spirit conquered the seven mountains around Gstaad
of the Saanenland have always shown initiative and imagination
regard to Swiss Tourism. They were among the 1st to realise that transporting
visitors to the top of the glorious Swiss Mountains in the Bernese Oberland
would be good business. Thus, far-sighted hoteliers and inventive technicians
joined forces in 1935 to build the first mountain lift in the Saanenland
on the Wispile. Today, a total of 62 lifts operate on 13 mountains under
joint management. Winter sports have long been a tradition in the Saanenland.
first real winter season dates back to 1907/08 when ski lessons were offered
to visitors for the first time.
No pain, no gain: before enjoying an exhilarating
downhill run, one first had to climb uphill on foot or with skins on
skis. Necessity is the mother of invention, so they say, so it is hardly
surprising that ways and means of transporting people uphill were soon
Wispile – a
dream comes true
For the Wispile it was Arnold Annen, a farmer from Lauenen
near Gstaad, who came up with the brilliant idea of a „funi“.
With his partner, hotelier Oswald von Siebenthal, he installed
the first Funi sleigh on the Wispile in 1934,
a kind of forerunner of the cable car. Thus the foundation
stone was laid for all the lifts in the Saanenland. The two
pioneers formed a partnership in which they had equal shares.
The well thought-out construction consisted of two sleighs
attached to a cable. As one sleigh moved down the mountain,
it pulled the other up driven by a motor. From zero to one
hundred: with a respectable capacity of 100 persons per hour,
the first «mountain lift» began operating.
It was not long, however, before the queues grew long enough
three sleighs. Everyone wanted to stand on the summit of
the Wispile. In 1944 the Funi was converted into
a ski lift following the same route.
Hornberg with 1 HP
modest 70 centimes sufficed to
reach this winter sports paradise. Those were the days!
One made one’s way up
the mountain in a horse-drawn sleigh. The revolution came
in 1934. For the first time skiers were taken up to the
in a vehicle with caterpillar tracks. However, maintenance
costs were too high compared to the small number of passengers
this vehicle could carry. As a result, the decision was
taken to build a Funi on the Hornberg. 50 persons
at a time (360 per hour) gained access to this fabulous
The chairlift which now carries approx. 1200 winter sports
fanatics per hour to their destination was not built until
First cable car in the Saanenland
On the initiative of Marcel
Reuteler, owner of the Park Hotel at the time, and bank
manager Arnold Mösching a funi
was built on the Eggli in January 1938. After careful planning
the company, Eggli Funi AG, was founded in December 1937.
Far-sighted hoteliers contributed the 100,000 Swiss francs
needed to build
the new cable car. Built by Von Roll Ironworks in Berne
it began operating in January 1938.
The first cable car in the Saanenland followed in 1954.
This new lift cost 640,000 Swiss francs at the time.
It took 300 persons per hour up to the
summit. Two years later Marcel Reuteler purchased the old St. Stephan
vicarage for 55,000 Swiss francs and had it rebuilt on
the Eggli for use as a restaurant.
Wasserngrat – the third member of the trio
The Wasserngrat chairlift
was the first lift in the region to operate in summer as well. At the
general constituent assembly
of the company on August 10, 1945 Gstaad set a trend. Gstaad believed
in the region’s future as a tourist destination
and gave the green light for Switzerland’s first
chairlift. Instead of the iron masts which had originally
wooden masts had to be used as not enough iron was available
so soon after the war. In April 1946 the first visitors
rode up the Wasserngrat to enjoy a glass of wine in the
the terrace of the mountain restaurant. Gradually the wooden
were replaced by iron masts. The cost of building the chairlift
and the mountain restaurant came to 821,000 Swiss francs.
When the chairlift came close to bankruptcy in 1994 even
Roger Moore dug into his pocket. The world-famous Eagle
Ski Club still has a clubhouse on the Wasserngrat.
Boom years and dark shadows
In the 1970s and 1980s the cable
cars and ski lifts in the region flourished. Skiing enjoyed
increasing popularity. During
these boom years 20 lifts were running from Zweisimmen
via Saanenmöser and Schönried
to Gstaad. In the early 1960s the spectacular cable car
to the Glacier 3000 began operating.
Totally renovated in 2001, this new and ultra-modern lift
can carry more than 1250 passengers per hour to this imposing
world and the permanent snows of the ski region above the
Col du Pillon (can be reached from Gstaad in
with public transport). The futuristic design of the valley
and mountain stations bears the signature of Swiss star
architect Mario Botta. It is, however, proving difficult
to finance the
running costs of the Glacier 3000 cable car. Two financial
restructuring programmes have already been implemented
to save the company. In the 1990s other mountain lifts
in the Saanenland
also found themselves in financial difficulties – resulting
from increasing competition and winters without snow at
lower altitudes. The future called for bold action.
More History Gstaad Saanenland