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Old 26.01.2008, 04:26
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Simple ski areas are in trouble

I read a couple of very different stories today, both pointing to the difficulties that "simple" ski areas have in surviving in the face of the mega-resorts. First in the New York Times: Vermont’s Forgotten Trails and Frozen Lifts of Winters Past, about the several hundreds of small ski areas that were thriving (well, surviving may be a more accurate term) in the post WW2 period, and have since disappeared. Then in Le Temps a story about how the family-oriented ski areas in the Valais are having difficulties; Réinventer l'hiver à Saint-Luc.

I spent a week this past summer in Saint-Luc, and was struck by the following comment in the article:
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En revanche, un nouveau commerce s'ouvrira ce printemps, la supérette existante ayant montré les limites de ses capacités pendant les phases de haute fréquentation. Mais deux magasins sont-ils viables le reste de l'année?
The existing "supérette" was busy, but certainly not overloaded, in summer. I doubt that the client base can support a second one year round.

Food for though, as you decide where to go skiing next weekend!
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Old 26.01.2008, 17:58
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

It's kinda sad to see the smaller places getting pushed out; often the mega resorts are soul-less and just too busy. I hate the 'autobahn' feeling, much prefering to glide through woodland and have interesting pistes. Now it seems people just want wide, fast routes with no character. Plus the whole (in my opinion slightly dull) apres-ski scene is forcing the smaller players to the sidelines.

Monoculture or simple supply and demand?
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Old 26.01.2008, 18:57
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

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It's kinda sad to see the smaller places getting pushed out; often the mega resorts are soul-less and just too busy. I hate the 'autobahn' feeling, much prefering to glide through woodland and have interesting pistes. Now it seems people just want wide, fast routes with no character. Plus the whole (in my opinion slightly dull) apres-ski scene is forcing the smaller players to the sidelines.

Monoculture or simple supply and demand?
Agreed, accessibility is also a huge problem, as youngsters tend to go skiing/boarding on their own more & not as part of a family unit.

I have found some real delights in the Bernese Oberland, but sadly have no car ... prepared to share experience for a lift.
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Old 26.01.2008, 19:28
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

My workmates get slightly offended when they ask me if I want to go skiing:
'I can think of cheaper ways of breaking both my legs.' I'm being sent to 'snow symposium' next month and everyone's badgering me to go skiing. fat chance...
Even though my desire to ski is low, it's still a shame when you hear of small operations being closed because everyone wants to go to the big places. Same with coffee shops, stationers, etc.
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Old 26.01.2008, 20:29
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

It is indeed sad. However, quite a few of these smaller ski hills haven't updated their facilities. And, it is not just a problem with the smaller hills.

When I was skiing in the US, there were very few surface lifts at the areas. Occasionally one finds rope tows, but they're mostly just run for the folks just starting to ski. Most t-bars and platter-pull lifts were upgraded to chairlifts in the 1950s to the 1960s. Today, it is rare to find a major surface lift in North America. The only one I had ridden in the past 25 years was the t-bar at the top of Whistler Mountain.

Now, living here in Switzerland, t-bars are quite common. The ski area I frequent the most in Vals (www.vals3000.ch), has three t-bars that take you from about 1500 to 3000 metres. That's a long, long trip with surface lifts. Fortunately the tickets are a bit cheaper than at some larger resorts, but it'd sure be nice if they had chairlifts instead of the t-bars. And actually the skiing is pretty good there. I just wish I could get in a few more runs each day instead of riding the t-bar up as it kills my legs.

The other gripe I've got is the layout of the areas often cause one to have to hike from one lift to another. Again, I'd rather be skiing downhill than hiking up to a lift.

