The story behind the delays to the New Ski Lift replacing the telecabin link from Verbier to La Tzoumaz

Link to Verbier 4 Vallees Savoleyres Cabin

Anyone who has an interest in La Tzoumaz, as a holiday visitor or as a chalet or business owner, has at some point over the last years (since 1996) come across the story of the New Lift.  Much though we love the quaint, wobbly, cramped 4-(small)-person telecabin built in 1970 that takes an interminable 12 minutes to bring you back to the top from a day on the Verbier side, we are all waiting with bated breath for its replacement.  This Old Lift is on the outskirts of Verbier and is not accessible on skis, so to get home we have to ski down to the Medran or Carrefour, then wait for a bus to take us to the telecabin.

Link to Verbier 4 Vallees SkiBus

Inside the cabin, there is not enough space around the central pole for a marmotte to dance, and it is nearly impossible for two people with standard-issue legs not to experience a close physical relationship as the little glass-sided box swings and sways slowly up to the top of the Savoleyres.  As a typical skiing family of two adults and two children under 8 years old, we find it almost impossible to extract four packed lunches from a rucksac once inside, so we have to find other ways to while away the long journey, all wrapped up in ski gear whilst the sun beats down on our little greenhouse.  To experience it from your screen, check out this 3.5 minute video of the trip 🙂 Good skiers can return to La Tzoumaz down the advanced-level Vallon d’Arby ski itinerary, which is avalanche-secured but wild and un-pisted. This is not advised for less-confident skiers as the only rescue option would be a pricey helicopter trip.  We generally only ski there with full complement of airbag, transceiver, shovel & probe, as the temptation to stray outside the designated 10m-wide strip that follows the marker poles is too great, and outside of this strip is unsecured off-piste.  After recent snowfall and afternoons in warm weather, this itinerary is often closed because of the avalanche risk and we can’t use it.  Check out our guide to the best way to get to/from Verbier in Winter here.

What we are all waiting for is the New Lift that TeleVerbier planned to replace the Old Lift when its operating licence expires in 2018.  This promises to be a high speed link coming up from Esserts (near Carrefour) in two stages, thereby eliminating the need to wait for the bus, and allowing us to travel in comfort.

TeleVerbier Project Esserts-Savoleyres

The project has been fully designed and financed, but not yet authorised.  The planning application has been held up by one objection.  In Switzerland, anyone who formulates an objection has the right to be heard.  The ruling body then overrules or upholds the objection.  If this ruling is appealed, the case can be escalated to the next level (from Communal level to Cantonal level and finally to Federal level).  Each escalation can easily take two years, and in the case of the New Lift, the case has thus far been escalated to Federal Level and we are waiting for the outcome.  Any further significant delays to this project could mean that the New Lift would not be in place when the Old Lift ceases to operate.  Further, the plan to install snow-machines that would extend our ski-season to more closely match that of Verbier has similarly been blocked by the same person.  With the snow-machine project, the whole Savoleyres sector would only ever need 20-30cm of fresh snow to open.SnowCannons4

An article was published in letemps.ch on 23rd March 2016, written by Xavier Lambiel, giving some of the background to the objecting party.  For those of you who aren’t fluent in French, here’s our (edited) Google translation:

Elka Gouzer, the multi-millionairess paralyzing Téléverbier

For over three years, Elka Gouzer from Geneva has been opposing TeleVerbier’s project to renew the link between La Tzoumaz and Verbier. Tens of millions of francs are hanging on a last-chance mediation.

It was Elka Gouzer who called for a discreet meeting to be held this Thursday in Verbier. Since November 2012, this multi-millionairess from Geneva has paralyzed Téléverbier’s development plan. According to one TeleVerbier board member, this mediation is the last chance to avoid “a real war and a financial disaster.”

Amongst people from Geneva who own plush chalets in Verbier, she is known as a “procedural lawyer, broken by bitter fighting”.  Elka Gouzer is the administrator of nearly a dozen companies active in real estate development. She eventually agreed to end another lengthy dispute, this time with the Hotel Richemond, after a confidential financial agreement was made.  Those close to the story describe her as “a woman of power who has built an empire of stone in the shadows” and she embodies the rich families to whom Geneva belongs.  A donor of the Grand Theatre, she is so discreet that she appears not to feature on the list of the top 300 richest people in Switzerland. However, she does have all the resources necessary to fight a long legal battle.

A strategic link for Téléverbier

Owner of a luxurious chalet, Elka Gouzer filed the only opposition that prevents the construction of a new link between Verbier and La Tzoumaz. After a final five-year extension, the operating licence of the obsolete telecabin that provides the connection of two stations will expire in 2018.  Since 1996, 14 options have been assessed to replace it.  To ensure a link that is accessible on skis in both directions, Téléverbier selected the option of building a chairlift and gondola hybrid.  This system should be able to transport 1,300 skiers per hour against 800 today.  It would allow TeleVerbier to better distribute its customers across its various ski areas, particularly to the underexploited area of Savoleyres, above La Tzoumaz.

This connection seems all the more essential for good business, now that Téléverbier has invested in the small resort of La Tzoumaz. In early March 2015, the group took a “significant share” in the construction of 85 apartments and 500 warm beds in the huge new complex now under construction in the resort centre. The project is estimated at 35 million francs. Work began last May and the date of the first occupation is set for December 2016. Back on the Verbier side, the company hopes to build a hotel and shopping complex on the site that hosts the current telecabin station.

Elka Gouzer wants to limit the number of people on the pistes

Téléverbier has also submitted to public enquiry a mechanical snow-making project that covers the Savoleyres area. In total, the company hopes to bring 17 kilometres of water pipes to supply 190 snow cannons. Again, Elka Gouzer filed the only opposition that froze the project.  Her chalet is situated over a hundred meters away from one of these pipelines, and the same distance from land where the company intends to build the new ski lift station. In the resort, many people question whether or not she has sufficient grounds for her objections.  The legal process could last another three years.  In 2018, La Tzoumaz could be cut off from Verbier.

In February 2013, the multi-millionairess founded the association “ProVerbier” with her husband and some neighbours. It aims to protect the Savoleyres area, calling it “the only part of the resort that can still provide an opportunity for quiet sports, scenic beauty and calm.” The association intends to “use all possible means to resist the link project so that the area does not become the main entry point for skiers on day trips.” More broadly, the association wants to limit numbers on the slopes of Verbier, to “ensure that the guests of the resort will not be discouraged by an excessive influx of skiers.”

The judges of the Federal Court will decide

Elka Gouzer’s lawyer, Marie-Claire Pont-Veuthey, will “not communicate any information to journalists.” To strengthen her causes, the multimillionaire puts forward environmental considerations. But Téléverbier’s plans for the ski area have been approved by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Even former Nestlé CEO Peter Brabeck has not seen fit to oppose the project, even though an access tunnel would be drilled through part of his land.

At the base, Téléverbier won the first duel against Elka Gouzer in front of the Valais cantonal court. At the moment, since she chose to appeal against the decision, the case rests with the Federal Court judges. In Verbier, the multi-millionairess has attracted the wrath of the locals, with many thinking that “the landed gentry of Geneva will not allow the proletarian hordes to invade their playground.”

Téléverbier’s development now depends on a discreet meeting. On one side, the company should not have to negotiate since the Cantonal judges have already spoken. On the other side, this woman of steel should not need to compromise as time is on her side.  Some think, however, that a financial agreement could resolve the dispute. Both Elka Gouzer and Eric Balet, director of the Téléverbier group, have declined to comment, “not to throw oil on the fire.” Or not to show their cards too early.

Stay connected and we’ll keep you updated as the news unfolds!