The Swiss ski resort Rüschegg Eywald is a victim of climate change. Season 2024, canceled due to lack of snow

The popular ski resort has been nicknamed “Little Grindelwald” after its more famous alpine neighbor at the foot of the Eiger.

The small ski resort Rüschegg Eywald in the Swiss Alps Photo via

The Rüschegg Eywald, 1500 meters above sea level, is still very much loved. Many families spent happy days there.

But this winter season, the T-bar chairlift in Rüschegg has not been open even once.

At almost 2.5 km long, it is the fourth longest chairlift in Switzerland and is not for the faint of heart.

But now it has fallen victim to climate change.

We almost managed to open twice“says Michael Kegel, who runs the ski lift company.”But even though there was snow, the ground was too warm and wet underneath.”

Unfortunately for Rüschegg, this year is not an isolated case. Last year, the chairlift was only open for four days, and 2022 wasn't much better.

Just to break even requires at least 10 to 15 days per season. Rüschegg's slope groomer, which is used to groom the snow, sits unused gathering dust in a shed. Bankruptcy is looming.

Once everything was so different. When the resort opened in 1969, people came in droves. There were queues for the T-bar and polite but firm fights for parking spaces. A large hotel was built with holiday cottages around it.

Then he got the nickname of “Little Grindelwald“, an allusion to the larger and better-known neighbor of the Rüschegg resort, not far away.

“Back then, people had big ideas,” recalls the mayor of Rüschegg, Markus Hirschi.

They called it Little Grindelwald, people bought shares in the chairlift, thought, yes, here is a thriving resort. Thinking about it now, it's quite emotional.”

Warnings for years

Rüschegg is not alone. For at least a decade, lower-tier ski resorts have known they're going to have snow problems.

The famous zero degree Grenze, the altitude at which the air temperature freezes, included in every Swiss weather forecast, has risen with global temperatures.

Where it used to snow, now it rains.

In his office at the University of Bern's Institute of Geography, currently a world leader in Alpine climate research, Professor Stefan Brönnimann documents the exact stages of global warming.

The indicators, he points out, existed long before we started setting climate targets. The 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were, he argues, the last decades of very cold and sustained winters in the Alps.

“In the 70s, the winters were cold and snowy. I remember 1976 was a very snowy winter. I remember in the 80s we were skating on the lakes. And then suddenly it stopped. In 1989 there was no more snow, it was green everywhere. In 1990, no snow. And even then people were saying: You have to change'.”

The end of an era

The highest, biggest and richest ski resorts, Zermatt or St Moritz, will survive for now, Professor Brönnimann believes. After all, they can start the snow cannon if it doesn't fall from the sky.

But others, including even Grindelwald, Rüschegg's famous neighbor, will have to “to adapt”he says.

Even the prestigious ski races held every winter in Switzerland are at risk.

In recent years, there have been doubts about whether the famous Lauberhorn race could continue. Warm weather over the Christmas and New Year period threatened January's world cup races in Adelboden.

Stefan Brönnimann sees those golden years disappearing when the Swiss were either on the slopes or watching their skiing stars win medals.

At lunchtime on Saturday, everyone was in front of the TV“, he recalls, “and this has changed now. Ski racing has to deal with that. I'm not sure if skiing will really be the main pastime of the Swiss in the future.”

It was gone within a decade

And Rüschegg? “I'm realistic, I think in 10 years we won't be in business anymore,” says Michael Kegel. “Climate change is clear, we can see it. Snow days are fewer and fewer.”

Michael skied in Rüschegg as a child, so the decision to close the resort will be made “with a heavy heart”but the resort is getting ready”to make the best of it,” promoting the natural beauty of the area, with hiking trails, and mineral springs.

Fortunately for the growing number of Swiss ski resorts with a questionable future, most have plenty of natural beauty to take advantage of.

Wellness, digital detox, escaping the rat race in a stunning yet peaceful environment, these are all promising options for resorts where skiing will become impossible.

Stefan Brönnimann agrees that Alpine resorts must now prepare for a life and a livelihood after winter sports.

Citing research done several years ago by a colleague, he fears that some resorts, and even the entire planet, may react too late.

He wrote that when we are really sure climate change is happening, we will look back and ask when should we have noticed? When was the moment when we should have really seen what is changing, when should the alarm bells have gone off?

And he said that this would happen in the late 80s. That's when we should have seen her.”