In the resort of Bettmeralp, Sabine Haldemann is as well-known as the mascot Snowli. Over the years, the children’s ski instructor has introduced thousands of kids to the joys of skiing.
Luca needs to go to the toilet, Emily wants to take her gloves off, Henry’s nose is running, Fynn’s ski goggles have slid off, Hannah is lying in the snow unable to uncross her skis, and Paul and Nina are whacking each other’s helmets. Sabine Haldemann remains calm. She calls out the magic words in a powerful voice: “Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mouse!” Nearly all of the 40 children in the snow garden reply in chorus, “Yeah, yeah, yeeeeeahhhh!” – forgetting whatever they were up to. In the car-free resort of Bettmeralp, at the heart of the Aletsch Arena ski area, every holidaymaker knows Sabine. The children’s ski instructor is as much a feature of the resort as Snowli, the ski school’s cute, man-sized mascot.
For 12 years, Sabine has spent every day from the beginning of December to the end of April in Bettmeralp’s snow garden, by the main lane through the village. Every season, she introduces about 2,000 children aged between three and six to the joys of skiing. Her enthusiasm and energy seem boundless; she is always singing, whatever the weather and however cold it may be. The children love it, and so do other holidaymakers: dozens of passers-by gather along the lane during classes to watch the spectacle in amusement. They soon learn that when Sabine shouts “Make a pizza!” she wants the kids to push out their heels to make a snowplough; “Pommes frites!” means ski parallel.
While the kids ride the magic carpet to the top of the mini-piste, Sabine flits across the immaculately prepared snow on snowblades – very short skis. She gives four-year-old Frederik a colourful long cylinder of foam to put between his legs: “Ok, so now ride your horse back to the stable!” she says, and he glides happily down the slope. Yves needs a gentle push to get over the little bridge; Mia needs consoling after a collision with a gate. “In winter, I can save myself the cost of gym membership,” Sabine says, somewhat out of breath. Over the course of a season, she loses five to ten kilos in weight: teaching in the snow garden is a tough job, she says. “But then I can eat as much chocolate as I like.”
Originally from the Emmental region, 42-year-old Sabine was a medical assistant in a past life. Eleven years ago, she decided to take a short sabbatical and engaged temporarily as an assistant ski instructor. But her commitment and her open, outgoing nature made a big impact, and soon she was given the permanent job of running the kids’ novice ski area. Ever since, the snow garden below the resort’s picturesque chapel has been her world. No matter what the weather brings – sunshine, fresh snow, icy temperatures – every day she looks forward to being with the children. “I’m endlessly grateful for the fact I’ve found my dream job,” she says. And with another “Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mouse!” she once again has the kids in the snow garden under her spell, ready for more fun and games.
Text: Eva Maschek
Photographs: Raphael Wernli
Published : January 2019