Coming soon: Bouldering in the Saas Valley
Despite its popularity worldwide, bouldering is still a niche sport in Switzerland. The essence of the sport is reducing climbing to the bare essentials. The only equipment required is some shoes, chalk, and crash mats.
Bouldering, in contrast to traditional climbing, dispenses with ropes and climbing harnesses, since you are not climbing big walls, rather rocky outcrops and boulders of between two and twelve meters in height. As such the safety equipment required for both sport and trad climbing, where you reach far greater heights and must secure yourself to the wall, is unnecessary. For bouldering, all you need is a rock, climbing shoes, a chalk bag and some crash pads to soften the landing in case of a fall. And so, bouldering is the most simplified form of rock climbing. You have to focus less on endurance and more on technique, strength and coordination. The challenge is to climb short but technically challenging boulder ‘problems’ (a short route or a sequence of moves on the rock face) requiring balance, technique, strength and coordination. Each climber uses their own strengths and talents to solve the problem as they see fit.
There are countless rocks in the Saas Valley perfectly suited for this sport, something that has not gone unnoticed by a group of ex-pats living in Saas-Fee. Since last year, a diverse group of climbers from Spain, Czechia, France, Switzerland and the UK have been setting out practically every day to tackle problems on rocks in the valley. “The opportunities for bouldering here are incredible,” Juan Megias tells me. “There are countless beautiful spots and so many perfect rocks.” The Madrid native, who also has a master’s degree in sports psychology, came to Saas-Fee as a ski coach and has become a fervent advocate of climbing in the valley. “Bouldering is a fantastic way of staying active! You train your whole body at once, along with your mind. It is also environmentally friendly and no climbing anchors are required, just chalk and mats. In many ways, it is also a more social activity than other sports,” says Juan, “you go out as a group and pick out a problem on the rock. One person climbs while the rest of the group watches from below, discussing the climber’s chosen solution to the rock. Then another climber tries his hand at the problem, often taking an entirely different approach. We always have a lot of fun together, spending whole days outdoors. I think it’s a great leisure activity for children and teenagers too.”
In his opinion, it is an ideal additional sport for the region, suiting both youngsters and adults alike. And so, he and other local climbing enthusiasts have set themselves the task of making bouldering in the Saas Valley better known both across Switzerland and internationally. The group is working with the Tourist Office, local sports shops and, where necessary, local mountain guides to develop the sport as an official leisure activity. The aim is to attract a large bouldering community to the valley. He and his companions have already solved 200 problems and submitted them for classification. The group has also submitted a plan to the Tourist Office to make the sport an official offering, an initiative that has been warmly welcomed. The first official routes should be in place for the coming summer season, by which time crash pads and shoes will be available for rent at local shops. A guidebook to bouldering in the valley is also in the works. “Our bouldering Eldorado should be ready for guests next year,” says Juan.