Facelift for the Jungfrau

A proposed SFr 350m investment in upgrading the facilities in the Jungfrau region has hit opposition from environmentalists and  local landowners according to Swissinfo.

The proposals address concerns that the Jungfrau is losing ground against other international destinations, with the long travel times, lack of integration between the facilities in Murren and Wengen and fact that Grindelwald is not a ski-in, ski-out resort cited as areas to be addressed.

Greater infrastructure integration, a new freeride area, a new rail stop in the Grindelwald valley and a  gondola to Kleine Scheidegg area are proposed. In addition a gondola across the Lauterbrunnen valley is mooted. There is also talk of other development including a bypass for Grindelwald to make it car free.

For sure, the Jungfrau is one of the most beautiful areas in the World and the rail network is quaint and pretty effective. However it is also clear that a gap is starting to emerge between leading winter sports resorts, with the ones making investments doing well and those not doing so, or having  limited facilities, falling behind. The Jungfrau suffers from not having the length of season of some of the other major resorts in Europe, but it has a unique place in the development of winter sports and fabulous variety. Getting the balance right will be a tough challenge, and the outcome is likely to be a compromise. I certainly think attempts to increase the challenge for more experienced skiers and snowboarders off First and Mannlichen would be good, making Grindelwald car-free would be excellent, and reducing the journey time from Bern is always going to be popular. However, people who know the area realize that the challenging runs are off the Schilthorn and that beginners and intermediates will find plenty to occupy them around Wengen, Kleine Scheidegg , Mannlichen and First (an unexpected gem for those who always head the other way). Personally I find it an easy day trip from Basel, and probably one of the best places to head to for weekenders from Northern Europe, probably more so than Chamonix.  I feel that there is room for improvement, but the resort is far better marketed in summer than winter, and a clearer winter marketing strategy (coupled with infrastructure improvements) will go further than extensive investment.

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Swiss Winter Tourism Outlook

Swissinfo report on an analysis by Credit Suisse on the state of the Swiss winter sports industry, and say that there are major challenges to the Swiss industry’s competitiveness. Whereas Austrian resorts saw a 6% increase in overnight stays between 1993 and 2011  Swiss resorts experienced a 12% drop. With the strong Swiss Franc and a more expensive underlying cost base, Swiss resorts are set to see further declines in business unless they focus on niche markets and try to be more attractive in the mid-price and budget markets.

The Swiss tourist industry contributes around 5% to GDP,  and the 650 lift companies employ 11,000 people and turnover SFr 840m per annum.  There have to be some question marks over the long-term viability of some of the smaller, lower resorts unless they can discover their niche, although bigger resorts like Zermatt, St Moritz and the Engadine, Davos, Verbier, Crans-Montana and Gstaad seem to remain strong draws.

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Where is the snow?

Usually sometime in Autumn storms sweep across the Alps to lay the foundation for the Winter sports season. The bigger the storms and the earlier, the better, provided the temperatures are low. This year, however, the Alps have seen unseasonably warm and sunny conditions… until now. Finally some snow is falling on the Alps and the resorts that open early can rely upon something other than tracked out glaciers and thin slivers of artificial snow to justify operating their lifts.

Having said that, Zermatt, Samnaun and Saas-Fee have had significant areas open from mid-November, but no resort runs. The 4 Vallées now claim to have one resort run open, and fresh snow is falling on the villages of Saas-Fee and Zermatt, so I would not be surpised to see valley runs open soon. With the storms set to break before the end of the week, it looks like the second weekend in December will finally provide some do-able slopes.

Something else to announce this week is the pre-launch of my new Swiss Winter Sports website at http://www.swisswintersports.co.uk, designed to augment and build on the work I have put into the blog over the last year or so. It is not yet the finished article, but it is intended to provide the most comprehensive guide to winter sports in Switzerland based on first hand experience. In other words, I am using the best available resources to update the site so that the information is as up-to-date as possible, but the text is based upon my own take of the resort. So far I’ve been working on the database, Javascript, PHP, CSS, HTML and an RSS  feed from MySwitzerland (still the best place for real-time resort information, and extensively cross-referenced on my site), so the look and feel, functionality and resort descriptions are still a little patchy, but over this season I hope to improve the data and visit at least 20 or 30 resorts to further improve the data quality.

It’s a tough challenge, but somebody has to do it.

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Ski Helmets for Kids

I wouldn’t dream of letting my kids out on the slopes without a ski helmet, but when i first learnt to ski literally no one wore them. Over the last ten years there has been a huge increase in the number of both adults and children wearing ski helmets when taking to the slopes for that annual skiing trip. With the Swiss Alps being one of the most popular skiing locations in the world, the question is – what is the Swiss stance on the use of protective headwear on the slopes?

Many countries, including France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy simply encourage the use of ski helmets without making it compulsory. However, as the general global awareness of health and safety has increased, some countries have made it compulsory for children to wear a helmet. Interestingly, despite a relatively laid back approach to helmet use (or perhaps because of it), the Swiss Council for the Prevention of Accidents has seen a sharp increase in the number of people wearing helmets in the last five years; 63% of adults and 97% of children now wear a helmet on the slopes (only 16% of adults wore a helmet five years ago).

With thousands of people every year suffering from head injuries on the Swiss Alps, the importance of head protection should not be underestimated, particularly when it comes to children. There are a wide range of kid’s ski helmets on the market, the trick being that they are something of a fashion item these days, so most children are more than happy to wear one. 

Thanks to Chris Parker for research for this blog article. If you would like to learn more about the importance of children’s ski helmets and get some ideas for where to buy them, please feel free to click through to Chris’s site at Ski Helmets For Kids.

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