The Future for Ski Resorts?

How will alpine ski resorts survive? Increase their density says PhD student, Fiona Pià

PhD student Fiona Pià offers concrete and innovative solutions for the popular Swiss ski resort of Verbier, which for her is a typical example of the problems faced by our favourite winter desinations today.

Some Swiss ski resorts are reaching saturation point, with peak-season traffic jams, development in avalanche zones and incompatibility with the natural surroundings. While the Lex Weber has gone some way to reduce construction, an EPFL doctoral thesis suggests that the opposite approach may work better with investment in ski villages to increase their housing density and create seamless public transportation within.

At the Architecture and Urban Mobility Laboratory (LAMU), Fiona Pià from Andorra, studied and compared the challenges faced by the Swiss ski resorts of Verbier, Zermatt and Andermatt, as well as Avoriaz in the French Alps and Whistler Blackcomb in Canada’s British Columbia. Her thesis claims the idealised dream of an isolated chalet alone in a natural setting is responsible for the saturation of alpine towns. Using Verbier as an example, Pià suggest a series of solutions to safeguard its future while preserving its natural environment.

The Vision
Based on 10% of public building land still being available she developed a new urban model that brings together housing and public transport with the aim to resolve current mobility problems caused by traffic as well as rationalizing how to use the last plots of land. Pià recommends building 5 cable-car stations being the most appropriate form of public transport as it’s eco-friendly, relatively quiet and cheap, and it is suited to the alpine terrain while taking up very little land. The cable care to create a seamless infrastructure and to serve the whole of Verbier removing the need to use cars. Any new homes would have a density of 1.7 compared to 0.3 for a single chalet and would take up 6x less land than a chalet, adding 250k/m2 to the 963k/m2 of existing accommodation, without increasing the urban sprawl on the alpine landscape.

The End of The Chalet Dream?
Pià sees an inhabited infrastructure meeting two requirements that a chalet cannot: 1) being able to live in the open air; and 2) being at one with nature – without destroying it (arguing chalets swallow up nature, rather than being a part of it). Inhabited infrastructures occupy the land in a rational way and can help control our footprint on the natural environment. Add in green mobility and respect for natural dangers to preserve the unspoiled environment over the long term. What’s more, these buildings offer a new way of living at altitude. Without leaving the infrastructure, you can go directly from the cable car to your home or to see a concert at the Verbier Festival, go skiing, go for a drink along the pedestrian area in the middle of the building. Then you can take the cable car over the landscape to go to the market in Verbier village, take a class at the international school or go back down into the valley. There’s no need for a car, so you get to breathe the alpine air.

More information: Fiona Pià, “Developing the Swiss Alps: strategies to increase the density of high-altitude towns”, supervised by Inès Lamunière, Laboratory of Architecture and Urban Mobility (LAMU).

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What do you think of Pià’s vision for the Alps?