The Evolving Choice of Ski Destination

It is probably of no surprise to anyone that France is the most probable destination for British skiers and snowboarders, and that Austria then Italy would come next. You only have to look at the choice of destinations on ski holiday web sites and in the few remaining published brochures to see that this is the case.

More concrete evidence comes from various sources, such as the Ski Club of Great Britain’s consumer surveys, the survey from 2019 reproduced above. This shows that France is regularly visited by more skiers and snowboarders than all of the next nine countries in the top 10 combined.

Switzerland is the fourth most popular destination, although clearly a lot of skiers and snowboarders have it on their bucket list to have a winter holiday there at least once, since nearly as many visitors seem to have visited Switzerland as France.

Switzerland was once the pre-eminent ski resort for UK visitors. The earliest winter sports resorts were established in the late Nineteenth Century in a dozen or so Swiss mountain communities, and for the first half of the Twentieth Century, Switzerland dominated winter sports tourism – although resorts such as Chamonix, St Anton and Kitzb├╝hel were well established. As late as 1957 the Ski Club of Great Britain’s publication “Ski Notes & Queries” provided reports from 25 resorts, all but 6 of which were in Switzerland. However, things were changing at this time with a massive expansion in lift capacity throughout the Alps, and notably the “Three Valleys” in France which expanded from modest beginnings in 1945 to largely the terrain we know today by 1971.

The relative decline in British skiers visiting Switzerland occurred following the end of the gold standard and the oil crisis in the 1970s when the Swiss Franc was widely adopted as reserve currency. A skier going to Switzerland in the winter of 1974/5 would have got six francs for every pound; today the currencies are nearing parity. Inevitably many skiers over the years since have chosen the more affordable resorts of France, Austria and Italy.

An indicator of the changing popularity of Alpine nations for winter sports comes from the 2001 “Where to Ski and Snowboard” book which listed 29 resorts in France, 21 in Austria, 17 from Switzerland and 14 in Italy. The Inghams catalogue of package ski holidays from 2017/18 lists 53 pages of hotels in Austria, 53 in France, 35 in Italy and only 21 in Switzerland.

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