SCIJ, more than a half a century pursuing a noble idea. The International Ski Club of Journalists (SCIJ) was created in 1955, in Meribel-les-Allues, France by Gilles de La Rocque (France) and Marcel A Pasche (Switzerland).

Several years earlier, de la Rocque had been surprised by the lack of communication between journalists covering a Paris summit between the Big Four, the USA, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and France. He thought it a shame that people working in the same profession didn't take advantage of such meetings to exchange and share experiences.

A passionate mountaineer and skier, he and another great sportsman, Marcel Pasche of Lausanne, decided to invite journalists from different countries to compete yearly in ski events and take advantage of the "après-ski" atmosphere for open exchanges.

The concept was introduced modestly in Meribel: 65 journalists from eight countries (France, Switzerland, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Yugoslavia and tiny Luxemburg) took part. The USA, United Kingdom and the Netherlands joined in at the second meeting the following year in Sainte-Croix/Les Rasses, Switzerland. There wasn't much snow that year, some participants remember, but the atmosphere was all the more relaxed and conducive to discussion.

The USSR only joined in 1961 at the Courchevel meeting, but in the meantime, SCIJ had welcomed East Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

The number of participants kept growing, reaching a record of 35 countries in 1994, in Are, Sweden. Some delegations arrived from countries not exactly known for snow sports (Mexico, South Africa, China, Israel and Algeria ) but in SCIJ the important thing is to participate.

To participate in everything. The program consists of a giant slalom and a cross country skiing race. It is no excuse to say that one has never put on a pair of cross country skis. The rule is that everybody tries and the last struggle over the finish line get the biggest cheers. Nor is it in the spirit of the occasion to sneak off and wax one's skis during the debates and press conferences that launch discussion and reflection in a week also full of laughs and sport. And this time we have a scoop - the President of the Swiss Confederation will honour with his presence this inner circle of the international press.

During the days of the Iron Curtain and the Cold War, SCIJ gave journalists of all countries a unique chance to make contact with one another. In 1977, for example, SCIJ insisted for the first time on the presence of an Israeli delegation in the USSR - not far from Gori, Stalin's home town! Similarly, SCIJ had demanded that a Soviet delegation be permitted into Franco's Spain four years earlier.

Since 1989, the stakes have changed but the spirit remains the same: to get to know each other better in order to appreciate each other... or to accept our differences.

Les Diablerets will host the 49th international meeting of SCIJ. It will be the sixth time that Switzerland has organised the event. Italy has also hosted six meetings, while France leads the way with seven.