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Alps: a year-round tourist destination

Hiking signposts

Yellow is used throughout Switzerland for signposts for hikers. White, red, white strips indicate a mountain path. The sign at the bottom asks people not to enter the meadow, pick flowers or leave rubbish.© Samnaun Tourism

The Swiss mountains are a huge draw for tourists and one of country’s major selling points. In summer, they are the ideal destination for hikers, while in winter they are a snow lover’s paradise.

Winter tourism

By the mid-19th century, the mountains had become a popular summer holiday destination. But it was the English who were the first to discover the delights of winter resorting in the mountains several years later. By the 1860s, St. Moritz and Davos had established themselves as the first winter tourist resorts in Switzerland. Before the outbreak of World War I, the Bernese Oberland, together with the Vaudois and Bündner Alps, were the destinations of choice for the growing numbers of winter sport aficionados. Ice skating had long been the most popular winter sport, however things would begin to change from 1860 onwards with the emergence of modern downhill skiing. In 1902, Berne and Glarus would host the first downhill and ski jumping competitions. Skiing only became a truly mass-market sport in Switzerland after 1920. In the meantime, curling, bobsledding, tobogganing and ice hockey satisfied the tourists’ need for speed.

The Schilthorn and its famous revolving restaurant "Piz Gloria"

The Schilthorn and its famous revolving restaurant "Piz Gloria"©

Mürren – a blue-ribbon winter sport resort

In the mid-19th century, a number of hotels began cropping up in Mürren, a remote mountain village in the Bernese Alps, aided no doubt by the arrival of the railways in 1889. This made it possible for tourists to travel with ease from Lauterbrunnen to Mürren. Sir Arnold Lunn chose Mürren as the venue for the first ever slalom skiing race, held in 1922. Not only did this Englishman invent the slalom, he was also the brains behind the legendary “Inferno Race”, the largest and most challenging amateur ski race in the world (Schilthorn – Lauterbrunnen). In 1931, three years after the first Inferno race was held, the Lauterbrunnen valley was host to be the venue for another first – the World Ski Championships.
Mürren also owes some of its renown to Ian Fleming’s James Bond. The Schilthorn and its famous revolving restaurant "Piz Gloria" famously provided the dramatic and somewhat futuristic backdrop to the 1969 Bond film "On Her Majesty’s Secret Service".

Five people line up with "Velogemel" snowbicycles

Grindelwald "Velogemel" snowbicycles.© Grindelwald Tourism

A ski jumper lies almost flat as he takes off

Ski-jumping on the Olympic ski jump in St. Moritz.© Kur- und Verkehrsverein St Moritz

Resurgence in popularity between the wars

The First World War brought the burgeoning Swiss tourist industry to a standstill. The grand hotels stood empty, as their moneyed patrons stayed away. However, in the intervening years winter sport resorts recovered somewhat thanks to the development of the mountain railways and the growing popularity of skiing. In 1934 the first ski lift in the world opened in Davos.
Summer tourism also fared well. The first trips by PostBus over the Grimsel and Furka Passes were made in 1921, paving the way for mass automobile tourism in the Alps.

Alpine tourism today

Nowadays, we tend to take chair lifts for granted. But prior to 1944 only a few mountain resorts boasted this type of equipment. Today, though, things could not be more different – mountain resorts in Switzerland have a state-of-the-art tourist infrastructure, catering for all tastes and budgets.
Sadly, lower-level resorts are struggling with the effects of climate change. Only a few years ago “snow-reliable” could be used to describe most winter sport resorts in Switzerland. Today, though, snow cannons are often the only way that these lower-level resorts can guarantee decent snow cover. In the past, no-one gave much thought to the environmental impact a week on the slopes would have. Yet, sustainable tourism, whether in winter or in summer, has become the watchword of the modern environmentally-aware tourist. Given that tourism is the main source of income for most of Switzerland’s mountain regions, the preservation of this landscape is therefore essential. Otherwise, the tourist industry could be in danger of killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

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