In his early 60s, Leo Jeker is a living legend in the Swiss ski industry. As director of the lift company in Savognin in southeastern Switzerland, he was the first to purchase snowmaking equipment on a large scale. That was in 1978, years before the term climate change entered our vocabularies. Picking up the Swiss tourist industry award for lifetime achievement last year, Jeker said his wish was for the people of mountain regions to be able to decide their own fate, without interference from outsiders.
Average winter (top), January 2007 (bottom)
"We have to take global warming seriously. But it's no grounds for panic or fear – that would be the worst thing to do. 2005-06 was our 44th winter season. We had three and a half months last year when the temperature remained below freezing. That showed that anything is possible. This season got off to a good start, but now we have high temperatures. This has happened now and again over the past few hundred years, which climatologists have also confirmed."
"The technology must improve so we can make more and better snow even when temperatures are at the critical level. And we must be able to offer a variety of mountain activities in summer and in winter. We must go to higher altitudes with our activities, and develop [shady] north and northeast slopes."
"Winter will remain our most important season, when we generate the most turnover, which subsidises our summer operations. To strengthen winter, we must provide a greater variety of activities. That goes for summer too."
"We have always taken the environment into account, and Savognin is a model resort. We had 14 ski lifts seven years ago servicing 80km of ski runs, but in the long-term we will have only eight lifts for 120km of pistes. That is environmentally sustainable."
Area designated for property development (Savognin)
"There are two big projects under development in the region at the moment. The nature park, Ela, and parallel to that a project to ensure the long-term development of winter and summer sports. The land-use zone is only about one per cent of the size of the nature park."
Instead of skis, the "mountain roller" (Savognin)
"Summer is where there is the most growth potential. Visitors can come up where it's cool and I'm convinced that we must seize the chance." - "Summer accounts for only three per cent of our annual turnover at the moment. But we doubled the figure last summer compared with 2005. We are on the right track."
Façade of Savognin's Cube Hotel (Keystone)
"We have control over our future. You must be enthusiastic about the future, without letting yourself be distracted by worst-case scenarios." - "I'm convinced that in 10, 20, 30 years – or even 50 years time – the Alps will be an exclusive region for winter sports, since they won't be possible in most other parts of the world."
"For the Alps, there is no alternative to tourism, in both winter and summer. There is simply no alternative."
A leading tourism figure makes a case for the Swiss ski industry.
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