Swiss ski smiles may fade with melting snow

Thu Mar 5, 2009 7:21pm EST
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By Katie Reid

CRANS MONTANA, Switzerland (Reuters) - Across the Swiss Alps cash registers are ringing out as hotels, ski-lift companies and shops revel in the best snowfall in years.

After several seasons of patchy snow cover and even predictions of the end of Alpine skiing due to global warming, the winter sports industry is having a bumper year.

But beneath the smiles there is a real worry the good times will evaporate as quickly as the winter snow melts, and already there are signs this ski season may be a final "hurrah" before the global recession really bites.

That would be tough in a country where tourism makes up more than 5 percent of gross domestic product.

Throngs of skiers are swishing down the pistes of Crans Montana in southern Switzerland, the queues at the lifts are as long as ever and the powder is deeper than many a year.

Heavy snowfalls have enticed more people than ever onto the slopes and the Swiss association of cable cars says it has seen 10 percent more people using lifts.

"Some cable car companies at smaller resorts, such as Buerchen, have seen an increase of 20 to 30 percent this season," said Urs Zenhaeusern, head of tourism in Valais, adding these areas were visited most by the Swiss and Germans.

Clothing and equipment manufacturers such as Mammut and Stoeckli, also say they have had a sensational season so far, as skiers and snowboarders update their wardrobes and equipment.   Continued...

<p>Skiers queue for a ride with a chair lift at the Swiss mountain resort of Davos in this December 30, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/Files</p>