These issues need to be addressed by the smaller areas, and many of the large areas in Switzerland. If not, folks are going to go skiing in other places, that allow them to get more actual skiing in with more modern facilities.
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Old 01.02.2008, 16:09
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

Desperate times call for desperate measures! From SwissInfo Ski resort falls into British hands:
Quote:
A British businessman is hoping to inject new life into an ailing Swiss ski resort. Bruno Prior recently acquired Ernergalen for the symbolic price of just one franc.
........
Ernergalen, which partly belongs to the commune of Ernen in canton Valais, has struggled over recent years to keep up with larger neighbouring resorts that offer more varied skiing, shops and nightlife.
The whole article says a lot about the plight of the smaller resorts, viewed from the perspective of one of them.
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Old 15.03.2009, 03:08
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

Just read an article in the Boston Globe: Little hill thrills -- Seeking cheaper, simpler fun, skiers revive small slopes:
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To ski Mount Prospect Ski Tow, begin with a sturdy grip on the rope tow powered by a 1957 Chevrolet engine. At the peak, release the rope and schuss to the base, a trip that takes a matter of seconds. Après ski, repair to the canvas-sided, pine-floored yurt warmed by a wood stove (Mount Prospect is off the grid) to sip nonalcoholic beverages, strictly BYO.

At Mount Prospect, where a day pass costs $7, you will not find the high-speed gondolas, miles of trails, or chalet villages that have come to define mountain resorts. But you won't find the crowds or hassles, either. And after decades of decline, Mount Prospect and a score of other similarly modest New England ski areas are enjoying revivals, drawing skiers looking for a simpler, and far less expensive, experience on the slopes.
Has the economic crisis had a similar effect in Switzerland?
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Old 15.03.2009, 11:26
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

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Has the economic crisis had a similar effect in Switzerland?
I don't know about the impact of the economic crisis, but a Swiss German friend who saved his local ski lifts from going bankrupt a few years ago is very thankful for the amount and frequency of snow this year. More snow equals profitability for many of the smaller resorts because they aren't as high as the larger resorts.

But come to think of it, we met a young couple from Paris at Moleson-sur-Gruyeres who said that money influenced their vacation plans. They were specifically looking for a smaller, less expensive resort. We thought that it could have been risky to pre-book a week at Moleson in March, but they were very lucky with the conditions this year.
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Old 15.03.2009, 11:49
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

The big resort become more and more overcrowded with youngsters, families and foreigners including myself. Particularly weekends are the days where everyone heads to large resort. It's all fine as long as such traffic doesn't really makes skiing more exercise of queuing instead of actual time spent on/off piste as last couple of my weekends in resorts were good examples.

The big resorts try to eat up small ones and send them out of business but the reality is that those pristine places located on lower parts of mountains play an important role for children, beginners and senior generation who can find it more compromising and less crowded than in huge monsters like autobahn. Many folks prefer smaller resorts over the week with an easy access to going those large resorts where you need to spend significant amount of Francs for a day.
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Old 15.04.2009, 14:55
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

The simple ski areas have untracked off-piste when the big ones are all skiied out. Long may they continue.
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Old 15.04.2009, 15:00
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

Sadly these tiny resorts which are located in lower parts of mountains are already melted and are well served for cycling adventures
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Old 15.04.2009, 15:48
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

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The simple ski areas have untracked off-piste when the big ones are all skiied out. Long may they continue.
I hear ya. ;-)

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Sadly these tiny resorts which are located in lower parts of mountains are already melted and are well served for cycling adventures
You'd be surprised. The snow line is still quite low. Even Hoch-ybrig which only goes up to 1800m is still open.
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Old 08.02.2010, 18:55
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

Though I do not ski, this topic fascinates me. Perhaps because old fashioned skiing is a lot closer to the way a hiker enjoys the outdoors? Todays story is Chipping in to save the magic of a mountain -- Humble ski area tries to go co-op:
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LONDONDERRY, Vt. - At Magic Mountain, children slide down the slopes on cafeteria trays and play video games in the lodge while their parents ski. Most of the 375 season-pass holders, many of whom grew up gliding down the mountain, are on a first-name basis.

But the magic of this humble ski area with two chairlifts and no lift lines has not extended to its financial well-being. The mountain, prized for its steep, wooded terrain and narrow, winding trails, has struggled for years. It was closed for the most of the 1990s and reopened in 1998 but never fully recovered.

