50 years of the Belalp Bahnen AG –
The way from a small ropeway to the main driver of tourism in Naters – Blatten – Belalp.

This historical retrospective is an excerpt from the book “Naters – The Grand Village in Valais” by Rev. Dr Erwin Jossen and is complemented with records of the Belalp Bahnen AG.

The first cable car Blatten - Belalp

The first cable car Blatten - Belalp

The construction and development of the Blatten-Belalp cable car – the ropeways make their way.

After World War II, one holiday home was constructed after another in Blatten. A second hotel and other businesses opened their doors. Entrepreneurial people were slowly turning Blatten into a spa town. Inspired by other mountain communities, which were making their lands more accessible, the people from the region of Naters were also looking for a way to connect Blatten with the Belalp plateau. The question remained: was it going to be a road, or a ropeway?

In the minutes of the community meeting from 5 May 1946, we can read: “... the construction of a ropeway connecting Blatten with the Belalp is an urgent need for the further development of the municipality and must soon be accomplished, if we do not want to be too late. A road would be much too expensive, whereas an aerial lift would additionally yield revenues and eventually pay off.” During the same community meeting the motion was submitted to “explore this matter through the assembly of a commission consisting of the municipal council, members of the cantonal parliament, a representative of each of the two hotels, ski clubs, as well as the petitioner, and to submit proposals at the community meeting as soon as possible. Chairman Meinrad Michlig approves this proposal.”

Consequently, the planning works, in cooperation with engineer Hunziker “of the “Roll’sche Eisenwerke, of an installation that would cost CHF 230’000”, seemed to be making rapid progress. The municipal councils wanted to further accelerate the advancement of the project, “so that the lift would be ready in the following summer.” One month later, on 28 October 1946, it was recorded in the minutes of the council, that Eng. Hunziker was soon to present a design and delivery date. With this note however, the information in the minutes of the municipal council, regarding a possible ropeway construction project, end. It seems that, for the time being, the project was not being discussed anymore. The financial conditions most likely did not make it possible to construct the ropeway. Additionally, the extension of the road from Naters to Blatten was more urgent, than the construction of a cable car to the Belalp.

Ropeway mountain station, modifications for the 2nd cabin – 1979

Ropeway mountain station, modifications for the 2nd cabin – 1979

After a six-year period of reflection, a certain Walter Birkhäuser from Blumenstein, Bern wanted to advance the cable car project again. He insisted that the municipality also become involved in the project. The municipal council requested further details and presented the motion of building the ropeway, along with the project of a new road, at the community meeting on 27 April 1952. The municipal council advocated the construction of the ropeway, for which various cost calculations between CHF 200’000 and 750’000 were available, while the new road would cost CHF 800’000 (with a subsidy of 25%). We do not find the exact decision in the minutes of the community meeting, however the further development of the matter indicates, that the community meeting decided in favour of the construction of the ropeway.

Old cable car mountain station, western view

Old cable car mountain station, western view

Construction of the ropeway

On 26 October 1952, a meeting of interested parties took place at the Post Restaurant in Naters, where an already existing project was received with great enthusiasm. An action committee was immediately formed, which consisted of the following members:

  • Anton Salzmann, former President of the Court, Chairman
  • Alois Gertschen, Stadtholder to the Government
  • Meinrad Michnig, President of the Municipality
  • Pius Werner, Vice-president
  • Adolf Augsburger, Sr., businessman
  • Arthur Klingele, hotelier
  • Walter Jaeger, land registry administrator
  • Anton Volken, businessman
  • Otto Zenklusen, businessman

This committee set to work straight away, inspected other existing lift installations, checked local and ground conditions, and established a joint-stock company with a founding capital of CHF 250’000. The municipalities were well represented in the committee, and consequently the construction of the ropeway was raised at nearly every  council meeting at that time. At the community meeting on 26 April 1953, the participation of the municipality with an amount of CHF 50’000 was clearly adopted by 134 votes to 53 against, and 4 abstentions.

