UPDATE: Which Swiss regions are closed for skiing over the holidays?

While skiing is allowed in Switzerland on federal level, the government leaves it up to each canton to decide whether to open their ski areas.

UPDATE: Which Swiss regions are closed for skiing over the holidays?
Slopes around the famed Matterhorn are open. Photo by AFP

Major ski areas in Switzerland were open over the Christmas holidays but some smaller ones announced they would remain closed.

For instance, ski lifts in Schwyz, Zug, Lucerne, Uri, Nidwalden, Obwalden, Zurich, Appenzell Innerrhoden, and St. Gallen announced they would not be operating.

MAPS: Which Swiss ski regions are open?

These cantons heeded the plea from Zurich’s authorities, who urged for pistes to close so as not to overburden medical facilities, which are already near their full capacity.

“The hospitals in Zurich are hardly in a position to care for accident victims from the ski areas ”, officials said.

While these cantons have only limited ski possibilities — unlike those in Valais, Graubünden or Bern — the worry is that people coming back to these region with ski injuries sustained elsewhere will overcrowd their already strained health system.

This is based on a suggestion made by authorities in Graubünden that injured skiers should be treated in their cantons of residence and not where they had the accident.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Swiss ski resort sets quotas for slopes while Zurich demands pistes close

However, Les Portes du Soleil in canton Valais, one of Switzerland's biggest ski resorts, announced that starting on December 18th it would set a quota on the number of skiers allowed on its slopes in a bid to rein in the spread of Covid-19.

“Each day, only a predefined number of day passes will be put on sale”, officials said.

Resorts where slopes are open must adhere to strict protective measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The rules were put into place by the Swiss Ski Lift Association as well as public health officials. 

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

For instance, masks are mandatory not only in closed spaces such as mountain trains and cable cars, but also on open-air chair lifts and T-bars, as well as in queues.

In addition, queuing is regulated so it runs in an orderly manner and without major clusters.
The number of passengers in closed ski cabins will be lowered to two thirds of the usual capacity.

And cantons must ensure that they have the hospital capacity and the ability to undertake testing and contact tracing.

More detailed information can be found here

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Why Switzerland is no longer the tax haven it used to be

In financial circles, the mere mention of ‘Switzerland’ has become synonymous with ‘tax haven’, a reputation the country has long denied. Is this still the case?

Why Switzerland is no longer the tax haven it used to be
It's not as easy for rich people to skimp on taxes. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

For decades, Switzerland has been known as a destination for ‘fiscal tourism’. 

Fiscal tourism refers to wealthy individuals or foreign corporations that set up their residence in Switzerland to save money on taxes.

Some cantons had long attempted to lure these well-heeled entities.

READ MORE: Why Switzerland is no longer on the EU’s black list of tax havens

Authorities in the canton of Schwyz, for example, encourage newcomers to come to their canton because it “has one of the lowest tax burdens in Switzerland. Its fiscal policy…makes it an attractive location for both legal entities and individuals”. 

Other low tax rate cantons are Obwalden, Zug, Uri, Appenzell Innerrhoden and Nidwalden. The highest income tax rate in one of these cantons is around 17 percent, compared to about 30 percent in Vaud, Bern, Geneva and Zurich.

However, the practice of fiscal tourism is becoming a thing of the past, according to a report by Swiss public broadcaster RTS.

It based its findings on an analysis by the University of Basel, which shows that the days of cantons and communes competing to attract wealthy taxpayers may be over.

READ MORE: Tax rules cross-border workers in Switzerland need to know

For the first time in decades, the tax on high incomes has increased by 4 percent.

Schwyz too “had to raise its level of taxation after years of deficit accounts”, RTS said.

Another reason why Switzerland is becoming less appealing to rich taxpayers is because, due to tighter controls, it is not as easy as before for wealthy people to register as residents in a municipality with low tax rates, but live elsewhere.

In the past it was common for the wealthy individuals to set up an official address in low-tax canton or municipality, but reside somewhere else.

But is Switzerland still considered a tax haven?

In 2017, the country was placed on the EU’s list of tax havens  because “it intentionally attracted foreign investors by allowing corporations and wealthy individuals to pay a low, lump-sum tax on the money they kept in Swiss banks”.

However, Switzerland was removed from the list in 2019 because that year Swiss voters accepted a legislation which introduced major changes in the Swiss tax system by ending some preferential tax schemes and replacing them with new regulations which are in line with international standards.

READ MORE: Reader question: Can I deduct working-from-home costs from my Swiss taxes?