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Cable car company comes out on top

The Brambrüesch cable car has been bailed out swissinfo.ch

The residents of the eastern city of Chur are spoiled for choice when it comes to hiking or skiing.

This content was published on September 24, 2002 - 08:19

But they live so near to big resorts that they have become indifferent to the financial problems of the city's very own cable car company and ski resort.

What would New York be without Central Park, or London without Hyde Park?

That was the question the residents of Chur had to ask themselves about their own recreational area, Brambrüesch.

There is a big difference however. Brambrüesch lies 1,000 metres directly above Chur, and the only direct access is by cable car. But the company that runs the cable car is in dire financial straits.

"I support the Brambrüesch Cable Car," says a teenager while sipping a coke in one of Chur's trendy outdoor cafes.

But when asked if she hikes in the area in summer, or snowboards there in winter, she doesn't hesitate to say no. She would rather travel to the big resort of Arosa, like her friends do.

Dilemma

That was the dilemma facing the residents of Chur who approved by a mere 500 votes on September 22 a plan to use taxpayers' money to save the Brambrüesch Cable Car Company.

The transport facilities are now showing their age and it has been many years since the ski area has been able to compete with the trendy resorts of Arosa, Lenzerheide and Flims-Laax.

It takes an hour to reach Arosa, but just half that time to get to the other two.

The chairman of the Brambrüesch board, Wolfgang Wunderlich, admits the Brambrüesch company will never be able to compete with the big name resorts, but says there is more at stake.

Intrinsic value

Wunderlich spearheaded the successful campaign to save the company. The city council now has to provide SFr850,000 ($600,000) a year in public funds to keep it alive because of the cable car's intrinsic value.

Using the slogan "Recreation doesn't have to pay for itself", he argued that the city has a duty to support the company as it does its public swimming pools and sport clubs.

Childhood memories

"It's a service for families since children don't have to be driven to the area," says Wunderlich. "The people of Chur have fond childhood memories of going up to Brambrüesch, so they want to preserve it for future generations."

It costs a modest SFr12 for the cable car trip from Chur's city centre to the top.

The steep ascent affords breathtaking views of what is the oldest city in the Alps.

Once on top, visitors stroll past threatened moors and protected alpine meadows.

The backers of the cable car said the area could be marketed better to appeal to more tourists.

The head of Chur Tourism, Peter Laube says tourism generates about SFr80 million annually for the city, and the cable car "helps us promote the city because we can say that Chur has its own ski resort".

"Chur does not depend on tourism," countered Dario Morandi, a local journalist who called on residents in his newspaper column to reject the financial plan.

"Taxpayers' money should not be used to finance the cable car company," said Morandi.

Private investment

He said he welcomed private investors and took part himself in a fundraising drive a few years ago to bail out the ailing company.

He was one of about 4,000 residents at the time who bought shares but paradoxically adds that only a few of these shareholders including himself have actually supported the company by making use of the service.

And he said the SFr850,000 a year would not be enough to make the cable car company or ski area more competitive.

Not fashionable

The few hotels and restaurants in the Brambrüesch area are anything but fashionable and they pale in comparison with the trendy diners and clubs of Arosa, Lenzerheide or Flims-Laax.

The Sport Hotel Brambrüesch is a case in point. Because too few people frequent the Brambrüesch area, the hotel owner, Hans-Peter Enderlin, cannot afford to hire enough staff or modernise the establishment.

If the people of Chur had voted against the cable car investment, he said he would have had no choice but to close up shop.

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel

In brief

Chur is one of the few cities in the Alps with its own ski area, accessed directly from the centre of town by cable car.

However, local residents no longer take full advantage of the service and would rather drive to larger resorts in the region like Arosa and Flims-Laax.

This has put the cable car company in the red.

On September 22, voters in Chur said yes to a plan to provide SFr850,000 annually in taxpayers' money over a 15 year period to cover its operating costs and replace ageing stock.

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