Old cable car mountain station, eastern view

Old cable car mountain station, eastern view

Now the works could finally be pushed forward. According to the plans of Eng. A. Schönholzer (Spiez), and the architects Walter Feliser (Brig) and Paul Sprung (Naters), a layout of the cable car line was chosen, that would provide the travelers with a magnificent view during the whole ride, and would additionally have the benefit, that no gorges would need to be crossed, and the cabins would be moving at a low height above the ground.

In autumn 1953, the shells of the valley and mountain stations were completed. Wherever possible, mostly local materials were used, and local subcontractors were hired for the construction. The company Willy Habegger Maschinenfabrik from Thun delivered the mechanical installations. The mountain station also accommodated a post office, and an annex for a buffet restaurant was built on the eastern side of the building. The costs of the ropeway’s construction were distributed as follows:

  • buildings and installations: CHF 219’628.88
  • mechanical installations: CHF 285’000.00
  • furnishings: CHF 10’200.80
  • land purchases: CHF 5’621.90
  • Total: CHF 520’451.58

On 24 July 1954, the Federal Office for Traffic granted a provisional operating permit for the St. Jakobsfest holiday. Chaplain Alois Walker, who provided pastoral care on the Belalp, noted the following in his records: “On 25 July, on the St. Jakobsfest holiday, the cable car made its first run, and has since been bringing many people up to the Belalp. The advantages and disadvantages of this ropeway hardly need to be described in detail.” On 19/20 August 1954, an official inspection of the installation was carried out, and the ropeway was approved by the Federal Office of Transport. The following day, on 21 August, the cable car was officially opened. The consecration was performed by Chaplain Alois Walker on 18 June 1955.

Exit Hohstock ski tunnel – 1984

Exit Hohstock ski tunnel – 1984

Development of the ropeway

The local population immediately recognized the ropeway as an important means of transportation. Additionally, it made the Belalp plateau accessible to summer and winter tourism. At first, many locals saw this as an unwanted side effect. From that moment on, not only individual strangers, but masses of people “disturbed” the harmonic balance on the Belalp. While many people showed certain skepticism towards the slowly developing tourism, many recognized in it a chance for their future. The latter ones were becoming more and more numerous.       

Until the year 1957/1958, the cable car was only operating in the summer. The ski club Bergfreund caused, that it also operated on request in the winter. Until the year 1970, it was quiet around the ropeway.

Significant research by Dr Jost Krippendorf

The people in charge of the Seilbahnen AG requested a macroeconomic assessment of their expansion project with the Swiss Tourism Board (STB). On 22 March 1971, Dr Jorst Krippendorf from the STB in Bern, presented the results of his research in a significant eight page study titled “Economic Considerations Concerning the Development of the Transportation Offering in the Region Blatten-Belalp-Aletsch”. This work was henceforth considered a guideline in the touristic planning activities in the municipality of Naters. For this reasons Krippendorf‘s key points of are listed here:

1. The present state of development of tourism in Blatten-Belalp is to be regarded modest. The hospitality sector in Blatten, and on the Belalp, offers 350 beds in hotels and group lodgings. Additionally, there are 120 chalets, which results in a total accommodation capacity of approximately 1000 beds. It is necessary to promote the accommodation offering, mainly in Blatten and its surroundings, take into account spa facilities, and expand transportation installations.

2. The demand for winter sports offerings is developing dramatically in most countries. “The opportunities for touristic development in Blatten-Belalp are rated excellent.”

3. The topography, landscape and climate as attractions, as well as the location and accessibility lay the ”foundation”  for touristic offerings. For Blatten-Belalp the following assessment arises:

a) The altitude (Blatten – 1322 m, Belalp 2080 m, ski area up to 3300 m a.s.l.) should be rated positively, especially regarding winter tourism. The ski area on the Belalp is suitable for skiers of all levels.

b) The area is located in a valley end with good wind protection and no transit traffic.

c) The southern exposure of the Belalp, with a beautiful view of the valley and mountain range on its other side, as well as the nearby Aletsch area, is advantageous.

d) Accessibility: this is probably the greatest asset of Blatten-Belalp. Blatten is a 15 minute drive away from the international railway transport hub Brig and has excellent access to all train connections. Blatten is also easy to reach by car. Moreover, due to this, Blatten-Belalp has a large catchment area. Several regions with more than one million inhabitants are a 2-3 hour drive away (Milan, western Switzerland, northern Switzerland, etc.). Day traffic can mostly be recruited from Brig (agglomeration with over 15 000 inhabitants) and its further surroundings. 

