COVID-19 Sion Survivor No. 4

COVID-19 Sion Survivor No. 4

Local resident and snowboarder, Laura Laakso, recently sent shock waves through Verbier when she posted on Facebook how she, a 34-year-old with no underlying health issues, was in Sion hospital fighting COVID-19…

“The symptoms initially started with a horrible headache. I just put it down to being tired – we’d had people visiting from Finland to come skiing, followed by Bart’s, (my husband) sister and her kids. The pain got worse, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. Initially there was no fever, but soon I was shivering under a blanket, I could hardly speak. My stepdad is a doctor at Vigimed in Martigny, he suggested I should be tested for the novel coronavirus as I work closely with staff at the medical centre. I returned home with a machine that measures blood oxygen levels. Soon after returning to Verbier, I could hardly breath, I was gasping for breath, short gasps. I called my stepdad hardly able to speak and told him my oxygen reading. As soon as he heard the result, he told me to rush to Sion hospital and called ahead to let them know I was coming.”

On arrival, Laura reluctantly left her four-year-old daughter and her husband in the car, slowly walking alone into the special entrance for those suffering with  symptoms from the virus. Bart drove back up to Verbier not knowing when he would see Laura again.

“While waiting for a cubicle I told the nurse I was from Verbier, she replied, ‘OK, that explains it…”

The doctors and nurses seemed stressed and already overstretched trying to look after everyone – I was just left waiting, struggling to breath. Eventually I was given oxygen. I could hear people crying and other distressing sounds – I overheard the doctors and nurses trying to calm them down.

All the staff were wearing protective gowns, masks and glasses. Their outer layer has to be changed each time they see a different patient. One Doctor asked me if I was scared. I’ve been in hospitals quite a lot before, so I know better than to overthink things, I switch off. I think the medics are scared as no one knows what lies ahead.

The first night I had my own room, then the next day they told me more COVID-19 cases were coming and that I would need to share. An 89-year-old lady was wheeled in, she was so scared, felt so alone and just wanted to be with her family. I held her hand while she told me about her grandchildren, I played old French music on my phone which made her smile. At night, I helped her go to the bathroom as the staff were so busy. I could hear crying from other rooms, I wanted to go and hold their hands too, I just wanted to comfort them, but I wasn’t allowed …”

“After four nights I was told I could leave. Will this virus cause lung problems for me in the long-term? No one really knows … this is all so new.”

Laura is now recovering well at home, still short of breath, but slowly getting better. Happily, her elderly room-mate is also back at her nursing home where they are able to assist her breathing with oxygen.

Laura was patient number 4 to leave Sion hospital to go home and recover – what will the number be at the end of this? How many won’t get to leave the hospital through the front door? Everyone has a part to play in that number, simply by staying at home.

How can you help stop the spread, and what to do if you have symptoms

From your physician in Sembrancher : a reminder that if you are ill and think you have COVID please …

  1. go to Coronacheck to evaluate whether you need to call a doctor
  2. ALL 3 medical offices are open (Les Arcades, Popescus and MediBagnes). All 3 are available to take patients and all 3 have created their own systems to manage phone calls, visits with potential or confirmed COVID patients, and visits with those who have no symptoms of COVID. Please call any of the 3 offices to be seen if you have medical needs, coronavirus or otherwise.
    The Maison de la Santé in Sembrancher remains open as an Ambulatory Evaluation Center (CIA) for the region of Grand Entremont for those with suspected or confirmed COVID. It is also open for phone calls and visits for patients not suspected to have COVID in a completely separate area of the clinic.
  3. If you are having significant trouble breathing, please call a doctor above or, if it is severe, call 144 for an ambulance.
  4. Please remember that the only way to stop this virus’ spread is to avoid contact with others. Imagine if you invite 2 friends over for dinner and you each go to 2 other friends’ houses the next night and on the 3rd night one of you starts developing symptoms. You were following “the rules” and there were only 4 of you together, but now the virus has been spread to 3 new households and 6 new people. Minimum. When I beg you to STAY HOME, it means STAY UNDER YOUR OWN ROOF. Set yourself a goal : do not have contact <2 meters away with people who don’t live under your roof for the next 21 days! (We think that almost no one is contagious for more than 3 weeks). I understand you are isolated and overwhelmed and sometimes scared. But this will not last forever … If we can do this right, do this completely, and do this NOW.

25 Candles for 25 Years of the Verbier Xtreme

25 Candles for 25 Years of the Verbier Xtreme

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Verbier Xtreme, the departing moment for an international Freeride journey.


