
Street art.
More street art.
A friend.
Farolins da Barra do Douro
Natas and coffee!!
Old red car in Porto.
Looking out from the Ponto Luís I bridge.
Ponte Luís I.
Ginkgo leaves.
Casa da Música, Porto.
Street art.
Leaving Porto to head back to Switzerland.
January 1, 2017
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Transportation in Lucerne

Lucerne hosts the Swiss Museum of Transport, which is Switzerland’s most popular museum. This being Switzerland, you can buy a ticket at a train station which includes your entry to the Swiss museum of transport as well as your transport to the museum of transport. The transport to the museum is on the kinds of transport exhibited at the museum. In fact, once you arrive by train in Lucerne you can take a boat across the lake to the museum, thus giving you two types of transport before you even get in the door. The museum includes more trains than you can poke a stick at, a big section on the new Gotthard Base Tunnel (obviously a source of pride here) and an aerospace section. Lucerne is also a very pretty town, even on a cold and grey day like when we were there!

Lucerne is pretty.
My mum on the boat crossing to the museum.
The swans in Lucerne seemed to be this way up most of the time.
Parklands outside the museum of transport.
The museum’s a bit down on this machine, but it’s really not that boring.
The Lion of Lucerne – an unexpectedly moving sculpture.
January 1, 2017

More Val d’Hérens!

It is becoming rather apparent by now that Val d’Hérens is a favourite valley for Tanya and me. We went there again with my mum on the first weekend of her visit to Switzerland. It had recently snowed and it was cold and dark in the valley. The mountains were out and magnificent, shining brightly above. We walked through Evolène and kicked the snow around in Arolla. Here are some pictures!

Dent de Veisivi.
That’s the Aiguille de la Tsa up there.
Dent Blanche on the left, Les Haudères below.
Mont Collon.
December 8, 2016

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