21st April 2022 | Justine Gosling, St Moritz, Switzerland
In the first move of its kind Vail Resorts is set to run the Swiss resort of Andermatt. We reported on the news last month and have now visited Andermatt to see what’s in store and assess the resort’s history while enjoying some late season conditions. NEW
In March the US ski operator Vail Resorts announced it was set to acquire a 55% stake in Andermatt-Sedrun Sport AG at a cost of 39 million Swiss Francs.
Vail Resorts has also committed 110 million to upgrade the ski lifts, restaurants and snow making capacity.
In the coming years its going to be interesting to see the upgrades and new facilities the investment brings, and the influence the US operator will have on the Swiss resort.
We reported on the move earlier on PlanetSKI as it was announced.
The locals have mainly welcomed the development, but point out there are many questions that need answers.
“I think it’s a good thing, and I hope it improves the running of our ski area, but it needs more community involvement,” said a local history guide in Andermatt, Bänz Simmen, who has lived in the resort all his life.
“We need to celebrate what we have to offer and our differences from other resorts.
“I would like to know their long term plan and what kind of clients they are trying to attract, so that they and the community can work together.”
“It’s good to have investment and to create jobs for people here so that more stay,” said the local ski instructor, Fränggi Gehrig, who has also lived his whole life in Andermatt.
“The ski area needs investment in its infrastructure and gastronomic offerings.
“I’m curious how they think they will get a return on their investment.
“The ski community here is very different to the US, in Switzerland lift passes cost much the same in every resort, visitors won’t pay for more expensive lift passes, if they raise them they will just go elsewhere.
“Also, employees here have high expectations and rights that cannot be changed.”
When sitting on the sunny terrace in the Gütsch michelin starred restaurant in my ski boots, it’s hard to believe that as recently as 2009, much of Andermatt was a disused Swiss military base.
Winter tourism has always been here, but Andermatt didn’t keep pace with other surrounding ski resorts and fell somewhat out of favour with international tourists.
This began to change in 2005 when Egyptian investor, Samih Sawiris, announced plans to redevelop the resort.
Andermatt demonstrated a lot of potential for investment with its sunny location, wide valley floor with lots of space for new development, and a welcoming community who wanted investment.
In 2007, 96% of residents voted in favour of the redevelopment.
The ambitious plan included the building of luxury hotels, residences, a golf course, and from 2015, upgrades to the ski infrastructure.
The plan has been focused on sustainable development.
New buildings adhere to Switzerland’s MINERGIER low energy eco standards, and heating is supplied by renewable sources, ensuring a CO2 neutral energy supply for all properties.
Vail Resorts has a firm belief in sustainability and in North America has joined with other major snowsports businesses to improve matters:
The redevelopment in Andermatt was assisted with a number of property law exemptions, such as the ‘Lex Koller’ law, which limits the number of foreign buyers in a location.
Then there is the Swiss second homes law, which limits second home owners to no more than 20% of residences in a village.
By the end of 2021, 1.29 billion Swiss Francs had already been invested.
During my visit in mid April, I stayed at the 4 star Radisson hotel, which was just a short walk or electric bus ride to the ski lifts.
The Andermatt-Sedrun-Disentis ski area has 180km of piste and 33 ski lifts.
Despite it being so late in the season, the conditions were fantastic for the time of year and the slopes empty.
I thought it crazy that people were missing out, perhaps wrongly assuming that the pistes were mush or that ski season was over.
In fact, the lifts are open until May 1st.
The first day I skied on the north facing Gemsstock side of the valley, whose highest cable car takes passengers up to 2,961m for an astonishing view over to Italy and a wide black run descent.
The mostly red and black piste’s were in great condition right up until I finished skiing at 4pm, and I enjoyed most of the slopes to myself.
I even skied all the way back down to the village at the end of the day.
On the second and third day I skied on the south facing side, Nätschen, whose highest lift, the Schneehüenerstock-Flyer, drops people at 2,600m.
The flip side of gorgeous blue skies and warm weather meant that the slopes were slush by 1pm, in contrast to the north facing side.
I still had 4 hours of great skiing both days before lunch, and didn’t see more than 15 other people all morning on the mountains.
It was the lack of traffic that was saving the snow, I didn’t see a single mogul or any muddy snow.
If you’re a skier anxious in crowds or working on your confidence, April is perhaps the perfect month to ski.
There is often a spot of power around too.
But the thoughts on most people’s minds here in Andermatt are not the current spring conditions, but rather what the future holds with Vail Resorts in charge.
They wonder why the company has chosen Andermatt for its first foray into running a European ski area, what changes Vail Resorts will make and whether it will be to the benefit of the locals and visitors to Andermatt, or the coffers of Vail Resorts.
Time will answer these questions.