Charity begins on the ski slopes
While the jet set fly into St Moritz at this time of year to show off their furs, the world of motor racing makes a pit stop in Villars to raise money for charity.
In mid-January, they come to the chic resort to race on skis, clocking up kilometres for good causes.
Hundreds of participants heeded the call of the Formula One elite to take part in the 2005 version of the GP 24 hours, a team relay race.
“We never thought it would get as big as it did,” Canada’s former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve told swissinfo.
Villeneuve, who lives in Villars, founded the event seven years ago with his manager, Craig Pollock.
The GP 24 hours is a relay event where teams are sponsored for every kilometre they accumulate.
This year, around 700 skiers notched up almost 35,000 kilometres, even though the thin snow cover meant the event had to be shortened by 12 hours.
More than SFr320,000 ($270,000) was raised in cash for three children’s charities (see key facts and related sites).
Villeneuve is as passionate about skiing as he is about motor sport, and that has rubbed off on current and former Formula One drivers, many of whom return to Villars year after year to support the charity race.
Among them are David Coulthard, Damon Hill, Mika Salo, Jackie Stewart and the owner of the Formula One Jordan team, Eddie Jordan.
“We’re probably even more competitive on skis than on the race track. Can you imagine me not wanting to beat Jackie Stewart?” joked Jordan.
“We Formula One people are very fortunate, and sometimes we have a bad reputation but [we can do a lot for charity] when we’re determined,” he added.
“If you do what Villars is doing with the 24-hour skiing, it means that many people can get involved,” said Stewart.
“They have the opportunity to do something really substantial for all sorts of people less fortunate than us,” he continued.
The timing of this year’s event also served to raise awareness of charities that have been forgotten in the wake of the tsunami disaster.
“We mustn’t forget things like cancer, which we have to eradicate where possible, because it’s a day-to-day tsunami,” said Jordan.
“[We’re helping] people that year after year need the money. A lot of charities are being ignored because of what’s in the newspapers now,” added Villeneuve, who will drive for Switzerland’s Sauber team this season.
A unique aspect of the event is the inclusion of disabled-skiing teams (see video), made up of blind skiers, one-legged participants and paraplegics.
They received no charity from their able-bodied competitors on the winding downhill course, yet they more than held their own.
For paraplegic, Jeremy Wood, the event is about raising funds and the profile of the “Disability snow sport UK”, of which he is a member.
“The event helps us and the kids who benefit from the charities here, so it’s an excellent cause altogether,” said Wood.
It is also good for business in Villars, filling empty hotel beds over a few days in the normally slow month of January.
swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Villars
The money from the 2005 GP 24 hours is earmarked for:
Clic – a British charity concerned with the research and treatment of children with leukaemia.
Force – a Swiss charity supporting research into paediatric cancer.
Springfield – a London-based organisation, supported by Jackie Stewart, which creates new opportunities for underprivileged youth.
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