A STEP TOWARDS ALPINE x
Hans Peter Julen has been Chairman of Zermatt Bergbahnen AG since 2002. Under his leadership, 13 new lift facilities have been opened in the Zermatt ski resort, including the new Matterhorn glacier ride which connects the Trockener Steg station and Matterhorn glacier paradise (Klein Matterhorn) station. Here we take a brief look back over the gargantuan project.
1. Mr Julen, what is the vision behind the “Matterhorn glacier ride”, the new 3S cableway up to the Klein Matterhorn?
First and foremost, it's the vision of a connection between the Zermatt ski resort and the Italian resort at Cervinia Valtournenche, a connection which has a high passenger capacity and is stable in high winds. It will also make Matterhorn glacier paradise much more accessible for day tourists as it will operate all year round. Looking a little further ahead, a trans-Alpine crossing will become possible only through the construction of the Matterhorn glacier ride plus another 3S cableway between the Klein Matterhorn and Testa Grigia.
2. When were the initial ideas discussed and who was involved?
There had always been a clear desire to improve the connection to Italy, and the first concrete ideas came together during the discussion of the master plan for 2002/2003. In 2011 the Traversalp Interreg project was developed with the aim of optimizing the link between Italy and Zermatt. A number of variations were discussed within the framework of this project, such as a gondola lift from Trockener Steg to Testa Grigia or replacing the existing cable car between Trockener Steg and Matterhorn glacier paradise with a 3S cableway. Eventually the decision was taken to build a 3S cableway alongside the existing cable car up to the Klein Matterhorn. This variant had three advantages: first, the Klein Matterhorn would remain accessible during the building works because of the existing cable car; second, having two redundant lifts means the resort doesn’t have to close if maintenance work is required; and third, the cable car is available to use as a “beast of burden” for transporting food and materials.
3. What were the biggest challenges en route to implementing the project? Where did most objections come from?
There weren’t really any. We would have had some if the local authority and Zermatt Bergbahnen had insisted on changing the status of the summit of the Klein Matterhorn from “Other Municipal Area” to a “Ski and Sports” zone. By waiving that for the time being, the construction of the lift was approved without objection.
4. How did you manage to ensure the support of all those involved?
The local community of residents, as the land owners, was right behind the project from the word go. There was no obvious resistance to it, either from the population or the shareholders – quite the contrary. I think everyone is glad that the 3S cableway will mean an end to the problem of the hub at Trockener Steg.
5. Were there any particularly happy moments during the project from your point of view? What were the highlights?
The swift and problem-free completion of the planning approval by the Federal Transport Office was definitely a high point. And also the Interalpin exhibition in Innsbruck two years ago, when we had the first chance to see the gondola cabin Pininfarina had made for us to use.
6. Was there anything about the project that you would do differently, with hindsight?
No, every aspect of the project was perfectly planned and implemented by our team and our partners.
7. How has ZBAG always managed to be able to afford such massive investments?
Financial guidelines had already been put in place before the ultimate decision to go ahead with the project was made. The most important thing is to generate an annual cash flow of at least 25 million Swiss francs over a period of time and ensure that it will continue to be sustainable in the long term as well. In the last business year the cash flow was actually over 30 million Swiss francs.
8. Is the 3S cableway the biggest and most important project during your time as Chairman of the Board of ZBAG?
In my 16 years at ZBAG twelve other projects have been completed besides the 3S cableway, and a total of around 500 million Swiss francs has been invested in lifts, buildings and snow-making equipment. But the 3S cableway is definitely the most spectacular and cost-intensive project, as it accounts for over 10 percent of our total investment.
9. You are handing over to Franz Julen in the autumn. What vision are you passing on to him?
Having Franz Julen willing and able to take on the Chairmanship of ZBAG was a godsend.
He will take the company forward and mould it in his own way. There will certainly be no shortage of challenges and projects for him to tackle. The next few years will be dominated by the issues of digitization and marketing, and the implementation of the Alpine crossing will also have a key influence on ZBAG and the resort of Zermatt. Along with that there are other lift projects in the pipeline, such as improving access to the Stockhorn, restoration of the Kumme chairlift, the connections from Furgg to Oberer Garten and from Breitboden to Rosenritz, to name just the most important ones. And adding to and improving the valley descents will certainly be another big challenge.
10. Are there any good anecdotes about the construction of the 3S cableway?
An anecdote? Yes, this one perhaps: A few years ago, a visitor wrote to the CEO complaining that the Chairman of the Board jumped the queue on the Trockener Steg. I was on my way to an important meeting with our Italian partners at the time... Building the Matterhorn glacier ride will finally put a stop to complaints and waiting times.
11. Who would you like to thank in particular?
I would like to thank all the individuals, organizations and companies involved in the project.
Special thanks go to our CEO, Markus Hasler, and to the construction division of ZBAG, expertly led by Anton Lauber.