Legendary: how St. Moritz invented winter tourism

Where winter holidays began

Around 150 years ago, St. Moritz hotelier Johannes Badrutt made a bet with his summer guests. And so the «winter holiday» was born.  

As the summer season wound to a close in 1864, Badrutt was singing the praises of winter in Engadin to his remaining English guests, claiming that the winter months are much sunnier and more agreeable in the Alps than in England. He invited them back to his hotel that winter, so they could experience it for themselves. If they still weren’t convinced, he promised to cover their travel expenses.

English winters were always cold and wet – particularly in London – and the guests couldn’t imagine that the Swiss Alps would be any different. Yet they came to Oberengadin over Christmas and ended up staying until Easter. When they finally left, they went home tanned, revitalised and happy. As the first ever Alpine winter tourists, they helped to define a whole new experience: the white winter holiday. The British left their mark on St. Moritz in the form of curling and cricket tournaments, ice sports events, the Cresta Run and the bobsleigh track.

St. Moritz winter holidays
St. Moritz has been providing quality service for 150 years. And here, too, the locals enjoy experimenting with unconventional ideas. Shown here: Ice skating waiters at Badrutt's Palace Hotel.

The invention of modern winter sports

Winter sports 1.0

From then on, more and more guests visited St. Moritz in winter. The winter months in Engadin were delightful, but also incredibly dull. 

Back then there was no calendar of events or flagship stores in which to while away the hours. But once the Brits teamed up with the St. Moritz locals, they quickly found novel ways to amuse themselves. With British tourists in mind, they set up Switzerland’s first curling field. This was followed by the Cresta Run in 1884 and the Bob Run from St. Moritz to Celerina, which began operating in 1904. St. Moritz is hence not only the birthplace of white winter holidays, but also the true home of Alpine winter sports. It therefore no coincidence that the first Winter Olympic Games were held in Engadin in 1928.

Winter sports in St. Moritz
The highly competitive Brits had to dream up something to keep them occupied during the long, cold winter. They experimented with water and snow, carving out a track in the ice that would later became the famous Cresta Run.

Unstoppable pioneering spirit

St. Moritz leads the way

While St. Moritz became a popular destination among illustrious and cosmopolitan guests, it also fostered a remarkable pioneering spirit.

It was home to the first electric light, the first ski school and the first electric tram in Switzerland. The progressive mountain village of St. Moritz played a key role in the development of many commodities we now take for granted. Engadin also has a history of hosting major events: two Winter Olympic Games (1928 and 1948), five Skiing World Championships (1934, 1948, 1974, 2003, 2017) and Europe’s first ever Snowboarding World Championships (1987) are testament to this proud tradition. These kinds of events – and St. Moritz’s array of famous guests – have led to St. Moritz developing a prestigious, worldwide reputation. Today there are St. Moritz hotels, restaurants and businesses at Miami Beach, in Dubai, Shenzhen, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Manila and Tokyo. To prevent its good name from being exploited, St. Moritz was the first geographical location to register as a trademark in 1986 and its name is now protected in around 50 countries. 

St. Moritz leads the way
Extravagant, cosmopolitan and often unlike all the rest: St. Moritz has always been a trailblazer. Photo: Winter pool fashion show in the 1950s.
In the summer of 1864...
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