Davos Klosters, Switzerland – The Cradle Of Ski Tourism

Julia Schneemann | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Funicular Klosters
The stunning resort of Davos-Klosters in Switzerland and the oldest ski funicular in the world, the Parsennbahn | Picture: Davos Klosters Facebook Page

Davos is located in the Swiss canton of Graubünden, about 90 minutes from St. Moritz. The ski resort is twinned with Klosters, which connects via two large aerial tramways to the Davos ski area. Klosters also features access to the Madrisa mountain range on the other side of the valley. Klosters is situated at 3,687ft (1,124m), while Davos is higher at 5,118ft (1,560m). The ski area extends to an altitude of 9,330ft (2.844m) and offers an incredible 168 miles (269km) of skiing across 80 groomed runs and designated freeride areas.

Ski Map Davos Klosters
The Ski Map of the twinned resort Davos Klosters | Picture: Davos Klosters Bergbahnen AG Website

A brief history

The Swiss ski resort of Davos Klosters has been a tourist destination for more than 150 years. It was first popularized by German Dr. Spengler, who wrote a thesis on the alpine area’s healing qualities for those with ailments of the respiratory tract. Hailed in the mid-19th century as a health resort for tuberculosis and asthma patients, the formerly poor farming village Davos attracted many wealthy patients who sought the Swiss mountain village, hoping for a cure. This also brought the wife of Arthur Conan Doyle to Davos for her tuberculosis treatment. Arthur Conan Doyle — best known for creating Sherlock Holmes — not only fell in love with Davos but also discovered skiing for himself and wrote about his first ski adventure in an essay for a British magazine — the Strand Magazine, which had also published his Sherlock Holmes stories — prompting a boom of English tourists to the region, who wanted to try this ‘ski’-ing thing.

“This is not appreciated yet, but I am convinced that the time will come when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for the ‘ski’-ing season in March and April. I believe that I may claim to be the first save only two Switzers to do any mountain work (though on a modest enough scale) on snowshoes, but I am certain that I will not by many a thousand be the last.”

– Arthur Conan Doyle

While many, including Doyle later himself, falsely believe that he brought skiing to the region, it was, in fact, the brothers Tobias and Johannes Branger who had first traversed from Davos to Arosa and back in March 1893 and had taken the British writer on a subsequent ski tour in the following year in March 1894, which he wrote about in the aforementioned essay. The humorous article struck a chord with the Brits, and it was the start of British tourism to the region to try this peculiar ‘ski’-ing sport for themselves. The Branger brothers saw an opportunity and, in the following winter in 1895, advertised their services, dressed as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The demand for ski tours was so large that local wagon makers started pivoting to manufacturing skis, which before then had to be imported from Norway. Peter Ettinger and his sons are credited with creating the first ski-manufacturing company in Switzerland in 1895. The company Ettinger Sport is still in existence in Davos.

Ettinger Sport
The first ski manufacturer in Switzerland: Peter Ettinger and sons (‘Wagnerei’ means ‘wagon maker’) | Picture: Davos Wintersport Museum via Germanisches National Museum Website

This was the beginning of ski tourism in Davos, and the little ski resort embraced the influx of British tourists. Davos was the first ski resort in the world to install lifts to transport skiers, the first being the Parsenn funicular. Previously, mountain rails were designed to transport hotel guests or tourists to alpine viewing platforms. This makes the Davos Klosters Bergbahn (‘mountain railway’) company the oldest ski operator in the world, with their first ski railway opening in 1931. Davos was also the first location of the first surface lift, a j-bar installed in 1934 and upgraded to a t-bar in 1935. Davos’s incredible history can be visited in the fascinating Davos Wintersport Museum.

The appeal of Davos Klosters with the British has remained strong ever since, and the resort is known worldwide as the ski resort of choice for the British Royal family. King Charles has been known to ski in Klosters for over forty years and once narrowly escaped an avalanche. Princess Diana came every season, and her sons, the Princes William and Harry, learned to ski here. Members of the royal family were regularly seen enjoying the slopes of the Davos Klosters ski resort, and Prince William even brought Princess Kate Middleton here to pass on the tradition.

Royal family Klosters
Members of the British Royal Family on a ski holiday in Klosters, Switzerland | Picture: collage from Neue Züricher Zeitung, Aargauer Zeitung, Le Matin

The appeal of the ski resort for the well-heeled and influential has never faded, and today Davos is probably best known for hosting the World Economic Forum (‘WEF’) every year in late January. The resort attracts world economic leaders for several good reasons: the hotels are state of the art, the Swiss hoteliers are known for their discretion — just like their bankers — and, most importantly, the valley of Davos can only be reached by one road in and one road out, making it easy to ensure the well being of the world’s business elite. An event of such a caliber could potentially be the target of terrorist attacks. However, the Swiss Army controls who enters and exits the valley. Every year the Swiss Army sets up checkpoints along the road in and out of the valley. Anyone remotely suspicious will be stopped at these checkpoints, and their cars searched. Soldiers are also stationed throughout the Engadin valley, where the Samedan airstrip is located. Several ancient fortresses and hotels serve as a vantage points for the army. Where no existing structures are in place, the military erects temporary structures to survey the valley. No one can come in and out without being seen, making the attendees feel safe. It is an exciting spectacle to behold and draws attention and crowds. The interesting upside, however, is that the slopes in Davos Klosters are compatibly quiet during the WEF, so if you happen to be in the area, make the most of the empty slopes and ski your heart out while everyone is busy talking.

Davos Klosters
Davos Klosters ski resort – pictured the spectacular Gotschna cable car in Klosters | Picture: Davos Klosters Facebook Page

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