Zermatt visitors demand snowy streets


While many Swiss residents continue to slide around on icy paths and roads, tourists and locals in Zermatt have been complaining about the opposite problem.

This content was published on January 7, 2009 minutes

For the first winter ever Zermatt's local authorities have cleared snow and ice from paths and roads throughout the picturesque mountain resort to help prevent accidents. But they have been met by an avalanche of complaints.

Extremely cold winter weather and heavy snowfalls over the holiday period have left most of Switzerland under a thick blanket of snow and ice. Local authorities continue to struggle to clear paths and roads as the freezing temperatures grip the country and make salting difficult.

But the chic, car-free resort of Zermatt, located beneath the famous Matterhorn mountain, has been facing quite a different snow-clearance problem.

The local authorities this year cleared away all the snow and ice from the village's pavements and streets to prevent falls, injuries and liability claims by wealthy visitors.

But this radical approach has met with a wave of indignation by many tourists and local residents.

"What a shame. My snowy idyllic romantic winter spot has been turned into a muddy brown mess," wrote a visitor on the local communal website.

"This brown soup is just disgusting," wrote another describing the slush and mud.

Others have complained about their dirty shoes, dog paws damaged by salt and ruined tobogganing runs, and say Zermatt has lost some of its winter wonderland appeal.

Treacherous high street

In recent years frequent weather changes in winter – thawing followed by cold snaps – have turned the slippery snowy streets into dangerous ice rinks and led to a number of accidents, Zermatt's tourist director Daniel Luggen told swissinfo.

"We had a lot of complaints, tourists breaking arms and legs, and a couple of Americans tried to sue the community – unsuccessfully," he said.

The decision was therefore taken last summer for a radical clear-up.

"If we hadn't done anything people would have complained. We did something and people complained nonetheless. Unfortunately we are bound to be losers in this kind of situation," Ted Mate, president of the shop-owners' association, told Tribune de Genève newspaper.

"The situation is far from ideal but there have been fewer accidents and our electric vehicles [used to transport tourists around the village], which faced a tough time coping with the snowy bumps are now better off," said Pierre-André Pannatier, president of the local hotel association.

But hotel owners are angry about the mud and slush brought in by tourists, which stain four- and five-star carpets.

"It's impossible to clean the streets with water jets as they would immediately turn them into ice rinks. It's a complex problem," added Pannatier.

Groomed paths and streets

However, tourism director Daniel Luggen said the resort had underestimated people's reactions and he sympathised 100 per cent with visitors.

"The decision was taken without thinking," he said, adding that the snow clearing over the past few weeks had left behind a dirty sandy-like sludge, which was neither pretty nor safe.

"Even the mayor is against it," he added.

Zermatt is probably wishing it had followed Grindelwald, whose local authorities rejected calls to clear snow from the ski resort's streets, and Davos, which bans road salting for aesthetic reasons.

The resort has learned its lesson, said Luggen. It has now ordered two enormous brushes to clear away the salt and prepare the village paths after the next big snowfalls.

"The roads have to be looked after like ski slopes," he said. "Every day the person in charge has to check the weather and conditions to decide what to do."

swissinfo, Simon Bradley

Icy streets

Freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls over the holiday period have left most of Switzerland under thick snow and ice.

Residents, especially in French-speaking regions, have complained about the slow clearance of snow and ice from streets and paths.

Work clearing roads at Fribourg, Yverdon-les-Bains and Neuchâtel should be finished by the end of the week.

The city of Neuchâtel tried using specially prepared wood chips, but they turned out to be less effective than hoped and have been scrapped in favour of gravel.

In Biel and Bern officials have advised pedestrians to wear appropriate footwear for the icy conditions and to choose their paths with care.

Pavements remain hazardous in Zurich, while other Swiss cities, such as Geneva, Lausanne, Delémont, Basel, Frauenfeld and Lucerne are now relatively clear.

But the snow is not only dangerous in towns and villages. Cantons Vaud and Neuchâtel have advised walkers to avoid forests in the Jura hills situated between 600 and 1,000 metres because of heavy powder snow and ice on trees.

End of insertion
In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Share this story

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?