A spat between resort owners is threatening to take the magic out of the Magic Pass, one of Swiss ski tourism’s few success stories of recent years.

Crans-Montana — former home of late James Bond actor Roger Moore — is the crown jewel in a network of 30 Swiss ski areas that banded together to offer the annual all ski-station pass for as little as 399 Swiss francs ($400). But the resort has threatened to pull out of the program, saying the Magic Pass has led to overcrowding and is demanding the right to charge more during busy periods.

Philippe Magistretti, the managing director of the lift-operator Remontees Mecaniques Crans-Montana Aminona, or CMA, said the Magic Pass in its current form has made the peaks and troughs in a winter season worse, as there’s no incentive once you’ve paid to hit the slopes on a cold snowy Thursday, for example, but a huge incentive to binge on a sunny weekend or school holiday.

“The way it’s sold today is not economical and it’s unsustainable,” Magistretti said in an interview.

Welcome Boon

Swiss ski resorts have had a challenging few years, forced to fight both a soaring franc that drove skiers into the neighboring French, Austrian and Italian Alps, and patchy snowfall, particularly at lower-lying resorts. The Magic Pass has been a welcome boon, adding 85,000 season ticket-holders who logged 2.18 million ski days last winter. For this season, 105,000 have been sold so far, a jump of nearly 25 percent.

The whole Magic Pass concept is still in its prototype stages and needs tinkering, says Magistretti. Charging a seasonal premium to ski on Crans-Montana’s Plaine Morte glacier (as is done at nearby Les Diablerets) is one option, he says, or limiting the number of days Magic Pass holders can ski on the mountain each winter.

“The great frustration for us is that the partners of the Magic Pass say we’re happy, it’s fine with us, so there will be no change,” Magistretti said.

Three-Year Commitment

Pierre Besson, the president of Magic Mountains Cooperation, the company behind the pass, declined an interview request and referred back to an emailed statement. A meeting was held on January 25 to hear CMA’s concerns but, the cooperative said, it could not respond favorably to all its suggestions. Crans-Montana signed up for a three-year commitment and must respect that or face the consequences, Magic Mountains Cooperation said.

“If CMA wishes to quit Magic Mountains Cooperation, it would not be respecting its contractual obligations,” reads the statement. “In that case, the cooperative would reserve the right to claim for eventual damages.”

Magistretti said in the interview that quitting is not a likely option with just a year left in the contract but that he wants to get discussions going on how the pass will evolve beyond the three-year initial phase.

CMA has shown itself to be a tough negotiator. The resort stopped the lifts running last April for two days despite fantastic spring skiing conditions. It blamed the brief shutdown on the town of Crans-Montana for refusing to fund an 800,000 franc subsidy to the lift-operator for late season openings and for hosting World Cup races that force the closure of lifts to recreational skiers.

Czech Billionaire

Magistretti said at the time that the town’s behavior was an insult to Czech property billionaire Radovan Vitek, “who saved the station and the community of Crans-Montana.” A spokesman for Vitek did not have any immediate comment.

That standoff was only resolved after the intervention of a local politician. It was a black eye just months before an unsuccessful popular referendum on whether to support a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics which planned to include Crans-Montana for some races.

The Magic Mountains cooperative holds its annual meeting on February 14, but there’s little chance of a love-in.

“There is this fundamental philosophical issue of our partners not realizing that we have to make money at the end of the day,” Magistretti said.

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Photo Credit: Crans-Montana, Switzerland, once home to the late James Bond actor Roger Moore. Bloomberg