Verbier, Switzerland – Tuesday 24th March 2020 – It is under extraordinary circumstances that the Grande Finale of the FWT20 will not happen this year. Nonetheless it is with passion and humility that the Freeride World Tour wanted to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Verbier Xtreme, the departing moment for an international Freeride journey.

Since its creation in 1996, the public have been amazed by the evolution of the sport which defies the laws of gravity and constantly pushes the limits of what is possible in the mountains. In 2008 the success of the event lead to the creation of an international championship made up of 5 stops with the final being the Verbier Xtreme. Giving birth to the Freeride World Tour.

The 20th February, armed with headtorches from Altis, the 25 candles outlined the flanks of the imposing mountain as night fell. They sat along the ridge as well as on the summit of the Bec des Rosses, in celebration of the 25th edition of the legendary Verbier Xtreme. Just like on the Matterhorn 5 years ago, the emblematic face was illuminated by 25 freeriding icons, who have contributed to the success of the Xtreme.

Highly experienced mountain guides, led by Claude-Alain Gailland, in charge of safety for the Verbier Xtreme for 20 years, supervised the operation with a cool composure

The Valaisan skiers Jérémie Heitz and Yann Rausis, as well as the French snowboarder Xavier De Le Rue topped off the spectacle by riding the face one by one, equipped with an LED helmet under a blanket of stars in the night sky. There were as many stars in the sky as those who illuminated the Bec de Rosses that evening. Among the stars Estelle Balet, Dédé Rehm, Gilles Voirol and Marco Siffredi, the young riders who left us too early, who made an impact on the history of the Bec des Rosses, were surely watching from above.

It was a magical, unforgettable and nostalgic moment for the participants and spectators of this evening spectacle.Nicolas Hale-Woods, the cofounder of the Verbier Xtreme and CEO of the Freeride World Tour was moved to be surrounded by the whole Freeride family. In fact, that evening, the flanks of the Bec des Rosses brought together freeriders of all ages. From 17 year old Victor Hale-Woods , to the 72 year old Jean Troillet.

The director of this event was none other than the night shooting specialist, Nicolas Falquet who filmed and edited the video. The photographer Dominique Daher, who conscious of the importance of the moment, admitted to trembling slightly before pushing the shutter to release for the 6 minute exposure. He could not afford to miss this crucial shot. The result is simply stunning.

The 25th anniversary cannot be fully celebrated without the 25th edition of the Verbier Xtreme, which is already cued for the 2021. Stay tuned to see what the Freeride World Tour has in store for its fans, athletes, and partners for the 25thedition of the Verbier Xtreme, as the legends who built its reputation over the years have already confirmed their presence!

Don’t miss the latest news by staying tuned to

ID Card for the Bec des Rosses :

Altitude : 3223m

Descent : 650m

Angle : 35° –  50°

Orientation : North East

First edition of the Verbier Xtreme: 1996

The 3 athletes that skied the Bec des Rosses at night :

  • Yann Rausis : FWT rider since 2017, Verbier local, finished 4th in Verbier Xtreme in 2017
  • Jérémie Heitz: Competed in the FWT for 5 seasons (2nd place overall in 2015 an 3rd in 2014), a once in a generation skier as shown in his emblematic steep skiing film “La Liste”
  • Xavier De Le Rue: Snowboarder, 3x FWT world champion (2008,2009,2010) and 3x winner of the Verbier Xtreme (2009,2010,2011)


The 25 candles that illuminated the Bec des Rosses :

