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First-class ski pass heralds end to queues

A ski lift in Verbier, one of the sponsors of the study swissinfo C Helmle

Skiers should be allowed to pay extra to avoid having to queue for lifts, according to a new study aimed at reviving the fortunes of Switzerland’s alpine resorts.

This content was published on February 6, 2004 - 10:02

But the country's struggling cable car operators say they would be unable to pay for a two-tier system offering premium and standard ski passes.

Resorts are often faced with heavy congestion at cable cars and ski lifts during high season, weekends or in good weather.

To counter this, Swiss researchers have suggested a new pricing system in which those willing to pay extra would be allowed to jump to the front of the queue.

Just over half of those questioned in the study said they would be willing to pay between ten and 15 per cent more for ski passes giving them a fast track to the slopes.

But some skiers say such a system would be unfair.

“I think it’s not right that some people could go forward faster than the others. I think all people should have the same ticket,” said mother-of-two Marlene Arnold, who was on her way to Gstaad for a day’s skiing.

And others, especially younger people, find the idea too expensive.

“A first-class pass would be too expensive for me - I only get SFr70 pocket money,” snowboarder David Wittenbach, 17, told swissinfo.

Easy solution

Another solution suggested by the University of Applied Sciences of Western Switzerland, which carried out the study, would be to follow the lead of low-cost airlines such as easyJet and offer discounted ski passes for early bookings.

The study also recommended maintaining a flat rate for passes which would vary according to the weather forecast, the quality of the snow and demand.

Although some skiers, particularly the younger ones and those with families, thought this could be a good idea, others thought it wasn’t worth the risk of losing out to bad weather.

“I wouldn’t buy a discounted ski pass because I like going skiing when it’s fine weather, and for fine weather you can’t book in advance,” said Ivo Hubmann, who was heading for the resort of Lauchernalp in canton Valais.

Caution

Cable car companies - only a third of which are profitable - have also reacted with caution.

Felix Maurhofer from the Swiss cable car association admits that the industry must be more flexible in terms of pricing.

But a lack of technology and funding would prevent some resorts from updating their systems to cope with online bookings and more complex ticketing, he said.

“To buy in advance, you would have to do that by credit card or on demand via email. The operation would be very complicated for the companies,” Maurhofer told swissinfo.

“I think we need two or three years [before we can implement a system like at easyJet],” he added.

“It also depends on the economic pressure and the competition between the alpine resorts. But maybe if Austria or France started to do something like that, then we have to follow.”

Two-tier system

Pistes reserved for those with season tickets have already been tried out successfully at the Cooper Mountain resort in Colorado in the United States

Maurhofer thinks that while richer clients might be willing to pay for a premium ski pass, more comfortable cable cars and even VIP pistes, such a system would be difficult to implement.

“That’s hard to imagine because it’s our philosophy to have all the pistes open for everybody, so it would be really problematic to do something like that,” he said.

The authors of the study received funding from the Federal Commission for Technology and Innovation, plus support from several Swiss scientific partners: the Technology and Economics College in Chur, the School of Engineering in Biel and the Tourism Institute at Lucerne.

They also received backing from the industry in the form of three cable car companies – the Titlis Rotair in Engelberg, the ski lift companies at Klosters in Graubünden and the Téléverbier cable car company in Verbier in canton Valais.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold

Key facts

There are 586 cable car companies in Switzerland employing 11,000 people.
Only one-third are profitable.
77% companies make less than SFr1 million per year

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In brief

The report suggests introducing a first-class ski pass enabling people to jump queues.

It also suggests offering discounts to those who book in advance.

The study, carried out by the University of Applied Sciences of Western Switzerland, looked at ways of improving tourism in the Alps.

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