Gstaad cable car investment plan needs a re-think
Gstaad Mountain Rides presented a fateful, and perhaps terminal investment proposal to the public last week (see Major changes proposed for Gstaad-area cable cars). With global warming’s shadow looming ominously, the ten-year plan may well constitute the last investments in our low-lying ski resorts. This makes it paramount for today’s visions to account for Gstaad’s warmer future. The investment plan, known as 'Konzentration', starts where its predecessor FlexPlus left off. FlexPlus grandfathered the cable car merger and improved the region’s marketing. However it neglected artificial snow, and ruinously failed to wean the new-born firm from Gemainde Saanen’s subsidies. The new strategy’s continued reliance on public funding bears testimony to this. The contention that the authorities bear responsibility for propping up our mountain rides reflects a fact rather than a desirable situation. Besides, Gstaad Mountain Rides may not even be able to repeat its fundraising miracle. Extensive financial endorsement by public institutions laid the groundwork for FlexPlus. Yet St Stephan ended up with a rotten deal that could scare others off. Under FlexPlus, the relatively poor Gemeinde contributed a substantial figure towards the new Parwenge chairlift. In a spate of unfortunate irony, Konzentration will send St Stephan into hibernation by retiring the connecting lift.
This weak record may be an exceptional case, but Armon Cantieni’s vision of seven eager Gemeindes committing finances will remain a myth. Since Konzentration focuses its investment exclusively in Saanenland, other Gemeindes may not warm up to the scheme. In particular Rougemont and the historically generous Vaud will see no further investment, pushing substantial funding out of Gstaad Mountain Ride’s radar. Canton Bern has also shunned commitments.
Another contentious point is Gstaad Mountain Ride’s expected 25% turnover increase. This projection is based on revenue increases caused by the new investments. Yet FlexPlus’s similar promise failed to materialize in the increasingly competitive winter sports market. The long and short of it is that Gemeinde Saanen will bear the brunt of the bill, whether it wants to or not.
Examining Konzentration’s concrete plan, the macro trend shifts our ski resort’s center of gravity towards Zweisimmen. This neglects that in the long run only one shift is feasible, namely upwards. The scheme fails to appreciate that Gstaad’s future lies towards Gsteig’s mountains and not Zweisimmen’s hills.
Following this logic, the Eggli-Videmanette area is being neglected. For example, La Videmanette towers some 200 to 300 meters above the Saanenmöser area and has substantial development potential. It may be the key to extensive financial support from Romandie. Furthermore, the chairlift investments around Chalberhöni make little sense without connecting a new lift from Gstaad to Eggli’s peak.
Financing has always been a delicate matter in Saanenland. Public-private partnerships belong to a norm that is not about to change here. But the monumental investment plan should at least recognize that Gstaad’s locus is headed south and up towards Glacier 3000. Most of the projects around Saanenmöser are undoubtedly reasonable. Konzentration should not, however, leave Eggli-Videmanette by the wayside.