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Ski resorts take advantage of early winter

(Keystone)

An abundance of snow and freezing temperatures attracted tens of thousands of Swiss to the ski slopes this weekend, making it one of the earliest starts on record.

Many parts of the Swiss Alps have never seen as much snow in November, according to the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research.

Davos was one of the biggest and best known of Switzerland's ski resorts to move up opening day to cash in on the excellent conditions.

The authorities in the southeastern resort said they had sold as many lift passes this weekend as they did during the entire month of November last year.

The national tourist office, Switzerland Tourism, reported that 48 resorts – well over half of the total - were able to kick off their winter season this weekend.

In Verbier, around 8,000 skiers hit the slopes; unable to resist the 60 centimetres of powder snow reported in the renowned canton Valais resort. "Only rarely have we been able to open so early," said Eric Balet, director of the local ski lift company.

The ski lift companies have invested SFr84 million ($75 million) in artificial snowmaking facilities this year, as insurance against the unpredictability of temperatures and amounts of snowfall, as experienced in recent winters.

But the heavy snowfall – between 50cm and 150cm in most parts of the Swiss Alps – has meant the resorts have not yet had to put newly acquired snow cannon to use. Ironically, it was too warm at this time last year for them to do so.

Chairlift mishap

Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland also opened its runs at the weekend but not without a hitch.

On Sunday, air rescue helicopters were called in to evacuate around 150 skiers stuck on a malfunctioning chairlift in the First ski area.

A spokesman for Rega, the Swiss air rescue service, said it took one-and-a-half hours to bring all of the skiers to safety after the lift unexpectedly came to a standstill.

Rega helicopters are the stars of this year's campaign by the Swiss Council for Accident Prevention.

To coincide with the start of the ski season, the Council has begun airing television advertisements and has put up posters showing a swarm of the red-and-white helicopters flying into the mountains on a rescue mission.

The campaign attempts to convince people to wear helmets by claiming that there are 1,000 skiing, snowboarding or sledging accidents every day in the Swiss Alps.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

There are 650 mountain transport and ski lift companies operating in Switzerland's ski resorts.
With 11,000 employees, they are a key economic factor in mountain regions.
The companies have a combined annual turnover of approximately SFr840 million ($687 million), of which around 25% is reinvested in maintaining or purchasing new infrastructure.

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