Will an American-style queuing system end chaos at Swiss ski lifts?

The Swiss are usually organised and orderly. But when it comes to waiting in line to get on ski lifts, crowds are often unruly.

Will an American-style queuing system end chaos at Swiss ski lifts?
Crowds are sometimes unruly as they wait for the ski lifts. Photo by AFP

As the ski season has already began in some parts of Switzerland, the cable car operator in the Belalp-Bahnen region in canton Valais is introducing a new ‘no-jostle’ queuing style never before practiced in the Swiss Alps.

The system, common on the ski slopes in the United States and Canada, consists of forming two lines. Currently in Switzerland there is only one queue for the ski lifts, often resulting in pushing or bumping against other skiers.

Waiting in a funnel-shaped line in front of the turnstile, as is common on Swiss slopes, is “a chaotic queuing system”, said Belalp-Bahnen’s director Urs Zenhäusern. 

READ MORE: UPDATE: Valais becomes latest Swiss canton to tighten coronavirus restrictions

Lack of order at ski lifts has been sparking criticism from foreign tourists for years. Even the former US ambassador to Switzerland Suzi LeVine complained in 2015 about the “inefficiency” and “chaos” at Swiss ski lifts. 

“I was so puzzled by the scrum heading to the lift and the inefficiency in terms of how many people were on each lift”, she wrote on her Facebook page after spending New Year’s Day at the Adelboden ski resort in the Bernese Oberland.

On North America’s mountains, on the other hand, crowd management is more efficient, Zenhäuser said.

Skiers there form two columns of two people that merge together at the turnstile using the ‘zipper’ principle — that is, alternating turns to merge.

Zenhäuser said he “swore” to use this system “if I ever run a mountain railway.” He started working at Belalp-Bahnen in September.

The American concept is even more relevant during the pandemic, “because it will help to keep the distance between people”, he added.

All Swiss ski resorts, regardless of what boarding methods they use, now require masks to be worn on all transportation, whether on trains, cable cars, or chair lifts.


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Weather warning: Part of Swiss Alps placed on high avalanche alert

Due to the heavy snowfall in recent days and more expected until the weekend, an avalanche warning is issued for Switzerland’s southern canton of Valais.

Weather warning: Part of Swiss Alps placed on high avalanche alert
Avalanche warnings should be taken very seriously. Photo by AFP

Valais authorities said the current avalanche risk level is between 4 and 5, meaning ‘high’ to ‘extreme’.

The population is urged to stay at home. When out, they should obey the signs and especially stay away from the avalanche corridors, officials warned.

Significant amounts of snow have fallen in the area in recent days, dumping 1 metre of snow above the altitude of 2,000 metres in the upper part of the canton. Between 30 and 40 centimetres are still expected. 

The highest risk of avalanches is in the Goms valley, the Zermatt valley, as well as the entire right bank of the Rhône. 

Some particularly threatened areas could even be evacuated, authorities said.

People planning to go skiing in Valais over the next few days should check snow conditions and avalanche warnings in place, especially as many roads, mainly in Upper Valais, are cut off, and a number of villages in the Goms Valley, Lötschental and the Zermatt region are no longer accessible by road or train. 

The Avalanche Bulletin is a good source of information not just for Valais, but for all of Switzerland’s mountain regions.

READ MORE: Is the pandemic to blame for Switzerland's spate of avalanche deaths? 

Avalanches have been particularly deadly in Switzerland this winter, having claimed 14 lives so far — well above the average yearly figure of eight people.

Avalanches have caused casualties in the mountains of Valais, Vaud, Graubünden, Obwalden and Schwyz. 

With many people concerned about the potential for contracting coronavirus on the slopes, the idea of skiing off piste has become more attractive. 

But this practice can trigger massive avalanches, so it is crucial to stay away from unsecured slopes.

READ MORE: Large crowds on Swiss ski slopes spark concern over coronavirus spread