  1. Isabelle De Lalène: Member of the organisational commitee for the Verbier Xtreme in 1996 until 2011.
  2. Francine Janet-Moreillon: Member of the organisational committee for the first Verbier Xtreme: Francine was head of communication and then judge during 2 following editions of the Xtreme.
  3. Nicolas Hale-Woods: CEO of the FWT, co-founder of the Verbier Xtreme along with Philippe Buttet.
  1. Elisabeth Gerritzen: Winner of the 2019 Verbier Xtreme and FWT rider since 2017.
  1. Alain Guigoz: Member of the organizational committee for the first Verbier Xtreme and legal advisor for the FWT.
  1. Ueli Kestenholz: Rider in the 1st Verbier Xtreme and bronze medalist in Snowboard Giant Slalom in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.
  1. Géraldine Fasnacht: 3x winner of the Verbier Xtreme 2002, 2003, 2009.
  1. Jean Troillet: Co-safety manager for the 1st Verbier Xtreme with Thierry Gasser. More than 10 summits of 8000m peaks including the 1st descente of Everest on a snowboard.
  1. Julien Hess: Member of the organisational committee from 2010-2020. General Manager of the FWT from 2016 – 2020. Co-founder of the Verbier E-Bike Festival.
  1. Victor Hale-Woods: Nicolas Hale-Woods son. Freeride Junior Tour (FJT) and Freeride Junior World Championships (FJWC) participant.
  1. Thibault Hale-Woods: Nicolas Hale-Woods son. Freeride Junior Tour (FJT) and Freeride Junior World Championships (FJWC) participant.
  2. Claude-Alain Gailland: Head mountain guide and head of safety for the Verbier Xtreme for 20 years as well as head mountain guide for several FWT competitions (Japan, Alaska, etc..)
  3. Hugo Dentan: Pierrick Dentan’s son and Freeride World Qualifier (FWQ) rider.
  1. Paul Dentan: Pierrick Dentan’s son and Freeride World Qualifier (FWQ) rider. Vice World Champion (2nd place in Men Ski) at the FJWC.
  1. Pierrick Dentan: Member of organisational committee since the 1st Verbier Xtreme and weather coordinator for 22 years.
  1. Raphy Gillioz: 3rd place Ski men in the 2009 Verbier Xtreme. Mountain guide and patroller at Telenendaz.
  1. Julien Willenegger: Member of the safety team.
  1. Michel Marcon: Member of the safety team.
  1. Leo Slemett: 2017 Men’s Ski World Champion. Member of the Pro Freerider Board (PFB)
  1. Phil Meier: Rider during the Verbier Xtreme and first FWT competitions.
  1. Nicolas Pasquier: 3rd place in Ski men category in the 2007 Verbier Xtreme.
  1. Michel Voirol: Gilles Voirol’s father. Gilles finished 2nd place in the 1st Verbier Xtreme in 1996 and 3rd in 1997. Gilles died in Canada in 2002. The Verbier Xtreme trophy is named in his honour
  1. Ruth Leisibach : Quintuple winner of the Verbier Xtreme (2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008) and snowboard world champion in 2008
  1. Lars Langenskiöld: Former Marketing manager for Red Bull Switzerland, title sponsor for the 1st Verbier Xtreme.
  2. Yannick Ducrot: Member of the organisational committee since the 1st Freeride World Tour competition in 2008 / Head of operations.



In these exceptional circumstances, what is the situation in Verbier?

March 20

It’s only been a week since the lifts ran for the last time and Verbier ‘closed’ for the season –  our mountain playground is in a state of emergency. Spring skiing, rosé on balconies, BBQ’s, end of season flings are on hold. Right now, the priority is to stay at home and do our best to help stop COVID-19. Verbier Life continues to make its internet site and social media pages available to anyone wishing to disseminate useful or important information within the Verbier Community at this time.

Not everyone is on Facebook, so we are sharing some useful posts from to share here.  Local doctor at the heart of the battle against COVID-19, Corinne Peimer Cohen,  posted a clear message,  people need to take this situation seriously and to stay at home!  

Update from your doc at Sembrancher :
1) PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE stay home. We are noticing that there is clearly a cell of infection in Verbier. The only way to stop its spread is for everyone to stay away from each other as much as possible, and for everyone to stay home as much as possible. Young, old, EVERYONE. PLEASE. As the doc who’s gonna take care of you, I’m begging you to respect this! I know it’s hard. Please do it.
2) The OFSP guidelines for how to do self-isolation and self-quarantine have been updated as of today. (1) If you feel sick, (2) if you have confirmed COVID, or (3) if you live with someone who feels sick or has COVID, you need to stay home for 10 days AND at least 48h after symptoms have resolved. “Feels sick” means any flu, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath symptoms! You do not need a fever AND cough to have COVID. I have personally tested several in the past few days who have come back positive with minor symptoms (for example, a little bit of cough but no fever).
3) Once you have read #2, it will bring you back to #1 and you will realize that YOU and YOUR HOUSEHOLD NEED TO STAY HOME
4) We are still only testing those at high risk for falling ill, those who are severely ill, and those who are in health care
5) If you’re wondering if you should call your doctor, get tested, etc, please go to and a personalized survey will guide you through based on the latest guidelines. 

March 14
By now you will all be aware that the Federal Council and the Valais State Council have introduced a series of strict measures in response to the Covid-19 virus outbreak. These measures have unfortunately led to the closure of most of the tourist services, the ski lift system, bars restaurants and shops, except the pharmacies and supermarkets.

The priority has to be applying and maintaining the new regulations, respecting recommendations on distances and hygiene to protect our more vulnerable fellow community members. But this is going to be an extremely challenging time for all of our local businesses. Verbier Life will try to continue online with articles to offer some information and articles with ideas of activities, recipe’s to help and entertain us during this challenging time.

