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How to keep safe and avoid problems when hiking in the Swiss Alps

Switzerland is a perfect place to go hiking with its thousands of marked trails. However, hundreds of people get into accidents while trekking every year, and some die. Here is what you need to know to be safe.

How to keep safe and avoid problems when hiking in the Swiss Alps
(Photo by Colton Miller on Unsplash)

The Swiss mountains are one of the country’s most notable and most visited sites. There are activities to enjoy during all seasons and hiking the Swiss Alps is something that people of all ages enjoy in the winter or summer months.

However, mountain rescuers are called every year to help people in emergencies. Last year, there were 1,525 cases of hikers in distress – a number higher than in any other type of sport. In 2021, there were only 500 emergency calls from skiers and 342 made by mountain bikers.

READ ALSO: Why getting rescued in the Swiss Alps could cost you thousands

Bruno Hasler, who is responsible for mountain emergency statistics at the Swiss Alpine Club SAC, says that many people overestimate themselves and that is dangerous. “The hikers need to be better informed. The authorities must inform people as well as possible about the dangers of mountain hiking”, he told public broadcaster SRF.

What are the main recommendations when hiking?

The first recommendation is to make a realistic self-assessment. Mountain hiking is an endurance sport and people planning on doing a trek should avoid time pressure and choose their trails and times well.

In that sense, it is essential to make careful route planning and evaluate the length, altitude, difficulty and current conditions (including weather forecast) of the trek. Thunderstorms, snow, wind and cold significantly increase the risk of accidents.

Don’t forget to plan alternative routes and keep emergency rescue numbers on hand (REGA 1414 and the european emergency number 112).

READ ALSO : Should you buy supplemental health insurance in Switzerland?

Take practical equipment for your hiking conditions and the proper footwear too. In a backpack, take as little as possible but as much as necessary, aiming to keep it light but full of valuable things such as sun protection, a first aid kit, rescue blanket, water and a mobile phone.

The most common cause of accidents is falling because of slipping or tripping, so be sure to walk on marked paths (reducing the risk of getting lost) and keep a sure foot and safe pace.

Don’t forget to take regular breaks not only for eating and drinking (necessary to maintain performance and concentration) but also to enjoy the landscape.

Be responsible for the children in the group, treks that require long-lasting concentration are not suitable for children and in passages with risk of falling, and one adult can only look after one child, according to the Swiss Alpine Club. Small groups are the best for hiking because they ensure mutual assistance and flexibility at the same time.

Rega on a rescue mission in the Swiss Alps. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The PACE checklist

The so-called PACE checklist helps hikers keep track of the most important things. PACE means plan, assess, consider, and evaluate, Swiss Alpine Club SAC says.

READ ALSO: Five beautiful Swiss villages located near Alpine lakes

Plan your route and duration and give yourself extra time and alternatives. Inform someone else about your trip. Assess if the hike is suitable for you, and do not undertake challenging trips yourself. Consider if you have what you need for the walk, like sturdy hiking shoes, protection against harsh weather and food and water supplies.

Finally, evaluate while hiking. See if you are too tired, keep eating, drinking and resting regularly and pay attention to the time you need and any changes in the weather. Do not leave the marked trail and turn back in time if necessary.

What to do in case of an accident?

If there are accidents during your hike, you should first provide life-saving help to anyone seriously injured and then call emergency services. Do not leave the wounded alone and do not put yourself at risk.

Mark the accident area clearly and give signals. The international emergency call sign consists of giving a sign (such as a flashing light or waving a cloth) six times a minute and then repeating it after one minute.

READ ALSO: Rega: What you need to know about Switzerland’s air rescue service

For helicopters, holding both your arms up (making a V shape) signals that you need help, while keeping one arm up and another down (forming a diagonal line with your arms) means you do not need help.

If you see animals, keep your distance and do not disturb them. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

What do I do if I see animals on my hike?