4. The fact that the municipality of Naters has approved the zoning plan for Blatten-Belalp in the voting on 6/7 February 1971, should be rated as an important development factor. Specific building regulations protect the old town center in Blatten and warrant through the regulation of the style, size, etc. of the buildings, that the landscape will not be devastated in the construction area.

5. There is a clear desire among the authorities and the public to promote the touristic development of Blatten-Belalp. The municipality has relatively substantial financial capabilities and is willing to support further projects in Blatten-Belalp. The community, as the largest property owner in the developing area, also supports this trend and grants construction and passage permits.

Development in stages: 1972-1992

Around the year 1970, the demand for a modification of the ropeway and opening of new ski areas through the construction of new ski lifts was becoming more and more apparent. The people in charge felt the pulse of the times. So, in 1972, the old cable car station was rebuilt and equipped with an 80-person cabin. The opening of the new ropeway took place on 8 February 1973. The first expansion phase in 1972/1973 resulted in a level of development for the region, that nobody had anticipated. The number of overnight stays, as well as the income from the ropeway and ski lift operations, almost doubled. The transportation of people grew by 113% compared to the last year, and the number of travelers by 120%.

Already in 1979, another modification of the ropeway followed. It was equipped with a second 80-person cabin, at a cost of 2.4M Swiss francs. The operations of a second large cabin, however, had already been wisely provided for in 1972. On 22 December 1979, the President of the Board Edmund Salzmann greeted a cheerful crowd for the consecration of the ropeway by pastor Joseph Pfaffen. Representatives of politics, tourism, and business, as well as specialists involved in the construction of the ropeway, and friends of the Belalp were all present.    

19 December 1980 – opening of the middle station in Erich for the Holiday Village “Tschuggen”.
1991 – construction of the deposit facility and cark park in Blatten, and the rescue station in Hohbiel.
1992 – new construction of the office and administration building in Blatten (CHF 1.5M).
Depots at the middle and mountain station (together around CHF 700’000)

Technical specifications of the ropeway

The topographic data for the ropeway from the year 1954 and the extended ropeway from 1979 (today) are the same: valley station: 1336, 75 m a.s.l., mountain station: 2096 m a.s.l., altitude difference: 763 m, track length: 1767 m, horizontal length: 1593 m, two cabins and two pillars.

Additional technical specifications 1954 / 1979 (today):

  • capacity per cabin: 10 people / 80 + 1 people
  • capacity per hour: 65 people / 800 people
  • top speed: 4.0 m/s / 8.5/7 m/s
  • run duration (without stop in Erich): 8-9 min / approx. 5 min
  • payload material: 800 kg / 6000 kg
  • maximum drive capacity: 63 PS / 790 PS
  • support cables (2 per track): Æ 30 mm / 45 mm
  • pull cables (1 per track): Æ 19 mm / 31 mm

From the Seilbahnen AG Blatten-Belalp-Aletsch to the Belalp Bahnen AG
Founding and development: 1953-1995

The Luftseilbahnen Blatten-Belalp AG was founded in 1953. For a long time, the board of Directors consisted of more or less the same members, who had also formed the action committee for the construction of the ropeway in 1952. But first, we should talk about a different organization, that was quite active: the Skiliftgenossenschaft Blatten (ski lift cooperative Blatten).

On 6 February 1960, the founding meeting of the Skiliftgenossenschaft Blatten took place at the Gasthof Blatten. Ignaz Mutter was the President of the Board. On 8 October 1960, the general meeting made the decision to transform the Skiliftgenossenschaft Blatten into a joint-stock company and to form a cooperative together with the Skilift Belalp. In November 1961, Meinrad Michlig was elected President of the new Skilift Blatten-Belelp AG. This company constructed, in cooperation with Luftseilbahnen Blatten-Belalp AG and the municipality, the first ski lift on the Belalp (Kühmatte) in 1963. In 1965, the Skilift AG chose a new Board of Directors with Alois Jossen as President. Following some heated discussions, the Luftseilbahnen Blatten-Belalp AG and the Skilift Blatten-Belalp AG merged on 10 July 1970. The new company was called Seilbahnen AG Blatten-Belalp-Aletsch.


