The ski resorts betting big on summer
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The ski industry may be feeling the heat from global warming, but Switzerland’s ski resorts are fighting back – by offering a range of summer activities.
Only the tallest Alpine peaks are tipped with snow during summer, but they provide the stunning backdrop to the burgeoning playground below – ideal for hiking, biking, golfing, fishing and more.
“Europe’s ski season may be getting shorter, but the resorts are coming up with ever-different ideas on how people can be active in the mountains,” says Alex Koch de Gooreynd, Swiss Property Partner for Knight Frank.
A quick look back in history shows it was this Swiss ingenuity that helped launch the concept of international winter tourism itself. In the 1860s, Alpine villages were already popular destinations for wealthy Europeans. However, back then, intrepid tourists only visited during the summer months – in search of hiking, sunshine and clean air.
That all changed, so the legend goes, when a St Moritz hotelier – Johannes Badrutt, owner of the Kulm Hotel – dared his guests to return in winter to see the snow-blanketed “paradise on earth”1. The visitors were duly impressed, staying until the following Easter. As news of winter holidays soon spread, holidaymakers became eager to try new sports to keep themselves occupied in their Alpine retreats – from ice skating to tobogganing and, of course, skiing.
Switzerland thus became the early capital of winter sports. Fast forward to today and Switzerland’s ski resorts are now becoming the new summertime pioneers – this time trying to create the perfect year-round destination.
“The Alps are coming alive more in the summer than they ever have before – and this can only be good news for property investors and chalet owners,” says Jeremy Rollason, Head of Savills Ski.
Stuart Butler, Head of Credit Structuring – Switzerland, at Barclays Private Bank, concurs: “Ski resorts are no longer the summer ghost towns they once were. In fact, many are now actively promoting themselves as year-round resorts. This is due, in part, to the growing trend towards fitness and health – and people seeking out outdoor activities in all seasons.”
Summertime in Verbier
Take the world-renowned resort of Verbier. In winter, its breath-taking slopes are packed with skiers, and bars crammed with revellers enjoying the legendary après ski.
But it’s the summer months where the verdant valleys and crystal-clear lakes reveal their true majesty – exposing 800 km of adrenaline-inducing mountain bike trails, 415 km of hiking paths and two 18-hole golf courses2, as well as swimming and horse riding to take in. For the more intrepid, there’s even skydiving, paragliding, rock climbing and white-water rafting – as well as the highest zip-line in Europe – to push you to your limits3.
While, for those looking for something more relaxing, Verbier is also host to several summer events and exhibitions – including the internationally-renowned Verbier Festival, an annual classical music jamboree4. There are also dozens of high-quality restaurants to choose from, so you can enjoy a delicious meal after a day of exploring the mountains.
“Verbier has been expanding its summer programme for many years now, and the growing interest in the summer season is a great advantage – with more restaurants and shops able to stay open year-round,” says Simon Wiget, Director of Verbier Tourisme.
Wiget told Barclays Private Bank that summer-time occupancy in Verbier – in terms of overnight stays in chalets and flats at the Swiss resort – is up almost 10% in just seven years5.
He added: “The summer season is getting more and more important to us as climate change impacts peoples’ holiday choices. Due to the hotter summers, many people are looking to enjoy the cooler climes in the mountains.”
(You can read more about the winter pressures facing resorts, in our article: Swiss ski resorts aim for a snow-sure future)
Creating year-round appeal
It's not just Verbier offering year-round appeal. Sion, in the foothills of the Swiss Alps, now has its very own surfing wave pool6, while the mountain lakes around St Moritz even have their own beach, where you can take in the many sailing regattas hosted during the summer season7.
“The Swiss Alps are a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts – you’re sure to find something to love,” says Stephen Moroukian, Head of Product and Proposition for Real Estate Financing at Barclays Private Bank.
There’s also the golf crowd to cater for, with championship golf courses aplenty, arguably none better than the scenic Crans-sur-Sierre course, perched 1,500 metres above sea level in the resort of Crans-Montana, boasting magnificent views of both Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn8. Road cyclists, too, are spoilt for choice, able to tackle some of the most spectacular mountain passes in the whole of the Alps.
“Swiss ski resorts are making a concerted effort to attract people year-round,” says Koch de Gooreynd at Knight Frank. “It’s reassuring to know this for buyers of ski chalets, who are increasingly concerned about the impact of climate change on winter sports.
“Of course, those resorts with access to higher skiing are proving more popular than lower resorts. But if a resort has plenty to offer in the summer, this is also a major selling point. That’s why we’re seeing extra interest in resorts with better infrastructure and accessibility, as well as those with a strong sense of community – resorts like Verbier, Crans-Montana, Villars, Gstaad and St Moritz.
“And don’t forget that most of these places now have all the facilities you need, including international schools. This makes it much easier for people to live there year-round, especially those who can work remotely.”
Adapting to change
Ultimately, though, whether hotter temperatures are a blessing or curse for ski resorts is still up for debate. Verbier, for instance, sizzled to a record 28.6°C on 8 August 20229. On the one hand, these warmer temperatures could lead to shorter winters and less snow for skiers. On the other, longer summers mean more opportunities for outdoor activities.
“Traditionally, renting out a ski chalet in the summer at one of the main Swiss resorts would generate perhaps 30%-40% of a typical winter rental, but now I’d say it’s closer to 50% – because of all the summer activities now on offer,” says Rollason at Savills.
“The key for ski resorts is to continue to diversify their offerings. By doing so, they can weather any challenges – and continue to attract visitors throughout the year.”
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