Healthy Living in the Alps: The Origins of Winter Tourism in Switzerland

post by : Salamin Eliza


Barton, S. (2008). Healthy Living in the Alps: The Origins of Winter Tourism in Switzerland, 1860-1914. Manchester University Press.

Healthy living in the Alps explains the correlation between the medical research to relieve the pain of tuberculosis and the developement of winter sports in alpine resorts in the mid 19th century until 1914. The development of Swiss resorts such as Davos, St Moritz, Arosa, Leysin and Grindelwald had been analysed to develop this theory. The importance of the Great Britain is also raised in this article. Before the arrival of the penicilin (antibiotic to treat infectious diseases) in 1940, conventional medicine had no remedy against respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis. It was a serious matter that affects all sections of the society. This is why, around 1860, European physicians had no choice than sending their patients in the Alps, where they thought the climate, thin and clear, would offer some kind of relief and might even kill the disease. Switzerland, first considered as a transit point to go in Italy, became therefore known on the European health map. Her reputation for high altitude long-term treatments, in summer and winter attracted better-off patients. It should be noticed that not only swiss invested in the medical field but also dutch and british people. They helped to develop resorts. The treatments included spa, fresh air and exercise and sport activities were part of their cure regime. To be occupied, their healthy family and friends took part as well at their outdoor activities. Thanks to them, resorts had to developped their sport activities. Clubs for ice skating, curling, sledging, tobogangging came up with the arrival of British in the resorts. Ski appeared in Switzerland in 1875 and became the key activity but no ski lifts were built until 1930. As number of healthy visitors grew each year attracted by growing sporting centres, a real issue raised amongst the resorts : Are the sick still good for business ? Effectively visitors had fear of contagion when coming across patients coughing in the streets. Resorts came up with different solutions. One solution was to separate hotels and clinics with restricted access, the other was to deter the sick to come in their resorts : for example St Moritz claimed that the south winds were bad for lungs and Grindelwald said that their latitude was lower than the other resorts and then less effective. But actually most of the swiss alpine resort kept going on serving healthy as well as unwell clientele. In conclusion, we can understand how winter tourism is closely linked with health treatments in Switzerland by looking back in Swiss history. Swiss resorts attracts both wealthy clientele unwell or fit. It is then important to have infrastructure up to their expectations. Tourism industry should always have this in their minds when developing a resort, thinking of who the customers are and what are their needs.