Jungfrau visitor numbers reach new heights despite fewer skiers

The highest railway station in Europe, the Jungfraujoch, saw visitor numbers peak in 2018, with more than 1 million people visiting the “Top of Europe” station in Switzerland.

Jungfrau visitor numbers reach new heights despite fewer skiers
Tourists posing for a picture with a Swiss flag during their trip at the Jungfraujoch - Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

According to figures from Jungfrau Railways, some 1,067,000 guests visited the Jungfraujoch station in 2018 – a 2.4% increase on last year.

This is the third time in the last four years that the million mark has been surpassed.

The railway operator said that many of the visitors came from Asia, and that it planned to develop its marketing strategy in this area in a bid to keep numbers growing.

Although the number of visitors to the Jungfraujoch station grew, the number of passengers using the railway solely to access ski slopes fell by 3.9%.

From the start of the skiing season to January 2nd, some 173,000 snow sport enthusiasts used the railway system.   

The railway operator said this was due to warm weather and a lack of snow.

Two skiing destinations in Grindelwald have had to use artificial snow-making systems to start the skiing season.

Last year, a controversial 400 million-franc (355 million Euros) project to offer visitors a quicker way up to the Jungfraujoch was approved by the Federal Office of Transport.

The project would cut travel times from the village of Grindelwald up to the Jungfraujoch railway station by 47 minutes.

Currently, visitors travelling to the station from the Grindelwald Grund railway station must first take the train to Kleine Scheidegg and then change for the Jungfraujoch service.

Read More: Green light for controversial Eiger Express cable car link 

The Jungfraujoch, known as the Top of Europe station, is located some 3454 metres above sea level.

Set amid stunning Alpine conditions, it is home to the highest post office in Europe and enjoys average temperatures of nearly -8 degress Celsius.

The first train ride to the station was in 1912.


Switzerland heavily criticised for welcoming foreign skiers

Italy has hit out at Switzerland for failing to prevent foreign skiers from hitting the slopes. Some have gone so far as to blame Switzerland for the spread of virus mutations across Europe.

Switzerland heavily criticised for welcoming foreign skiers
The mighty Matterhorn lies on the border with Italy. Photo by AFP
Italy's government last week blocked ski resorts from reopening, the day before skiing was due to be allowed for the first time this winter season due to coronavirus restrictions.
There is also a ban on non-essential travel until February 25th.

“It's a disaster. For a week now, we have been readying the slopes for the opening and preparing the health protocol,” said Denis Trabucchi, an Italian ski instructor. 

But the ban has not stopped Italian snow enthusiasts from hitting the slopes on the Swiss side of the border, as Switzerland has kept its ski infrastructure open despite the pandemic.

Many Swiss and Italian pistes lie close to each other so it is an easy commute from one resort to another.

The mayors of Italian border towns are annoyed that local skiers are ‘emigrating’ to Swiss ski slopes, according to the Provincio di Como newspaper.

“Cross-border skiers are not as numerous as cross-border workers, of course, but ski traffic has increased,” said Massimiliano Tam, mayor of Villa di Chiavenna, a town in Lombardy.

He said that despite bans on such border hopping, many Italians rent apartments on the Swiss side of the frontier so they can ski.

Roberto Galli, the mayor of Livigno, a ski resort in the Italian Alps, is also livid at the “cross-border ski mobility”.

“Customs controls are really limited” he said, calling for more rigorous checks “especially for Italian cars with ski racks and snow on the roof”.

Italian authorities even went as far as blaming Switzerland for the spread of the pandemic across Europe. 

Walter Ricciardi, the head of the Italian government's coronavirus task force, said Switzerland's decision to keep ski slopes open throughout winter, while neighbouring countries shut down theirs, allowed the British strain of coronavirus to arrive on the continent.

READ MORE: Is Switzerland to blame for Europe’s third wave of coronavirus?

A similar situation occurred in December, when French skiers tried to sneak into Switzerland to ski.

France’s authorities quickly announced that French residents heading abroad to ski would have to self-isolate for seven days on return and that border checks would be stepped up in certain areas. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What are the Covid-19 rules for skiing in Switzerland this winter?