Now, the skiers and snowboarders who spend their winter weekends here are being called on to keep it from closing again: For $3,000 apiece, they can help save the mountain.
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Old 23.06.2011, 03:40
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

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Desperate times call for desperate measures! From SwissInfo Ski resort falls into British hands:
Quote:
A British businessman is hoping to inject new life into an ailing Swiss ski resort. Bruno Prior recently acquired Ernergalen for the symbolic price of just one franc.
........
Ernergalen, which partly belongs to the commune of Ernen in canton Valais, has struggled over recent years to keep up with larger neighboring resorts that offer more varied skiing, shops and nightlife.
The whole article says a lot about the plight of the smaller resorts, viewed from the perspective of one of them.
Alas, plans got derailed, partly because of the strong Swiss Franc. From Franc blamed for demise of ski resort:
Quote:
British company director Bruno Prior told swissinfo.ch plans for upgrading ski lift infrastructure and building a new hotel were well advanced, and the necessary permits obtained, when his company decided not to continue with the project.

He said his company, Summerleaze, had invested more than SFr500,000 ($590,000) on preliminary planning, but financial circumstances had forced it to put the development on hold indefinitely.

“It’s not absolutely certain that it won’t go ahead but for now it’s hard to imagine circumstances in the next few years (in which it would),” said Prior.

“One thing is the exchange rate, when we started it was about 2.5 francs to the pound, now it’s about 1.4 which means the funds we’d made available to do it were worth less.”
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Old 23.06.2011, 10:39
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

Very interesting, there is a slope above us in Fluelen that is not advertised or well known. It is busy only at weekends in the winter. It is a very nice ski with amazing views over Urnersee and beyond. We have said before that it can't have enough income to even pay for the t-bar power bill!
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Old 23.06.2011, 11:48
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

To survive the smaller ski areas have to be creative and actively try to extend the season and put 'bums on lifts. Some will rent accomodation owned by the Commune at cost to get groups in. A friend from Greenwich brings school groups to Torgon in the Portes du Soleil area, ensuring that the lifts and ski instructors are busy for most of the season. In exchange he gets excellent deals with the resort.

The small resorts around me in the Jura are really struggling. More and more people go to the Alps, and last year the snow was a total disaster. The previous year was not so bad, plenty of snow. But that meant that as each resort had good conditions- the numbers were not great anywhere.
On the other side of the border, Metabief/Jougne attracts many Parisians looking for simple, family oriented and cheaper slopes//resort.
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Old 23.06.2011, 11:49
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

To survive the smaller ski areas have to be creative and actively try to extend the season and put 'bums on lifts. Some will rent accomodation owned by the Commune at cost to get groups in. A friend from Greenwich brings school groups to Torgon in the Portes du Soleil area, ensuring that the lifts and ski instructors are busy for most of the season. In exchange he gets excellent deals with the resort.

The small resorts around me in the Jura are really struggling. More and more people go to the Alps, and last year the snow was a total disaster. The previous year was not so bad, plenty of snow. But that meant that as each resort had good conditions- the numbers were not great anywhere.
On the other side of the border, Metabief/Jougne attracts many Parisians looking for simple, family oriented and cheaper slopes//resort.

You can't believe how complicated the 'politics' of skiing are. In some areas you could compare it to the mafia.
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Old 23.06.2011, 11:51
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

Diversification into summer sports. Many of the larger resorts are actively attracting mountain bikers to increase revenue in the off season. The smaller resorts with less certain snow cover could easily capitalise on this during the suimmer.
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Old 23.06.2011, 11:53
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

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Very interesting, there is a slope above us in Fluelen that is not advertised or well known. It is busy only at weekends in the winter. It is a very nice ski with amazing views over Urnersee and beyond. We have said before that it can't have enough income to even pay for the t-bar power bill!
The situation is very similar in my village. The villagers pulled together and made saving our T-lift a community project. It worked.

Many employees are farmers who are paid by the hour which helps keep costs down.
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Old 07.11.2011, 03:39
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Re: Simple ski areas are in trouble

One winter later, still the same issue: In the Shadow of Grand Resorts, a Town Hill Struggles:
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Now the question is resonating here and across ski country, from upstate New York to Montana, where local hills and communities are struggling in the face of changed times and economic stress. What place do ski hills like Snow King have in the modern world? What are they worth to a community or an economy? Has the chemistry between town and town hill been changed by tough times?
Though I do not ski, I love the simple enjoyment of the outdoors in winter. The loss of the less commercialized ski areas saddens me
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