Let’s get creative as a community and see how we can work together to get through this as best we can. Please send us your stories on how this is affecting you directly, or any ideas you have for helping the community at this time.

Please email


UPDATE March 20 

Due to the health situation, Verbier authorities recommend that you stay at home and NOT to come to the Verbier.

People in Verbier are asked to to take part in any activities that involve risk and might lead to injury.

The Swiss government has announced a countrywide ban on gatherings of more than five people in public spaces to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Interior Minister Alain Berset said the ban would come into force at midnight Friday until April 19. People found violating the ban face a fine of CHF100.

The practice of activities that may involve risks is also to be avoided.


Most restaurants are now closing to adhere to the new governmental guidelines.


All shops with the exception of the pharmacies and supermarkets are now closed.


From piste to powder, we teamed up with the pros at Mountain Air to get the low down on the best skis for Verbier’s famous terrain.



This rocket ship of a ski is not for the faint hearted. From steep and icy pistes, to perfect early morning groomers, get the Deacon 84 on an edge and it absolutely flies. Stiff and lively, this Volkl powerhouse was made for blasting down FIS.

Punchy, dynamic and precise, the Head Supershape boasts accessible power that will raise the bar on every piste in the 4 Vallées. From the Tortin bumps to Piste de l’Ours, the Supershape will make you feel unstoppable.


This legendary ski from a legendary local brand simply ticks all of the boxes. Used by Verbier patrollers, the Dictator is incredibly versatile and very fun. Playful and poppy with hugely accessible power, this ski will have you charging through waist deep powder in the morning and ripping down the piste in the afternoon.

Robust and aggressive, the Bonafide is a bombproof weapon for Verbier’s most challenging terrain. This all-mountain ripper’s double Titanal sheet makes it a rock-solid teammate for all conditions, from powder to rock hard snow. Anyone who tests the Bonafide races about its exhilarating power and precision.


From the steepest steeps, to the longest days and the biggest vertical, this ski has it covered. A Verbier Bureau des Guides favourite, the Blizzard Zero G is a true ski alpinism partner. A light and stiff ski for the most advanced mountaineers, the Zero G feels right at home on everything from the Bec des Rosses to the Grand Combin.

The most popular ski in Verbier, the Camox Freebird is a true one ski quiver. Light and adaptable, this ski will devour the Attelas couloirs, take you charging up Rosablanche and smashing through waist-deep powder in Barry’s bowl all in a single day. This is a ski made for Verbier.


The K2 Mindbender is the sawed-off shotgun of the ski world. This backcountry charger is an absolute cruise missile, punching through crud and eating chopped up powder for breakfast. A go-to for local legend and Freeride World Tour star Carl Renvall, the Mindbender is a serious choice for the boldest of skiers.

This access all terrain backcountry ski is the playful option for for Verbier’s open powder fields and steep chutes. This powder ski has the soul of a true alpinist, making light work of ascents and cranking the party tunes for the ride down.


Mountain Air features a range of skis selected specifically for Verbier’s famous terrain and is offering a special test event for locals and visitors to experience the best of the Val de Bagnes. From many years exploring every inch of the 4 Vallées, the team know what works here. Join the test program on January 10-12 and get access to the expert team and up to 35 different pairs of skis to test, plus receive a drink and bite to eat at the end of the day. Experience that Verbier feeling and get all the details here:


After an intense 300 days surviving alone on a deserted island, it didn’t take long for Xavier Rosset to dream up his next big adventure. The local ex-professional snowboarder is now taking on his biggest challenge to date - to fly around the world in an ultralight aircraft…

Xavier Rosset exudes adventure. Growing up in Verbier, Xavier naturally excelled at snowboarding. During his professional career, he spent six years hurtling himself down the steep face of the Bec des Rosses in the Verbier Extreme earning second place in 2005. For most people this would be adventure enough, but for Xavier it was only the start of his journey. With the ability to make his wildest dreams into reality, Xavier took himself out of his comfort zone in the mountains to spend 300 days alone on an island on with only a Swiss army knife and a machete. After 14 months of preparation he travelled 22,000km from Verbier to set up home on a deserted Pacific island. He completed the challenge after enduring months of mental and physical challenges, only to come home and dream up an even bigger expedition – to fly around the world aboard a 230kg pendular microlight. With his flying machine, he is en route to cross five continents, 50 countries covering a distance of 80,000 kilometres around the world, traversing over Central America’s tropical forest and across the Himalayas and Greenland.

VL: How did you adapt to life back in Verbier after your time on the island?

