Survival of small ski resorts.
One large ski area is easier to market than two small ones. Grimentz and Zinal, in canton Valais, two resorts on a human scale, are now linked by cable car. But guaranteed snow and natural beauty may not be enough to ensure their future. They are located in what geographers call a “hanging valley”. The road leading up to the Val d’Anniviers has first to negotiate an almost sheer rock face, twisting backwards and forwards round some 15 hairpin bends.
There is a clear view over to the northern side of the Rhone valley. The mountains over there are less stark. The terraced vineyards stretch right up to the plateau where Crans-Montana is located, a veritable town in the mountains. It’s quite different on the Anniviers side. Here nature is untamed, with steep slopes, deep gorges, rushing streams and unspoiled villages.
Fifteen kilometres, 25 hairpin bends and eight minutes in a cable car later, you have climbed 2000 metres and find yourself at the foot of the Corne de Sorebois, one of the highest points of the Grimentz-Zinal ski area. There is an amazing view of the “imperial crown” as the circle of mountains is known: 30 peaks of more than 4,000 metres, including the famous Matterhorn.
Snow conditions are ideal, even in this mild winter. That’s the benefit of a high altitude. In the Val d’Anniviers skiing starts above 2,500 metres and the top of the pistes lies almost at 3000. The ski areas start where those in some other resorts end – and some pretty famous ones too.
And to give nature a helping hand, there are snow cannons. “People have become very fussy,” explained Pascal Bourquin, head of the ski lifts. “They want faultless pistes, with not even the tiniest stone sticking out. We start making snow in the middle of November in order to have a good base layer that will last until Easter.” And there’s no problem about getting water for it: it comes straight from the huge Moiry reservoir.
From cows to sport enthusiasts
It’s coming to the end of the day at the foot of the pistes on the Zinal side. In its only shopping street the little resort has two trendy bars and a pub, on whose terrace a group of British tourists loudly discuss what they’ve done that day. What do they like about the place? “The snow, the scenery, the peace and quiet and the more or less guaranteed sunshine.”
Further on, a crowd of Belgians are enjoying a stroll round the village. They are staying at the Intersoc holiday club, which with 550 beds is the biggest hotel establishment in the valley. It took over the premises that used to belong to the Club Méditerranée.