At last! 2021 – we’re off again! While many may still be reminiscing about the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, over 100 top athletes from all over the world are preparing in Saas-Fee for the Winter Olympics. This year, the outstanding preparation conditions on the glacier in the summer and autumn have attracted no fewer than 41 Olympic medal winners to Saas-Fee.
If we have learnt anything from 2020, then it is how important sport and challenges are. It was already noticeable in the summer just how much we missed the competition, energy, team spirit of the athletes as well as the Olympic spirit. You can feel the tingling before the Winter Olympic Games in Saas-Fee even now.
But why Saas-Fee of all places? The US World Cup skier and multiple Olympic gold medal-winner Mikaela Shiffrin has the perfect response. She was asked by David Taugwalder from the Walliser Bote newspaper: “Mikaela Shiffrin, do you feel at home in Saas-Fee?”
The multi-talented skier responds as follows:
“Yes, very much so! I like the mix of the winter feeling you get on the glacier and the late-summer conditions you get down in the village. You know, when we are out and about in the winter, we often have cold, dark days. I then look at pictures from Saas-Fee and enjoy reminiscing about the days spent there.”
In the Saas-Fee/Saas Valley region, athletes have the ideal infrastructures, on the glacier of course, but also at the sports facilities in the valley and in the accommodation. That’s why this year we have 41 Olympic medal winners training in Saas-Fee, added to which are 134 World Championship medals and 20 overall World Cups.
Early in the morning on the Fee glacier, athletes can use the ideal snow conditions to prepare themselves for the upcoming winter season in summer and autumn. Ultimately, the summer ski area provides 20 kilometres of perfectly maintained slopes for athletes at world cup level. Nowhere else are there so many slopes available for slalom and giant slalom in the summer. The Saas Valley Bergbahnen team pays particular attention to the needs of the many teams. The cableways are just as well prepared for the rush of athletes waiting every morning at the Alpin Express Bahn. There, in line with coronavirus rules, every team gets their time slot for making their way up to the glacier, so they can fully focus on training with their coaches.
When training on the mountain finishes at lunchtime, it then carries on down in the village. The facilities at Kalbermatten sports ground give the athletes the opportunity to optimally prepare for the upcoming winter season after training on the glacier. They work hard on their fitness on the artificial turf pitch or on the running track, surrounded by magnificent mountain scenery. The range of sports on offer is diverse, so the challenge keeps going with a game of tennis, a round of golf or a volleyball match. Fitness is an important part of the preparation for the long Olympic winter. The teams therefore make the most of the opportunities provided by the hotels or the Aqua Allalin complex of swimming pools and saunas to do strength training, with long, hard training sessions.
In addition to the good piste conditions and the support provided by the cableways on the glacier, the Kalbermatten sports ground together with the general infrastructure in the village is the main reason why top athletes from all over the world come to train in Saas-Fee and in the Saas Valley in the summer and autumn. A big plus for Saas-Fee is also its elevation of 1,800 metres altitude. Anyone who has already trained in a high-alpine location will be able to appreciate just how much this can support the athlete’s performance.
Mikaela Shiffrin again brings this to a perfect close:
“When I train, I’m always so busy with the next slalom gate, the next turn, the next run. But Saas-Fee is definitely one of those places where it is worth looking up from the skis and slopes and appreciating the environment we get to practice our profession in.”
There’s no doubt that many of the athletes training in Saas-Fee again this summer and autumn will come back with medals from Beijing. It’s just a question of how many. We’ll have to wait and see.