The Swiss mountains are a huge draw for tourists and one of country’s major selling points. In summer, they are the ideal destination for hikers, while in winter they are a snow lover’s paradise.
Alps: a year-round tourist destination
By the mid-19th century, the mountains had become a popular summer holiday destination. But it was the English who were the first to discover the delights of winter resorting in the mountains several years later. By the 1860s, St. Moritz and Davos had established themselves as the first winter tourist resorts in Switzerland. Before the outbreak of World War I, the Bernese Oberland, together with the Vaudois and Bündner Alps, were the destinations of choice for the growing numbers of winter sport aficionados. Ice skating had long been the most popular winter sport, however things would begin to change from 1860 onwards with the emergence of modern downhill skiing. In 1902, Berne and Glarus would host the first downhill and ski jumping competitions. Skiing only became a truly mass-market sport in Switzerland after 1920. In the meantime, curling, bobsledding, tobogganing and ice hockey satisfied the tourists’ need for speed.
Mürren – a blue-ribbon winter sport resort
In the mid-19th century, a number of hotels began cropping up in Mürren, a remote mountain village in the Bernese Alps, aided no doubt by the arrival of the railways in 1889. This made it possible for tourists to travel with ease from Lauterbrunnen to Mürren. Sir Arnold Lunn chose Mürren as the venue for the first ever slalom skiing race, held in 1922. Not only did this Englishman invent the slalom, he was also the brains behind the legendary “Inferno Race”, the largest and most challenging amateur ski race in the world (Schilthorn – Lauterbrunnen). In 1931, three years after the first Inferno race was held, the Lauterbrunnen valley was host to be the venue for another first – the World Ski Championships.
Mürren also owes some of its renown to Ian Fleming’s James Bond. The Schilthorn and its famous revolving restaurant “Piz Gloria” famously provided the dramatic and somewhat futuristic backdrop to the 1969 Bond film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.
Alpine tourism today
Nowadays, we tend to take chair lifts for granted. But prior to 1944 only a few mountain resorts boasted this type of equipment. Today, though, things could not be more different – mountain resorts in Switzerland have a state-of-the-art tourist infrastructure, catering for all tastes and budgets.
Sadly, lower-level resorts are struggling with the effects of climate change. Only a few years ago “snow-reliable” could be used to describe most winter sport resorts in Switzerland. Today, though, snow cannons are often the only way that these lower-level resorts can guarantee decent snow cover. In the past, no-one gave much thought to the environmental impact a week on the slopes would have. Yet, sustainable tourism, whether in winter or in summer, has become the watchword of the modern environmentally-aware tourist. Given that tourism is the main source of income for most of Switzerland’s mountain regions, the preservation of this landscape is therefore essential. Otherwise, the tourist industry could be in danger of killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
- Information about alpine sports and nature conservation from the Swiss Alpine Club (in German)
- Information about Swiss Alpine Club campaigns and projects (in German)
- Information about mountain sports Federal Office for the Environment (in German and French)