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Radical idea for combating congestion and urban sprawl in Verbier

A ski holiday is not simply about the skiing. A picturesque landscape, clean mountain air, and a relaxed village atmosphere are fundamental facets of any ski vacation and yet, growing tourism and the continual construction of properties which in turn generate an increased amount of traffic, are threatening these simple ideas.

It begs the question: How does one limit these concerns, while simultaneously attracting visitors and conserving the natural environment?

I caught up with Fiona Pià, an architect and doctoral student based at the Architecture and Urban Mobility Laboratory (LAMU) in Lausanne, who has come up with some innovative solutions to deal with the pressing issues of urban sprawl and congestion. She has devised a plan to increase the density of ski resorts through new housing that reduces footprint and create a seamless public transportation option that minimises the need for vehicles in resort.

Pià has focused her research on Verbier – one of the most popular ski resorts in Switzerland. Verbier, also home to Bramble Ski’s HQ, has witnessed gradual, growth since it began operating as a ski resort in the 1950s. At the time, and for many years thereafter, no real concern was placed on urban design and transportation networks. Verbier is a beautiful, timeless ski resort – there’s no denying that – but today, during seasonal high periods, the dense traffic does contribute to growing air and noise pollution. Spread across five square kilometres with public buses using the same roads as cars, the ski resort is, particularly over these high season periods frequently subject to mobility issues.

Animation to show urban sprawl in Verbier from 1935 - 2015

Pià’s thesis suggests using the remaining ten percent of public building land to create infrastructures that include housing, pedestrianised areas, public facilities, and transport. This would avoid further development in areas deemed unsafe, and prone to natural hazards (such as avalanches), as well as protected sites. She recommends implementing a cable-car network, with five large stations, servicing the whole of Verbier, alleviating the congestion that the new development might bring.

“An expanded cable-car network could sustainably serve the whole of Verbier without people having to use their cars. This form of public transport is most appropriate because it is eco-friendly, relatively quiet and cheap, and it is suited to the alpine terrain while taking up very little land.”

The connected cable-car network would enable people to get around with ease. As Pià explains, “you can go directly from the cable car to your home or to see a concert at the Verbier festival, go skiing, or 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.”

marked map of Verbier

At present, these plans remain a concept, with ongoing discussions about Verbier’s future currently taking place, it is great to have conceptual ideas to combat the current rapid speed of change we are all experiencing. Piá concludes: “The project is not just about Verbier as a ski resort, it looks ahead to what Verbier will become: an extension of the “real” core town that is at one with the natural environment at altitude.”

At Bramble Ski, we are supportive of new and sustainable projects that preserve the natural habitat while improving the holiday experience. Ideas like this one from Pia are likely to take decades to gain traction, but as the German writer and politician Goethe once said, “Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; They may be beaten but they may start a winning game.” If you have any novel ideas on how these beautiful mountain areas can be protected, we would love to hear from you.

Bramble Ski provides luxury ski holidays in Switzerland, Austria and France.

© All images are copyright of Fiona Pià, EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne)

27th June 2017

Industry Talk Verbier Zermatt


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