Cable Car: number of passengers

The former company Luftseilbahnen Blatten-Belalp AG, according to the merger agreement of 10 July 1970, acquired the assets and liabilities of the Skilift Blatten-Belalp AG. The share capital of the new company was increased to CHF 3.8M (7600 bearer shares at CHF 500) in 1970.

Cable car Blatten with the old station building, 1973-1979

Cable car Blatten with the old station building, 1973-1979

The objective of the newly founded company was described in article 2 of the company’s 31 articles of association as follows: “The company’s objective is to develop and operate ropeways in the region Blatten-Belalp-Aletsch, in order to advance social and economic development, as well as tourism in the region, while preserving its character of a business corporation.” The Board of Directors of the Seilbahnen AG, together with the tourist office and directors of the health resort, developed intense activities centered around tourism.

The development of the ski area on the Belalp
Making the Sparrhorn and the Hohstock accessible

The Skilift Blatten – Belalp AG operated one ski lift in Blatten and one ski lift on the Belalp, which ran from the Kühmatte to the Schönbiel. With these two installations and the limited pistes, the operations on the Belalp were rather modest. This changed in 1972 when, along with the cable car, the 2.4 km long Sparrhorn lift was built, and the ski area was consequently significantly expanded. At the same time, the old Schönbiel ski lift was replaced with a new one. The ski area was now up to date, attractive, and brought on a real boom. Many holiday apartments were built. As already described above, in 1979, the cable car was rebuilt to operate two cabins. In the ski area, the transportation capacity was increased through the construction of the Schönbiel 2 and Sparrhorngrat ski lifts.

Hohstock lift return station at 3100 m a.s.l. – 1983

Hohstock lift return station at 3100 m a.s.l. – 1983
Suspended pylon Hohstock lift

Suspended pylon Hohstock lift

Another milestone in the development was laid by the Belalp Bahnen in 1983, with the opening of the Hohstock ski lift, which made the ski area accessible up to an altitude of 3100 m a.s.l. In 1984, the Hohstock tunnel was built, which opened the gates to further slopes and exhilarating descents below the Belgrat. In the following years additional ski lifts were opened: 1986 – Fleschtola lift, 1989 – Staffel lift, 1989 Färrich lift.

The last stage of the development came in 1997, with the construction of the two chair lifts Kelchbach and Bruchegg, and the installation of a snowmaking system in the Schönbiel area. The comfort of the lifts and snow certainty in the lower part of the Belalp were significantly improved.

Project study for the expansion of the Belalp ski area – 1970

Project study for the expansion of the Belalp ski area – 1970

Overview of the existing transportation offering

The tourist transportation facilities, which span from Blatten to the ski and hiking area Belalp, are listed in the table below:

Cable car Blatten-Belalp

Cable car Blatten-Belalp

Tourist transportation facilities of the Belalp Bahnen AG (2002)


Year of Construction


Altitude Difference


Blatten-Belalp cable car


1'767 m

763 m

800 Pers.

Schönbiel ski lift


1'100 m

236 m

1'000 Pers.

Sparrhorn ski lift


2'400 m

529 m

1'000 Pers.

Sparrhorngrat ski lift


900 m

211 m

1'000 Pers.

Hohstock ski lift


1'520 m

450 m

1'000 Pers.

Pony lift I + II


100 m

20 m

500 Pers.

Stafel ski lift


224 m

16 m

1'000 Pers.

Fleschtola ski lift


1'950 m

429 m

1'000 Pers.

Lüsga/Färrich ski lift


277 m

91 m

600 Pers.

Kelchbach chair lift


1201 m

252 m

2000 Pers.

Bruchji chair lift


595 m

160 m

1'000 Pers.



12'034 m

3'157 m

10'900 Pers.

