In this article I would like to reflect on some thoughts about the latest development in Switzerlands' ski tourism industry. Being myself in the mountain tourism business (in Switzerland) I am aware of the difficult circumstances the industry faces nowadays. Having said this, it occures to me that the latest developments within this industry are rather unfavourable.
How it began
More than half of Switzerland's size consists of mountains. In the mid 19th century, the origins of mountain tourism started in a village called Davos. As a sanatory for ill, but wealthy, foreigners from all over Europe, mountains holidays were invented. Since then, tourism and especially winter tourism has become a significant income generator for the economy of Switzerland. Hence a lot of people depend on successful winter tourism.
In the 1950's and 60's ordinary people started to explore skiing as a leisure activity which used to be a sport for gentelmen and thrill seeking explorers. It became clear very quickly that there must be an easy possibility for the skiers to reach the summits. As a consequence ski lifts were introduced and soon plenty of mountain villages had to have their own ski lift infrastructure.
At this time the skiing industry never really had to worry about snow. Every winter there was enough of the "white element". From late November trough to April, even May, skiing was possible. Unfortunately, the situation looks far away from being ideal nowadays.
Fact is that different environmental factors caused a break in climate patterns and therefore in the snow cicle.
Some years ago, the snow didn't start to come as expected. When it came tough, it was not in the usual masses. This trend can still be observed right up to today.
The situation of mountain cablecar managers due to the climatic problems are very serious. What are they going to do? Winter time is the business time where the employees as well as the village community depends on. The core business is providing access to a mountain for ski tourists. At this point the main problem comes into play. A sufficient service cannot be provided because of lack of snow which results in a low profits. Basically the managers have two options for this problem:
Option 1: Hopeing for more snow in the future and be optimistically (Eventually closing down in the coming years)
Option 2: Invest in infrastructure to "cheat" on nature.
Most of the mountain resorts decide on option 2 where also problems start.
In the beginning of this development, a few mobile snowcannons were put into place. They helped covering the few places with snow which could not receive enough for a decent ski slope. Unfortunately it is a different picture today. Close to none of the mayor ski resorts can afford not having an extensive network of snowcannons. Problems occure for the soil, since artificial snow stays much longer into spring. As a consequence it prevents the vegetation,for example grass and flowers, to blossom as planned in spring. A fair number of ski slopes belong to local farmers who in return depend on it as feeding ground for their cattle. On the one hand it helps the skiing business, on the other hand it damages agricultural resources. There are numerous other examples of infrastructure which damages nature.
Another worrying trend is that a significant number of cablecar providers try to extend their lift network to every piece of snow and glacier which is left. Consequently natural sanctuaries are flatened for ski slopes and local wildlife are ousted from their winter habitats. In most cases the infrastructure also spoils the scenic mountain views. It is understood that nowadays a solid infrastructure is needed to attract tourists, but for what price?
There is not only a big construction boom on the mountains but also in the villages. Several investors planning to build mega projects ranging from hotel towers to alpine shopping malls. There is nothing bad about these ideas but all to often, laws are expanded almost to illegality and there is no sustainable concept behind it. Cultural village centers are disturbed by a modern mega hotel or agriculturaly grassland is used for parking lots.
What it needs
Clear trends indicate that the overall number of ski tourist decreases and will decrease in the future. The incalculable weather and clima as well as different external factors all lead to the point where mountain resorts must act.
But how they will act is the major challenge. It might be easy to establish new mountain cablecars or hotels. Since there are not enough tourists it will be a problem of financing the infrastructure in the long run. On the other side, it is evident that they cannot just wait and do nothing. They have a considerable high responsability for their communities.
It probably comes to the awareness of finding sustainable concepts for whole regions. Mountain cablecar operators, villages, cummunities, tourist services, governments, public transportations and environmental agencies must unite and create solutions of how to develope their resorts in the future. Everybody will depend and help each other to maintain a healty ski and mountain tourism.
Solutions must be found that people can experience a wonderful mountain region at a minimal impact. Perhaps sustainable and alternate ways of how to enjoy the mountains must be found. Nature changes and we should change our ideas as well as our awareness of how to protect it in the long run.