Sunday 6 January marked the end of an era: the Rellerli cable car went on its last journey and the Berghaus closed. New plans now lie ahead to make the mountain a good place for tourists to visit – with or without a cable car.
"A new lease of life for tourism on the Rellerli” – this is the slogan used by Gstaad Saanenland Tourism (GST), the municipality of Saanen, Mountain View AG and the association Friends of the Rellerli in their joint press release. Closing the gondola lift to the Rellerli has led to controversial discussions in the municipality, according to the statement. “However, all parties now seem to agree on finding a new purpose for this beautiful mountain with a focus on tourism.”
The story began in 2015, when several residents of the municipality of Saanen were approached for help to protect the company Bergbahnen Destination Gstaad AG (BDG) from financial collapse. “Various people who were approached, including Ernesto Bertarelli, offered considerable financial support to secure the future of the BDG. This was designed to preserve the important mountain railway network infrastructure and to pave the way for the region’s tourist attractions in the future.” This was the commitment agreed to by the municipality of Saanen, the BDG and independent consultants as part of an extended restructuring plan. The plan was approved by the voting public in 2015. However, some people regretted the closure of the mountain railway on the Rellerli and founded the association Friends of the Rellerli to work on finding alternative solutions.
A mountain for everyone in all seasons
The GST, the BDG, the municipality and Mountain View have been in talks for months, according to GST director Sébastien Epiney and mayor Toni von Grünigen. For the last few weeks, the Friends of the Rellerli have also been involved. Meanwhile, all parties have been working together and initial talks with landowners are scheduled. “We now need to discuss the first steps towards developing the Rellerli as a mountain for everyone in all seasons by taking an innovative and modern approach,” the statement said. The aim now is to concentrate on a diverse range of sports that both residents and visitors to Gstaad now expect.
A range of activities
“Before we present a detailed project, we’ll be in touch with the landowners in the near future to assess the opportunities for development and work towards a common approach to implementing the tourism project,” said David Matti, GST president. It was essential that all parties involved were on board before the final decisions could be made. The long-term plans for the next few years are to develop a truly attractive range of activities for the Rellerli that will suit all mountain lovers. Plans include a panoramic hiking trail that provides safe, well-signposted and convenient access to the entire mountain. Some of the features of the plans include a drinks facility in a small mountain hut open to the public, an improved picnic area and well-maintained hiking and mountain biking trails. “Of course, all of this depends on getting the necessary permits and consulting the landowners who are involved,” says Matti. Plans for a panoramic trail include installing information points so that hikers can better understand and appreciate their surroundings. “We believe that this will make the Rellerli a new tourist hotspot and meeting place.”
Various activities are planned for the Rellerli with its extremely spectacular panorama – with or without a new cable car, added Sébastien Epiney. “The GST and BDG are now focusing on activities,” says Epiney. The concept – initially on paper – includes, for example, green season hiking routes and winter snowshoe trails and ski tours for various abilities. Enticing activities are also planned for e-bikers. “But first, talks with over 60 landowners must take place. When they give their consent, the approval procedure will then follow and a step by step implementation of each project.”
The Saanen municipality is on board
Mayor von Grünigen confirms that the municipality supports Ernesto Bertarelli’s efforts to develop a forward-looking solution for the Rellerli in partnership with the GST and the Friends of the Rellerli. The municipality will actively participate in talks. “Together, we can find a sustainable solution for using this beautiful mountain,” according to von Grünigen. The upcoming talks with the landowners will be led by the municipality and any necessary planning measures will be implemented for this new use. “We’re now on the right path. In the future, the Rellerli will host a good range of excursion opportunities and continue to make a valuable contribution to the tourist activities of this destination,” says von Grünigen.
A new cable car to the Hugeligrat?
Heinz Welten, president of the association Friends of the Rellerli, has confirmed that constructive discussions are underway between all those involved. In addition to the tourism project planned by the GST and the private support, the association is looking into the possibility of building a new, modern cable car. This would provide full access from Schönried to the summit of the Hugeligrat, with state-of-the-art technology. On the one hand, since the new cable car would have a limited capacity, it wouldn’t compete with the BDG operation, but on the other hand, it will complement the GST project. The railway would be privately financed and operated. The association states: “The goal is that the entire construction and operating costs would be borne by private parties. So, there won’t be any burden on the general public or the municipality.”
No prepared ski slopes
There won’t be a ski facility on the Rellerli in the usual sense, says association president Heinz Welten. “We have enough mountains for people to ski on.” If there’s enough natural snow, winter sports can still take place: for example, snowshoeing, ski touring, free-riding and possibly also sledging. It’s still too early to talk about the construction and operating costs, according to Welten.
The municipality will go through the usual planning procedures to look at an application for a new cable car, just like any other approval procedure, says von Grünigen. The association hasn’t approached the community with any request for financial support.
Ernesto Bertarelli supports the project
“I have always supported innovative projects that can add value to the sustainable development of tourism and the economy as a whole in the Saanenland, a place that’s very dear to my heart,” said Ernesto Bertarelli, who has supported the BDG’s process as a long-standing resident of the Saanen municipality. The closure of today’s outdated railways offers the opportunity to envisage widespread use of the Rellerli mountain, making it accessible, safe and enjoyable for more mountain lovers throughout the year, Bertarelli states. “A new variety of sports should be offered. This will meet the growing need for different ways to enjoy nature in this extraordinary region. In addition, I would be happy to support a new cable car from Schönried to the Hugeligrat if the population and the authorities of this beautiful region support and endorse such a project.”
Justine Hewson / AvS