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Cool "Cube" takes ski holidays to new heights

Urban design in a mountain environment Keystone

A concept hotel – the "Cube" - could revolutionise the way skiers spend their winter holidays. One thing is certain; it has nothing in common with a Swiss chalet.

This content was published on March 13, 2006 - 16:04

Ski passes, video games, and access to the world's biggest living room are included in the price at Switzerland's first Cube, in the southeastern resort of Savognin.

Beds start at SFr59 ($45) a night, and guests are obliged to buy a ski pass on top of that at a discounted rate. The all-inclusive concept and location beside the ski lift are two reasons why bookings have been brisk at the Cube since it opened in December.

The others are the trendy modular design, innovative room features, informal restaurant and lounge lending it a community feel, as well as a nightclub and free video games.

Fully booked through much of its initial three months, the Cube with nearly 300 beds has met a need for hotels in a medium-sized resort like Savognin dominated by under-used holiday flats and chalets.

Hotel guests spend considerably more money than people staying in apartments, and are more likely to ski each day than those in flats, and flat owners are under no obligation to let out their properties when empty.

That is a key reason why the Savognin ski lift company initiated the move to bring the Austrian franchise to Switzerland.

"The only other option would have been to put on hold all plans to upgrade our infrastructure, or to downsize," lift director, Leo Jeker, told swissinfo during a visit to the Cube.

Warm beds

"We chose instead to go on the offensive and create 'warm' beds, hiring them out to tour operators to generate a demand.

"We have to take a page from the cruise ship industry and offer all-inclusive packages. Everything has to be linked – in the village and on the mountain. The customer doesn't care what belongs to whom."

Linked to the hotel is a sports shop where guests can hire top of the line ski equipment, snowboards and novelty gear such as snow bikes, and sign-up for instruction.

While all-inclusive ski packages are becoming more common in Switzerland, it is the community-in-a-hotel aspect that sets the Cube apart.

The ground floor from the reception to the kitchen is a spacious lounge, and in the short time the hotel has been open, has attracted many holidaymakers staying elsewhere in the village, turning it into an ersatz piazza for Savognin.

Toddlers bounce from cushiony seat cube to seat cube, older children gravitate to the Play Stations and parents sip coffee macchiato, watching skiers ascending and descending concrete ramps encircling the atrium.

Gateways

The ramps, or "gateways", lead to two or four person rooms on the three upper levels, each fronted by a large, heated "showroom", where skis and wet gear (or mountain bikes in summer!) are stored behind a glass wall to dry on special clips, hooks and racks.

The sleeping area is hidden in the space behind where décor and furnishings have been reduced to a minimum; beds, a walk-in shower and separate toilet.

Clothes are stashed in wooden boxes placed under the beds, and mobile phones and laptops can be charged while out of sight in lockable drawers, each with its own electrical socket.

There are comfortable sofas outside the rooms for guests seeking a place to read or chat away from the crowded lounge.

"First-timers are usually speechless when they enter their showroom," says hotel director, Claudia Schneider. "We were targeting the 18 to 30 crowd but the average guest is much older than we expected," she adds.

"Middle-aged people feel much more youthful today than people in that age bracket did 30 years ago," Jeker says, explaining the hotel's broad appeal.

"We have teenage kids, so it's great for them," says a 42-year-old woman watching her daughter struggling to grasp the tiny foot and hand holds on the climbing wall.

"We like to relax over a drink in the lounge. We are young parents with grown children, so it's ideal."

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Savognin

In brief

One of the most divisive issues in Swiss alpine resorts is the imbalance between hotels and private chalets or flats, in favour of the latter.

Speculators have been able to take advantage of high prices and lax zoning by-laws in many mountain regions to build chalets and flats or convert hotels into private apartments.

Hotel beds, using the industry term, are "warm" since hotels usually have good occupancy rates in the high summer and winter seasons, and therefore help generate business for local shops and ski lift companies.

In contrast, chalets and flats are often used for only a few weeks of the year by their owners who are under no obligation to let them out. Hence, their beds are considered "cold".

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Key facts

Savognin is a medium-sized mountain resort in canton Graubünden.
It has 80km of ski runs and pioneered high-speed ski lifts and snow making infrastructure in the 1960s and 1970s.
Savognin's Cube hotel is the second worldwide. The first opened in the Austrian resort of Nassfeld two years ago.

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