In the mid-1800s, the snow-covered Alps were primarily unexplored. Then people discovered the healing powers of the wholesome and dry winter mountain air. Patients with lung problems went to the mountains to recover, and when they did, they embraced the joys of snowy fun – launching the birth of winter tourism.
The resorts of St Moritz and Davos in canton Graubünden were pioneers in the field of winter tourism – not just in Switzerland, but worldwide. Most of the first tourists came from Britain, but there were some from Germany as well. This was when the first ice rinks, toboggan runs and legendary palatial hotels were built. Horse racing on snow and ice was popular. Later, people came to ski as well.
The fact that Switzerland is now a hotspot for winter sports also has to do with its geographical location and beautiful mountain scenery, including peaks like Piz Bernina, the Matterhorn, and the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.
The mountain world has changed over the years: now there are more roads, railways and holiday homes. Tourism has altered the nature of the Alps. What remains is the bright light, the clear air and the white snow – even if some of it is man-made.
The book Snow, Sun and Stars was released in 2014 by the Neue Zürcher Zeitung publishing house. It is available in German and English.
(Images: NZZ-Verlag, Text: Gaby Ochsenbein, swissinfo.ch)