Swiss resorts in uphill battle over no snow, franc

Armed with snow canons and cut-price hotel deals some of Switzerland’s ski resorts, already beleaguered by the strong Swiss franc, are grappling with another obstacle — no snow.


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A dry November has forced several ski resorts to push back the start of the season, the latest in a string of bad news for hoteliers who have struggled to fill beds as the soaring Swiss franc deters foreign holidaymakers.

Not to be disheartened, Davos-Klosters nestled in eastern Switzerland employed no less than 250 snow canons to get pistes ready for the season start — a week later than scheduled.

Some 3,000 winter sport enthusiasts trekked to the resort lying 1,560 meters (yards) above sea level last weekend to slide down the 6 km (3.728 miles) of pistes made from artificial snow, long white stretches on an otherwise brown and green landscape.

Despite the delayed start, Yves Bugmann, finance director of Davos-Klosters mountain railway, remained unperturbed for now.

“Financially, the losses so far are marginal and can be recouped through cost cuts,” he said. “Even so, a good start is the basis for a successful season.”

Tourism, which contributes some 5 percent to Swiss gross domestic product, has come under pressure due to the strong Swiss franc that rose by more than 20 percent against the euro earlier this year and flirted with parity in August — the height of the summer season.

Although the Swiss National Bank set a cap of 1.20 francs to the euro on September 6, many hoteliers still regard the currency as overvalued and say the tourist sector needs a good winter to stave off job cuts.

Veronique Kanel, spokeswoman for the Swiss tourism organization, said there was no cause for alarm yet.

“However, should this situation last until mid-December, the lack of snow coupled with the strong Swiss franc would be extremely worrying,” she said.

Switzerland had its last heavy snowfall on October 19, but the Federal Office for Meteorology is forecasting snow Friday evening, ending a five-week drought.

FRANC-FIGHTING MEASURES

Overnight stays from foreign visitors are forecast to drop 4.2 percent this winter, according to economic research institute BAKBASEL, with tourists from eastern Europe and the United States in particular seen shunning the Swiss Alps for cheaper destinations.

To lure price-conscious skiers and stop locals from straying to slopes over the border, Davos is offering free lift passes to those who book an overnight stay between now and Christmas.

This is just one initiative as part of the project ‘Franc-ly Switzerland’ run by the tourist board, which aims to sell the country, a favorite winter haunt of the rich and royalty, as an affordable destination.

Other measures include 10 percent off ski holidays, 2-for-1 lift passes, as well as discounted ski lessons and ski hire.

Hotel Grichting Badnerhof in Leukerbad in southwest Switzerland is offering guests an exchange rate of 1.40 francs to the euro, a discount of some 14 percent over Tuesday’s euro-Swiss exchange rate of 1.2289.

While this can help take up the slack during low-seasons, cutting prices is not a viable option in the long run, Kanel said. Still, some higher resorts blessed with snow have managed to make light of the situation.

Boasting snow-capped peaks, Saas Fee in southwestern Switzerland poked fun at snow-poorer resorts in a video showing winter sports fans attempting to ski and sledge and on grassy fields.

“We regret that snow enthusiasts are forced to carry out such questionable activities and invite you to enjoy the start of the winter season with us,” Saas Fee said in a mock news video.

Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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