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Former main SLF building on Weissfluhjoch sold to mountain railway company

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8.10.2019  | Birgit Ottmer | News SLF


The SLF's headquarters have been located in Davos Dorf for over 20 years. Consequently, the institute's former main building on the Weissfluhjoch, though barely used any more, generates high maintenance and operating costs. Today, the building was sold to Davos Klosters Bergbahnen Ltd, which initially wants to use it for internal purposes.


Back in 1943, the inauguration of the main building of the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research Davos-Weissfluhjoch (now called the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF)), at an altitude of 2,662 m above sea level, was such an important watershed for the nascent science of avalanche research that it was even attended by Philipp Etter, a federal councillor at the time. Previously, Drahtseilbahn Davos-Parsenn Ltd (now named Davos Klosters Bergbahnen Ltd) had donated the plot of land to the Swiss Confederation so that a building for the newly established SLF could be constructed there.


End of an era

The building on the Weissfluhjoch remained the SLF's headquarters until 1996, but over time the disadvantages of the relatively inaccessible location and space limitations outweighed the advantages of having a facility up in the high mountains. Moreover, technological progress made looking out of the window or the immediate availability of natural cooling increasingly irrelevant to snow and avalanche research. So the snow scientists headed down the valley to their present – and future – base in Flüelastrasse, Davos Dorf.


Expensive underuse

After that move, the SLF only continued to use individual rooms and laboratories on the Weissfluhjoch, so it tried using the former main building for seminars or renting it out for workshops. Yet the complex and therefore also costly operation and maintenance of a 70-year-old facility high up in the mountains prompted the SLF to start thinking about parting with the underused building, since the money used to maintain it would be better invested in research projects. Unfortunately, a public call for expressions of interest in 2014 failed to unearth an acceptable buyer, probably not least owing to the many zone planning restrictions (the site is not in a building zone) and building regulations and difficult accessibility in the off-season or evenings.


Then, in the past few months, the Davos Klosters Bergbahnen Ltd's interest in taking over the building became apparent. Since it already owns the remaining properties on the Weissfluhjoch, such a purchase would enable it to expand its infrastructure at an altitude of 2,600 m above sea level.

On 8 October, Michael Scheibli (ETH board), representing the Swiss Confederation, and Vidal Schertenleib and Klaus May, representing Davos Klosters Bergbahnen Ltd, concluded the sale at the land registry in Davos. Slightly wistfully, but also with some relief, SLF Director Jürg Schweizer says: "The Weissfluhjoch is an integral part of the SLF's history. I myself began my career there. It was an extraordinary place to work. But since we could no longer make proper use of the building, we're glad that it has now found a new owner." Real Estate Manager Vidal Schertenleib, who is also a Board member of Davos Klosters Bergbahnen Ltd, adds: "The building's purchase made sense because of its location in the heart of the ski resort and the fact that Davos Klosters Bergbahnen already owns the other properties on the Weissfluhjoch. The Weissfluhjoch is one of our key infrastructure buildings and we're happy to have further facilities in this location for our future use."

Ownership of the building is being transferred with immediate effect.