Winter Waterfalls in Switzerland

Written for:  The Gainesville Times

By: Michael V. Crowder

Frigid water drips slowly down my back as I try to clear my eyes. My hands are starting to freeze and my cloths are covered with a even coating of ice. Lost in solid concentration I even forget where I am. Who could believe indoor ice climbing? These Swiss have some really good ideas.

The town of Saas-fee in the Valias region of the Swiss Alps allows no automobiles on their streets. Foot traffic and small electric taxis are all that are allowed on public streets inside of town. To handle the cars the town erected a 12 story parking deck on the edge of town.

In one section of the parking deck there is a 7 story rock wall that leaches water. Local climbers soon noticed the ice climbing potential and soon water hoses were added to augment the natural flow. A premier ice climbing area was created indoors. No avalanche potential, sheltered from the wind and lights for climbing after dark. What a concept. The best part may be the stereo that allows you to have your tunes jamming while you climb.

When we arrived in town we asked where the ice climbing was and were quickly pointed toward an elevator and told to go to the bottom floor. We exited the elevator into a dark and cold cement basement. After wandering around in the dark for a few moments we soon heard the familiar sounds of climbers and falling ice. We found a set of wooden steps leading over a cement wall and found ourselves in a little slice of frozen paradise.

Several sixty foot columns of ice stood side by side in an interesting and challenging layout. I could hardly get my equipment out of my pack and on quickly enough. I hopped the wall and went to climbing immediately. The hoses were turned on so I was soon drenched but nothing could take away from the enjoyable climbing.

Surprisingly there was only one other party of climbers and they finished up soon after we arrived. Our second trip to this attraction found the same situation. I could not believe this indoor climbing facility was not drawing large crowds. Just wait for the word to get around and this will change.

This region also abounds with natural waterfalls. The season usually lasts from early November until the end of December and sometimes through January according to how much snow falls during the early season. When there is much snow the avalanche potential is too great for climbing on most of the routes. Here in lies the beauty of indoor ice climbing.

I have been impressed by the high concentration of really tall waterfall routes. Many of the routes exceed one thousand feet in height. Climbing at all grades abounds and the variety is incredible. It is a shame that I only have 10 days in this region before we move back to Grindelwald. I could spend a month climbing just in this valley.

I managed to get one day of fine waterfall climbing in before a really big snow set in. Bad news for ice climbing. Avalanches start being reported so climbing came to a halt. Well I guess it is time to go back to skiing and enjoy all the fresh powder. I will let you know how the skiing is in the next installment. Same time, same channel.