Numerous Swiss ski resorts have been obliged to raise their 2014/15 piste rates even further this winter by one to four francs, despite strong competition with cheaper lifts in neighbouring France, Italy, Germany and Austria. Based on a survey by German language newspaper Blick, the most expensive stations include Zermatt St. Moritz, Laax, Saas Fe and Verbier, with daily lift rates over CHF 70 and more. Others, such as Adelboden-Lenk, Crans-Montana, Portes du Soleil, Ovronnaz and Charmey, charge less (CHF 43 to CHF 62), but have also raised their ticket prices.
While some of these resorts clearly offer high-standard skiing, both weekend and holiday tourists are beginning to baulk. The lifts are not the only high cost – ski or snow board rentals, plus the restaurants and overnight stays, also add to the outlay. Despite Zermatt’s stunning location, its staggeringly high charge of CHF 79 for a daily ticket does not even offer access to Cervina, its partner station on the Italian side. According to Markus Hasler, head of Zermatt’s ski lift network, this is “the first rise in four years”. The resort has also invested over CHF 92 million in improving its infrastructure.
Some resorts are seeking to make their offerings less expensive to families or retired skiers, for example by providing free lift access to under-11s or significant discounts for groups and senior citizens. According to Gianluca Lepori, director of tourism for Ovronnaz, which has increased its daily rate by CHF 1, “Skiing has become very expensive for tourists, but also for those who run the resorts.” As the number of skiers is dropping, he gloomily told the Tribune de Genève, “so is our viability. By raising prices, we’re trying to save the furniture.”
Other resort entrepreneurs are voicing the same concerns, notably heavy investments that need to be recouped. Another problem is the high Swiss franc, which makes Switzerland 20-25% more expensive than France or Austria. Genevans, for example, can easily head to Chamonix, Megève or the Monts Jura in less than an hour and enjoy prices that are far lower.
What Switzerland still offers, however, is usually less crowded resorts with top-rated infrastructure focusing on Alpine tradition and respect for the environment. Certain French resorts have allowed new buildings that do not fit in with the landscape and lend a distasteful air of a progressing construction site – both summer and winter.
The local and national Swiss tourist offices are pushing hard to broaden their attractions with spas, festivals and other activities that have little to do with winter sports. They are also seeking to entice tourists from China, Russia, Singapore, the Middle East and even the new rich in Africa.
Such new markets, however, are unlikely to produce significant numbers. Most Asians barely stay a day or two. The real market remains Europe, including weekend skiers from within Switzerland itself. Partly because of cost, but also due to political uncertainty, Europeans are increasingly seeking to holiday at home, or at least on the continent, rather than in Africa and Asia. A slowly growing phenomenon is ecological tourism, with travellers considering the impact of flying on their carbon footprint. But will all this be enough to prevent Swiss winter sports from becoming a rarefied pastime primarily for the rich?