Saas-Fee's alternative winter adrenalin rush
Saas-Fee has introduced a new activity for days when the weather is simply too bad to ski.
It's called "Gorge Alpine" and is a cross between mountaineering, hiking and rock climbing.
The activity dubs itself "canyoning without water" and it's easy to see why. Small groups of would-be adventurers spend three hours scrambling over rocks, swinging across deep ravines and balancing on wooden suspension bridges. The only thing that stops them from venturing into the river is that it is frozen solid.
The trip starts off with a gentle downhill walk to the mouth of the canyon, which runs from Saas-Fee to Saas-Grund. Over a one kilometre stretch the ravine drops down more than 200 metres. It's only when the daredevil antics begin, that the presence of the small alpine church overlooking the canyon starts to make the adventurers nervous.
Once the safety briefing is completed and the karabiners, clips and security harnesses are mastered, it's time for the first challenge - a rope slide spanning the diagonal width of the canyon.
After a safe landing on the other side and with a new sense of confidence, the group goes on to tackle three fixed drop ladders, a rickety wooden suspension bridge wedged between two large rock outcrops and another rope slide.
All around, snow dusts the treetops and icicles hang from rocks. Now and again a rock fall rumbles further back up the canyon and the group members cling more and more desperately to the sides.
A free-moving cable swings from one side of the ravine to the other carrying the adventurers across Tarzan-style. Then another suspension bridge beckons along with a tandem cable slide into a dark cave.
The real highlight of the "Gorge Alpine" is left till last and is enough to try even the bravest souls. The final challenge is a ladder bridge suspended 30 metres above the gorge and flanked by an impressive ice wall on the one side and forest on the other.
After a nerve wracking five minutes crossing the ladder, desperately trying not to look down, it's time to abseil to the ground. Strapped into another series of ropes by the instructors, adrenalin filled adventurers speed through the air and land on rocky terra firma far below.
Most leave the mighty gorge with a great sense of achievement. Their earlier disappointment at not being able to ski all but forgotten.
"Gorge Alpine" is run by Saas Fee's mountain guide office and is possible on any day during the winter season if you have a group of more than six people. It costs between SFr65 and SFr90 per person ($40 - $55).
by Sally Mules
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