Winter tourism is changing

When the snow limit goes up: The shorter the ski season - the longer the mountain bike season? Climate change is omnipresent, especially at the beginning of the winter season. In this article we show why and for whom mountain bikers will be an important target group in the future, even in winter.


At Bikeplan, we don’t just ride mountain bikes, we also ski in winter. So the anticipation for the holiday season increased when the first snow fell in December. But when the weather warmed up shortly before Christmas, the number of winter sports resorts open during the holidays decreased and the snowfall limit rose in altitude. In some places, the snow conditions were just enough for the ski runs to form white stripes on the green slopes. It was not uncommon for downhill skiers, hikers and mountain bikers to meet there.

In the meantime, the snow and the cold have returned. Are the warmer winter months now a danger for snow tourism? Will the future of mountain fans who want fresh air and have fun outside on two wheels, even in winter?

The challenge of climate change ?!

The climate will heat up alpine winter tourism.

This is how an article in the Swiss Equity Magazine begins, back in 2009. It sounds like a wake-up call for winter sports destinations, but unlike the neighboring countries under consideration, winter sports fans can breathe easy in Switzerland. At least in the ski areas above 2,000 meters, the increasing precipitation is falling from the sky in the form of snow and is benefiting slope lovers. This guarantees snow even in the warmer periods. But for destinations below that, it usually means less natural snow and more rain. In Switzerland, too, only 78 ski areas will have natural snow cover by 2100.

Possible scenario in 2060: In winter, it is on average 3.5 °C warmer than now. There is less snowfall in terms of both amount and frequency. Snowfall amounts in low-lying areas are reduced by half. The elevation of the zero-degree line has risen by 650 metres and is situated at about 1,500 metres above sea level in winter.

National Centre for Climate Services (NCCS) 2018: CH2018 - Climate Scenarios for Switzerland

The number of new snow days in Switzerland in 2060 compared to the 1981-2010 mean makes the scenario shown by NCC even clearer: Piotta, for example, used to have about 24 new snow days. In 2060, it could become less than half that number (about 8 to 12 new snow days) (NCCS 2018, p. 13)

© Mischa Crumbach/  January 2023 – Jeizinen in Wallis

Advances in technology arrange that - in part

Thus, artificial snow, which already found its way into winter sports a few decades ago, is becoming more and more important. Since this type of snow is produced without the addition of any artificial substances, it is called artificial snow in professional circles. Even though it is an art to produce or prepare this snow correctly. Because if the snow crystals – produced from water and cold air under pressure – are prepared too early with the snow groomer, a layer of ice can form on the slope. What snow guns can achieve as wonder weapons, however, is demonstrated not least by the 2022 Winter Olympics in the dry mountains of Beijing.

But even in Switzerland, artificial snow is no longer just a supplement to natural snow. The range of slopes and the quality of the slopes can only be maintained on the basis of the higher density of “artificial snow” – this is what Seilbahnen Schweiz reported to Watson in the article of the Kampf der Skigebiete mit dem Kunstschnee.

However, it will not be possible for all winter sports destinations to maintain the technical safety of snowmaking for winter tourism despite climate change. The necessary measures, such as increasing the number of snowmaking facilities and the construction of lifts to ensure snow-independent transport, are costly in terms of money and resources. The advantage of large companies is that they have more flexibility than small ropeway companies.


Since a “white Christmas”, or the period between Christmas and New Year, is partly responsible for up to 30% of winter sales, it plays a particularly important role.

Mountainbikers, a new target group in winter

Les Gets, Gampel, the Alpenbikepark and Chur’s local mountain, the Brambrüesch, for example, have recognized the potential of certain target groups. In December they opened their lifts or trails to mountain bikers. They, and we, were able to enjoy the warmer weather.


" For us in Gampel-Jeizinen, almost all the bad conditions listed above unfortunately apply. Since the ski area is located between 1750 and 2200 meters above sea level, at least half of the slopes were green during the Christmas vacations. Furthermore, we are probably one of the last, if not the last ski area in the Upper Valais without artificial snowmaking. What was at first a headache and certainly caused sleepless nights for many, turned out to be a half measure thanks to the mountain bikers and hikers. For several days, about 140 mountain bikers and their machines were transported to the Auflengen by cable car and chair lift. Thanks to the great acceptance of the population and the beautiful trails, the mountain bikers were able to extend the mountain biking season and enjoy their favorite hobby. The lack of snow was only a topic of discussion among the regulars, but everyone was able to sleep well."
Jan Tscherry
Mountainbike guide and member of the touristic association Gampel-Bratsch

This target group flexibility works because the destinations have already considered the needs of mountain bikers and can make use of a corresponding offer. This will be particularly valuable in the future during the winter slack periods, when snow cover is a factor that can change quickly.

© Mischa Crumbach/ : “January 2023 – red carpet for bikers in the ski area Gampel”


For many people in Switzerland, skiing or snowboarding is a must in winter. Fortunately, this is not a requirement either. Especially the higher winter sports destinations have a great adaptive capacity and can continue to provide fun on the slopes. For some destinations, however, climate change will be a challenge that requires new strategic rethink.

In this context, taking mountain bikers into account in advance can not only promote year-round tourism, but also offer an exciting alternative during the winter slack periods, according to the motto: the shorter the ski season – the longer the mountain bike season. It is no longer only hardened mountain bikers who ride on two tires in the snow-free winter months. Considering the evolution of mountain biking from an extreme sport to a mass sport, a family vacation on a mountain bike at Christmas may not be such a distant vision anymore.

Can you imagine a Christmas/New Year’s mountain bike vacation in Switzerland?

Are you interested in this development?

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Beitragsbild © Nicolas Wicki – Bikemedia

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