Xavier: My return from the island in 2009 went really well. I came back to a familiar world which I really appreciated. I had left Verbier temporarily to live a human adventure and  to escape the consumer driven society, which, I must admit, gives me great liberties as a freeride instructor.

One of the richest feelings I had upon my return after 300 days on an island was to have been able to give my family a hug and to be able to converse with people other than myself.

VL: What inspired you to undertake this challenge?

Xavier: The ‘FlyTheWorld’ (FTW) expedition holds many values in common with my own previous island expedition. During my 300 days, I explored a semi-tropical jungle on foot as well as myself. With FTW, I am merely broadening my horizons. I am leaving on a pendular microlight to discover our planet, from a geological as well as a human perspectives. The idea is to show a positive side of the best things about our planet through two minute videos, photos and a documentary, which will be distributed at the end of the expedition, in three years from now. Optimists like pessimists, are contagious. I prefer to be part of the former category and to share my completed life adventures in order to showcase our planet’s beauty.

VL: You left Switzerland in July after months of preparation – how has the trip been to date?

Xavier :The expedition is progressing at its own rhythm, it has already travelled 15,000km flying over 13 countries in 120 days. This has entailed an enormous number of unforeseen events: weather, technical (flight authorizations/stays for which solutions always have to be found.) The huge obstacle of obtaining a visa for Saudi Arabia meant that we had to plan a new itinerary, which would take us to South Africa, initially. The countries I flew over provided the FTW with absolutely incredible landscapes. It’s crazy how perception of our planet changes when we observe it from above.

VL: A few weeks into your stay on the Island you questioned if you’d be able to stay for the whole 300 days, how are you feeling about this trip so far?

Xavier: The biggest challenge of my 300-day adventure was the solitude and the voluntary isolation. The Fly The World expedition has enabled me to meet people from all walks of life and I am constantly encountering fascinating cultures This has enabled me to learn a lot about others as well as about myself. A little disappointing maybe is to not really be free to fly over certain countries as I please. I have to follow regulated itineraries which strongly limit my discoveries by air.

VL: Which part of the trip are you looking forward to most?

Xavier : The expedition is flying over so many countries, it is difficult to predict what I’m going to discover and get excited about in advance, which is good because this gives me room for manoeuvre. The American continent – north and south – promises wonderful encounters and breathtaking scenery; Asia also…. Flying over Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe at 3500 metres, will remain engraved in my memory. I flew over it on an August Saturday morning at dawn, when the winds were calmest. I took my machine up to 3'950 metres for more than an hour, flying over the six craters of this ambassador of the depths of the earth.

VL: When you stayed on the Island for 300 days, loneliness was one of the biggest challenges - what has been your biggest obstacle so far?

Xavier: Probably at the end of September, when I was flying over South Sudan, I had to change course due to weather conditions. From the moment I landed in this war-torn country, an avalanche of problems arose, which became more and more important, up until the moment I was investigated by the country’s armed forces. I am obliged to keep secret the days following my arrest, but I wish to thank the Swiss Embassy which immediately put procedures into place in order to clarify and resolve the problem as soon as possible. On October 7, just as I was about to leave south Sudan, another major problem came about: a storm damaged the wing and blades of my aircraft which meant it was not in flying condition. I had to get it out of the country in order for it to undergo repairs. This was done via a cargo airplane flying to Uganda. I also had to buy all my video material again which had mysteriously vanished during my stay.

VL: How do you motivate yourself when your determination waivers?

Xavier: I am a naturally positive person, so I always find a positive point in everything that happens to me. It’s all about perception. I find it much more enrichening to see the positive – solutions - rather than focusing on a problem and complaining about it. Everything that happens, planned or unforeseen, is part of the expedition and it is important to be open to everything and ready…

VL: Where do you plan to spend Christmas this year?

Xavier: The expedition is divided into three seasons. This will allow me to come back to Verbier during the winter to work as a freeride instructor and thereby earn some money which will be re-invested into the expedition from next spring. This will also enable me to find new partners for the FTW. The microlight will spend four months in a hangar somewhere in the world awaiting my return for the next FlyTheWorld chapter. I will therefore spend Christmas surrounded by my family, sharing stories of my adventures and listening to theirs.

VL: How can people follow your adventure?

Xavier: The expedition is as interactive as possible. Everyone can follow its progress online via a tracker which is on the microlight. Videos and photos are posted regularly on social media.

Instagram : fly_the_world

Before the departure of this expedition discovering the world, few people thought that this Bagnard ‘mountain man’ would be taking off to discover our planet on his aircraft. Now is the time to join this adventure as partners and as supporters in order to give him the necessary wings so he is able to continue this positive exploration.