According to ski lift umbrella organization Seilbahnen Schweiz (SS), from the beginning of the season in November to the end of December on average 12.6 percent fewer people used cable cars, ski trains and lifts than in the same period the previous year.
The situation was worst in the Bernese Oberland – comprising resorts including Grindelwald and Mürren – where 30.5 percent fewer visitors used ski mechanisms.
The Vaud Alps and Fribourg Alps also fared badly, down 23.8 percent.
The Valais – including high altitude resorts including Zermatt and Saas-Fee – did better than average, with only a 9.2 percent fall in visitors, as did Graubünden, with only a 3.9 percent drop.
Nevertheless, the ski lift industry is only four percent worse off than the previous year, due to good sales on season passes in November, when early snow meant many resorts opened exceptionally early, the organization said.
However that was followed by the driest December for 150 years, meaning fresh snowfall was practically non-existent across the country’s resorts.
Resorts at higher altitude have suffered less, since low temperatures in December allowed them to use snow cannons to generate ‘artificial’ snow.
But those at lower altitude have had to face “massive drops in income”, said the association.
Many have promoted other mountain activities instead, such as scooter and mountainbike hire, summer luge runs and ice skating on frozen lakes.
However snow began to fall in early January, leading the director of Seilbahnen Schweiz to say he is “optimistic” for the season.
“The arrival of winter down to the lowlands in these last days has created the wintry atmosphere that we need and that, experience shows, stimulates the desire to practise winter sports. The main factor that will influence how the season turns out is what the weather will be like on the weekends,” he said.
The season is not unlike the 2015/16 season, when snow also came late to Swiss resorts, leading many to fear this could be a trend.
A study in September found that these days Swiss ski resorts experience on average nearly 40 fewer snow days a season than they did in the 1970s.
Speaking to Le Tribune de Genève ahead of an international summit on mountain tourism in Crans-Montana next week, the director of the Valais resort Bruno Huggler also said he was optimistic for the industry, despite the change in the climate.
Some 70 percent of holidaymakers over the Christmas period don’t consider skiing their priority, he said, but come for the mountain air and the views.
But he admitted he was worried for the remaining 30 percent who “want to ski morning to night”.
“We are risking losing that clientele if this lack of snow endures,” he said.