It’s common to find animals while hiking in the Swiss alps, especially cows in the pastures. A cow will protect their calves, so keep your distance. Do not touch the animals, and keep dogs on a leash.

Slowly and carefully move around at a distance and continue your trek.

You may occasionally find herds that dogs protect. It’s possible to inform yourself online in advance to find out where these herds are and avoid them. Still, remember that packs and their guardian dogs should be disturbed as little as possible. So stay calm and keep your distance – avoid any brisk movements.

If you are hiking with your dog, put it on a leash and slowly and calmly detour around the livestock.

If a guard dog barks and runs in your direction, try to stay calm and give the dog time to assess the situation. Stay far from the herd, don’t run or make sudden movements. You can use a stick to keep the dog at a distance by stretching them out, but don’t raise it or wave it around.

Once the dogs have accepted your presence and stopped barking, continue at a slow pace on your way.

Don’t forget: the Swiss rescue number is 1414 or you can also reach them using the European emergency number 112.

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For members


Why are garbage bags so expensive in Switzerland?

Like nearly everything else, garbage bags too are expensive in Switzerland, with the cost depending on the community where you live.

Why are garbage bags so expensive in Switzerland?

Even if you have become (more or less) accustomed to the cost of living in Switzerland, the price of trash bags may still come as a shock.

You are not alone.

A German social media influencer, who lives in the Zurich area, recently posted a rant on TikTok about the price of garbage bags in her region: 17 francs for a package of ten 35-litre bags.

“It’s such a disgrace that they’re so expensive,” she said. “In Germany, you pay 35 cents or one euro for 60.”

Her post unleashed many comments, but more about them in a minute.

Meanwhile, let take a look at how much these bags cost in various Swiss regions — and why you have to pay so much just to toss your rubbish away.

‘Polluter pays’ principle

Most communities in Switzerland have introduced either official trash bags (that is, the only ones allowed to be used for garbage disposal), priced according to their size (17, 35, 60, or 100 litres), or a special municipal sticker to be affixed to a bag. 

Taxes collected from the sale of these bags (or stickers) are used for municipal waste management.

The thinking behind the special bags, and their pricing, is based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle — the more expensive the bag is, the higher the incentive to care about the amount of trash you are creating.

This is especially true, as you are not supposed to throw just anything into those bags: they are not intended for recyclables, such as PET bottles, glass, carton, paper, aluminium cans, batteries, and compost, which should be disposed of separately.

And if you think you can get away with stuffing your bag to the rim with items that should be recycled (as those mentioned above), do so at your own risk and peril.

Municipal ‘trash inspectors’ (yes, there is such a job in Switzerland) occasionally examine the contents of garbage bags in their communities.

A number of ‘garbage criminals’ have been nabbed in Switzerland in recent years; fines imposed on them vary from one community to another.

READ ALSO :Why the Swiss government rummages through your garbage

How much do these bags cost?

The price depends on where you live and the size of the bag (as explained above).

For instance, a pack of ten 35-litre bags costs 19.50 francs in Vaud, 19.95 in Bern, 23 in Basel-City, and 23.50 in Schaffhausen.

You can see prices for various communities, according to the bag size, here.

You may have noticed that Geneva is not included on that list.

That’s because it is the only canton that does not charge for garbage bags; the only rule is that “household waste must be placed in sturdy, watertight and closed bags meeting the OKS standard and then deposited in a container”.

OKS garbage bags are tested and certified for quality and resistance in accordance with the guidelines of the Swiss Association of Municipal Infrastructure.

READ ALSO: What Geneva residents should know about new compulsory waste sorting

Has Switzerland’s approach been successful?

Various data indicates that the amount of household garbage has decreased, while the overall recycling rate went up considerably.

Now, let’s back to the German Tik Toker

Though many Swiss routinely complain about the cost of trash bags, they don’t like it if foreigners do so.

For instance, among the many comments trashing the woman’s rant, and especially her comparisons to price of bags in Germany, one user remarked, “it’s normal that prices are lower in third-world countries.”