SUISSE news Winter 2017 / January 2018
Three Exciting Ski Area Developments
Skiing has been a popular tourism focus in Canada and Switzerland for generations. In the mid-1800s English tourists discovered that Engadin resorts were just as attractive for winter as for summer holidays. A Swiss ski instructor founded the first North American ski school in Quebec in the early 1900s. Other Swiss skiers helped bring ski tourism to the Banff area. The Alps are currently the most popular ski destination in the world.  Ski resorts face increasing competition for tourist’s money and leisure time. Issues such as climate change, local political, currency and travel concerns could affect the future prosperity of skiing in Canada and Switzerland.
Despite this uncertainty, the ski industry continues to invest and build. In particular, Canada’s Jumbo and Valemount Glacier Resorts and Switzerland’s Andermatt are massive projects in the works that will expand the supply of elite level ski destinations. Both countries already have a good number of quality resorts. Successful new resorts of this magnitude rely heavily on attracting foreign skiers.
According to Vanat’s 2017 International Report on Snow and Mountain Tourism, (www.vanat.ch) 67 countries currently offer outdoor ski areas. Competition exists for the existing skiers but also for other related activities. Accessible travel, the internet and the globalization of the leisure travel marketplace puts greater pressure on traditional activities and destinations.
While the overall skier market is increasing in the developing world, western skier populations are flat.
In Canada, Jumbo Glacier Resort and Valemount Glacier are new destinations in development that plan to offer year round skiing in some of Canada’s highest mountains. Further, Club Med has just announced plans for the purchase and $120 million expansion of Le Massif in Quebec’s Charlevoix Region. In varying degrees, expansion of runs, services and/or infrastructure is taking place at Panorama, Big White, Whistler/Blackcomb, Silver Star, Kicking Horse, Revelstoke, Fernie and Mont Tremblant.
In Europe, major investments (mostly in lifts) in Val d’Isere, Courcheval, Megeve, Les Arcs, Ischgl and Garmisch are expected to have an impact in 2018.
Clearly all are investing to enhance the customer experience and become the destination of choice.
Jumbo Glacier Resort received good news as a result of a Supreme Court of Canada decision that dismissed the First Nations claims of a spiritual connection to the Jumbo Valley, opening the door to development, initiated some 26 years ago. It will offer year round skiing and sightseeing in the Purcell Mountains, close to Invermere, BC.
Nonetheless, the project faces challenges from both environmentalists and First Nations communities. Many feel that the project will still face significant opposition before the plans are implemented. If it gets off the ground, the massive ski area will be developed in phases on three glaciers.
Upon completion, the resort plans to offer skiing (all year), snowboarding, heli-skiing, skating, tobogganing, guided mountaineering, hiking , mountain biking, and whitewater rafting.
From a guest standpoint, Jumbo plans to follow the example of Whister-Blackcomb and attract a worldwide clientele. While they realize the challenges, the developers believe that customers will flock to an outstanding customer skiing experience. This could come partially at the expense of smaller regional ski areas. The developers cite the following advantages:
- Snowmaking not required(warming is not an immediate threat to these glaciers)
- picturesque mountains
- lift access to glacier- supported snowfields
- skiable terrain with a variety of challenges
While smaller, Valemount shares many characteristics with Jumbo. The major difference is that Valemount has greater buy-in from environmentalists, First Nations communities and government and other local organizations. The area is more remote than Jumbo and about one half the size, with 9000 hectares, 2000 beds and 16 lifts.
The development of both Valemount and Jumbo is with Pheidias Project Management Corp together with by Oberti Resort Design, both of Vancouver.
Currently the projection is to have a soft opening for winter 2018-19 with the three phases to be completed over 15-20 years. The first phase will reach Twilight Glacier, at elevation 2,530 meters, allowing for year-round skiing and for a vertical drop of 1,370 meters to the resort village base. Valemount will offer a beautiful view of Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.
The second phase will expand both the access to summer skiable glaciers and the winter skiable territory. The third phase will reach a saddle below Mount Arthur Meighen, at 3,205 meters, further expanding summer skiing and creating a dramatic viewing experience of surrounding glaciers.
The 1.8 billion CHF development of the Andermatt-Sedrun region is an expansion of an existing destination. Orascom Development Holding AG purchased 140 hectares and is developing the area through its Swiss company Andermatt Swiss Alps AG. Once completed, plans call for 6 new lifts linking Andermatt to the Sedrun ski area, combined with enhanced snowmaking, which will create the largest ski area in central Switzerland. The investment in the ski area is expected to cost about 200 million CHFborne by Andermatt Swiss Alps AG and the cantons of Uri and Graubunden. In addition to the planned skiing infrastructure, 25 luxury chalets, 490 condominium units, and an 18 hole championship golf course will be added for year round tourism.
Business has been flat or declining prior to this initiative with much competition from bigger and better serviced areas. Adding to the investment risk, the strength of the Swiss franc in recent years has contributed to given Switzerland’s reputation as an expensive vacation destination. The town of Andermatt and people of the region have been supportive of the project as a means of developing economic growth and prosperity. Some remain skeptical about the size of the investment and potential return.
Set to be completed in 2020, the project is moving along well with the Gütsch-Express now open; which links the Andermatt train station to the Nätschen-Gütsch-Schneehüenerstock ski area. Also the new Lutersee Flyer is open, moving 2400 people per hour on a 6-seater chairlift.
Despite the challenges of demographics, climate, disposable income, and increasing competition from other leisure options, the ski industry seems to be able to attract continued and substantial investment in Canada, Switzerland and worldwide. There are certainly risks involved in attracting tourism once the infrastructure is in place; however the potential investment return is clearly worth the risk for many groups.
The industry will have to work hard to keep existing skiers and attract new ones to the sport. The trend seems to be toward bigger and bigger resorts with more non-ski activities to create year round destinations.
Laurent Vanat, 2017 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism
 Laurent Vanat, 2017 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism (www.vanat.ch)