(Bloomberg) -- Roger Moore would be turning in his grave.
Those headed to the Swiss ski resort of Crans-Montana, where Moore lived for decades after playing superspy James Bond, found the lifts closed this week. They are the victim of a financial dispute that comes weeks before a key vote on whether to fund a local bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.
Philippe Magistretti, president of lift operator Crans-Montana Aminona SA, took to the internet on Tuesday, blaming the town of Crans-Montana in an open letter for refusing to agree to fund an 800,000-Swiss-franc subsidy ($832,000) for unprofitable projects like late-season openings and running World Cup races that force the closure of lifts to recreational skiers. The irony is that this spring there has been snow in abundance, with 20 centimeters (8 inches) of fresh powder falling on Crans-Montana pistes last weekend and as much as 4 meters of snow near the upper reaches of the 2,927-meter summit.
Municipal authorities in the town of 11,000 people continued asking “incessant questions” even after two other Swiss communes, Icogne and Lens, had given their approval for the subsidy, Magistretti wrote. That is an insult “to the principal investor,” Czech billionaire developer Radovan Vitek, “who saved the station and the community of Crans-Montana,” he wrote.
Magistretti said that left him with only one rational decision: close the lifts.
The three communes of Crans-Montana, Icogne and Lens issued a press release hours later acknowledging the shutdown with “profound regret.”
“One wonders about the motivations behind CMA’s decision, which doesn’t seem to make any economic sense and harms not only the image of the resort but also the financial interests of the company,” the towns said.
The war of words and money comes ahead of a June 10 referendum in the Swiss canton of Valais, home to other big-name ski resorts including Zermatt and Verbier, on whether to support a bid by the canton’s capital Sion to host the 2026 Olympics. The Swiss organizers plan to host the flagship alpine skiing events in Crans-Montana if the bid is backed.
Though the matter will probably be solved in plenty of time for 2026, it’s a sobering lesson for Swiss organizers of the need for a backup plan when relying on existing facilities in private hands, said Jean-Loup Chappelet, a professor of public management at the University of Lausanne.
“This shutdown of ski lifts is absolutely unheard of in Switzerland,” said Chappelet, who was in charge of Sion’s previous bid for the 2006 Games and a former executive at the International Olympic Committee. “It’s a money matter that should have been solved a long time before Easter.”
“This has been a rude awakening for all parties,” said Bruno Huggler, director of Crans-Montana Tourism. Le Matin, a local tabloid, was blunter, running with the headline “Bad Karma for Sion 2026.”
Romaine Jean, a spokeswoman for Sion 2026, said the dust-up won’t hurt the bid and that the mountain just hosted a women’s World Cup ski race in March that attracted 17,000 visitors.
“It’s just a dispute between a shareholder and a commune, nothing more,” Jean said, adding that there are talks set for Thursday to resolve the dispute.
Spending, or at least overspending, has been at the heart of recent Olympic controversies. After Russia’s outlay on the 2014 winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, bids by the Polish, Ukrainian and Swedish Olympic Committees for the 2022 Games were all withdrawn because of either a lack of popular or political support, leaving just the Kazakh city of Almaty and Beijing to duke it out. (Beijing won).
Officials at the IOC in Lausanne, about two hours from Crans-Montana, have been making encouraging noises about the importance of reining in spending on sports facilities.
“The goal is that the Games adapt to the cities, not vice versa,” Christophe Dubi, deputy Olympic Games executive director, said on a recent conference call according to a local report. No one from the IOC press office immediately responded to confirm his comments or comment on the Crans-Montana closure.
With that more accommodating mandate comes much stiffer competition for Sion. Austria, Sweden, Turkey, Japan, Italy and Canada have all signaled their interest in bidding. The IOC will review its options and make its final decision in September 2019.
Roland Schegg, a professor of tourism at the University of Applied Sciences Arts of Western Switzerland, said it’s hard to tell what the dispute’s effect will be for the June referendum, but it’s not a positive.
“The issue is certainly not a plus in the dossier for the Olympic bid,” he said.
(Corrects description of Kazakh city of Almaty in 14th paragraph.)
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