As the world gets warmer many winter resorts have found themselves too low for snow. Across Switzerland 65 lift systems have already been closed. Once they are closed they are often abandoned, leaving behind an environmental problem. A report by RTS looks at the problem.
A striking example of an abandoned lift system can be found near the entrance to the Grand Saint Bernard tunnel in the Canton of Valais. The Super Saint-Bernard, unlike most abandoned facilities, does not lack altitude. Great for freeride skiing and accessing the Aosta valley, it started at around 1,900 metres and rose to nearly 2,800 metres. The problem faced by this resort was patronage and a lack of investment. Opened in 1963, by 2010 the lift system required a significant overhaul. Unfortunately, sufficient funding was not found and the facility closed the same year.
However, most are closing due to a lack of snow. 40 of the 65 are either below 1,000 m (14) or below 1,500 m (26). A further 21 go as high as 2,000 m and 4, like the Super Saint-Bernard, reach above 2,000 m.
The worst affected cantons are Vaud (10), Graubunden (9), Bern (9), Valais (9) and Neuchâtel (7). A map showing all 65 closed lifts can be viewed here.
Finding ways to dismantle these abandoned structures has proved difficult. The task can cost millions of francs. However, there is no investment case and they are often in sparsely populated municipalities with little revenue. There is a legal requirement for them to be removed once they have been out of action for five years. But the legislation does not specify who should pay.
In Château D’Oex a group of local residents bought the lift for a symbolic franc hoping to reopen it. Since its closure economic activity in the town has fallen and some shops have been forced to close. The group hopes to run the lift all year round for activities other than skiing. But the clock is ticking. Next year will be the five year anniversary of the lift’s closure. On this date the federal requirement to dismantle the lift kicks in. The expected cost is estimated to be CHF 2 million. Reopening the lift is expected to cost CHF 6 to 10 million, money the small municipality cannot find.
In France, where there are 168 ski resorts with abandoned lifts, local residents in some regions have decided to do the dismantling work on a voluntary basis. In Bouchoux in the French Jura volunteers began sawing down metal lift pylons and disposing of them.