The Belalp Bahnen AG, and its transport facilities, give access to a ski area with wide slopes,  which range from the Hohstock at an altitude of 3100 m a.s.l. to the Kühmatte with 2050 m a.s.l., and Blatten at 1320 m a.s.l. They provide long and broad pistes of every difficulty level. In the high season, 60 km of prepared pistes are available, of which 12 km are blue, 23 km red and 25 km black. The snow making equipment, which is installed in the Schönbiel area, makes it possible to cover the lower piste areas with snow. Excluding the valley run to Blatten, 6 km of pistes can be artificially covered with snow in the Schönbiel area. This way, 12% of the pistes on the Belalp can be prepared.

The diversification – the purchase and renovation of the Blattnerhof Hotel.

In 1987, the Belalp Bahnen purchased the Blattnerhof Hotel. The complete reconstruction of the hotel in 1993 represented a noticeable value increase of the hotel offering for the holiday destination, and for the Belalp Bahnen, a significant location of financial resources outside their transport operations.

1996: A new name and new statutes

During the General Assembly on 20 June 1996, the shareholders approved  new statutes. One of the most important alterations was, without a doubt, the renaming of the Seilbahnen AG Blatten-Belalp-Aletsch to Belalp Bahnen AG. Additionally, according to the statutes, not only the municipality, but also the community Naters, was entitled to a seat on the Board. Further, new term limits for Boards of Directors of twelve years, and for Presidents of the Board of sixteen years, were introduced. And finally, it was introduced, that the President needed to be elected by the General Assembly. Up until then, the Board constituted itself.

The executive bodies of the company are: 1. The General Assembly, 2. The Board of Directors (five to nine members) and 3. The Statutory Auditors.

Presidents of the Board of Directors of the Belalp Bahnen AG

  • Anton Salzmann, former President of the Court
  • Meinrad Michlig: 1959-1968
  • 1968-1970: vacant
  • Edmund Salzmann
  • Richard Walker: 1988-1994
  • Peter Ritz: 1994-1998
  • Erich Pfaffen: 1998-2007
  • Klaus Zurschmitten: 2007 - present

Directors of the Belalp Bahnen AG
Ignaz Truffer: 1973 – 1998

Ignaz Truffer was the first Director of the Belalp Bahnen AG in the years 1973 – 1988. He was a member of the executive committee of the Tourism Office for 20 years, and significantly influenced the development of tourism in the region as a reliable and competent manager. He was a pioneer of tourism at heart. Between 1992 and 1998, he was President of the Vallais Association of Cable Car and Ski Lift Companies. He passed away on 30 June 1998.

The first ski lift on the Schönbiel

The first ski lift on the Schönbiel

Dr Hans Peter Zeiter: 1998-2004

Dr Hans-Peter Zeiter took over the management of the Belalp Bahnen AG on 15 October 1998. He managed the Belalp Bahnen during these 6 years under difficult conditions and constricted financial flexibility with a lot of professional competence and care. He was very engaged in the improvement of quality and touristic development of the region.

Since 2004 Steffan Jossen is the Managing Director

In the shareholder’s circle

Since 1979, the share capital of the Belalp Bahnen AG amounts to CHF 5.1M (10 200 shares at CHF 500). The shares were issued in the form of bearer bonds. Major blocks of shares are held by the Einwohnergemeinde (resident’s community) and municipality of Naters, which together hold around 20% of the share capital. The remaining shares are distributed among the local community, business owners, chalet owners and private investors, who have a connection with the Belalp.

Key Figures

Until 31.12.2003, the Belalp Bahnen AG had invested more than 52 million Swiss francs. The accounting value of the facilities was at the time CHF 20.2M. This corresponds to 39.3% of the acquisition value. In the operating year 2003, a total income of CHF 6.3M was achieved. The operating cash flow was increased by 5.5% to 24.4% of the total income. Through the consequent repaying of liabilities over the last few years, it was possible to increase the equity share from 18.5% to 25.9%.

Schönbiel – Kelchbach and Bruchegg chairlift mountain stations

Schönbiel – Kelchbach and Bruchegg chairlift mountain stations
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