Laax puts all its faith in PistenBully

12 October 2016

Weisse Arena Bergbahnen AG from Laax has not only returned to a pure PistenBully fleet, but is also switching its snow and fleet management for the coming season: from Leica to SNOWsat. There were many reasons behind the decision of Weisse Arena Bergbahnen AG to focus solely on PistenBully and SNOWsat.

The cost pressure in Switzerland and especially in the ski resorts close to the border is extremely high. They are at a clear competitive disadvantage thanks to the expensive Swiss franc and higher wage levels. Weisse Arena Bergbahnen AG is very well aware of this: accordingly, they're extremely focussed on their cost structure and how it's developing. The goal is crystal clear: giving customers the best slopes and achieving the best price-performance ratio for the company. The crucial foundation to this is a trusting partnership, which has a forward-looking approach. And that's true in every respect: not just the basic machine prices, but also the service, the availability of spare parts, the slope quality and support for the ski resort using the latest technologies.

An integrated approach is nothing new in Laax. Thanks to the foresight of the company's CEO of many years, Reto Gurtner, the Group includes five subsidiaries that offer guests everything from one source that they could possibly desire for a perfect holiday.

With SNOWsat into the future
As mentioned above, the overall package played a critical part in SNOWsat emerging as the clear winner. The complete system change from Leica to Kässbohrer's snow and fleet management system is currently under way, representing another major step toward a very promising joint future. The plan is that even more will come of it - a lasting relationship that proves beneficial to both sides. The expertise of the team at Weisse Arena Bergbahnen AG is sure to advance effective snow management as a whole. And Laax is happy to serve as a test resort in this regard for further innovations.

Martin Hug, the executive manager responsible for Ropeways, Lifts and Buildings at WAG, sees enormous potential in SNOWsat to make the slopes more efficient, more cost-effective and also more sustainable. And he's also looking a great deal further ahead: "Take, for example, improved communication between the machines. SNOWsat lays the foundation for that. In Laax we want to keep developing this in collaboration with PistenBully. Innovation is not restricted to the colour of chairs, hoods or the design of vehicles alone", he says, explaining the opportunities he sees in SNOWsat. "Drivers are supplied with a wealth of relevant vehicle data specific to their situation. Now our task is to exploit the huge potential of digitalisation through the use of smart data in the cable car world as well. The whole package means strength. We can only develop innovations if we're prepared to think outside the box."

Trendsetting development partnership
Reto Gurtner has always been a pioneer in the skiing industry and has been setting the course for the future for years and not just at Weisse Arena. The progressive business model of the Weisse Arena Group is unique in the Alpine region. In this context, the Laax resort has long been focussed on the theme of "efficient snow management". The collaboration with PistenBully brings even more opportunities for optimising daily operations. "Imagine a situation in which we could integrate all data on one platform - weather data, snow composition, snow depths, use of the slopes and, and, and - and use that data to create projections, models with forecasts. What would the world of snow grooming look like then? We would know exactly when and where we needed to deposit snow, we could even use algorithms to calculate requirements in advance for the low, peak and off-season, and that would mean extremely effective and efficient use of all resources. It would mean less machine-made snow, less shifting of snow and, as a result, lower costs. And our customers would have the best slopes at any time of the year. The use of "smart data" can also bring advantages for our guests. Additionally, they would be able to see how many skiers there are on each slope and where there'll be waiting times. You could even send guests time-sensitive offers to their mobile phones", says Reto Gurtner.

On the right path with a strong partner
Laax has taken a very deliberate decision to bid farewell to the parallel two-brand strategy. Focussing on one partner bundles strengths. Goals are achieved faster, and the dynamic in projects is tangibly higher. "If you're working with two or even several manufacturers, that takes more energy. With just one partner you achieve joint goals more efficiently and the dynamic in projects, which both are working to move forward, is higher. Or to put it another way - you get to the goal faster and more cost-effectively." This goes beyond pure acquisition of vehicles: "Just think about procurement of spare parts or equipment for the workshop. There's just one process, one workflow, while every employee knows and understands what they have to do. If we consolidate our purchases, then obviously we get more favourable purchase prices too. We always ask ourselves: Where do we profit most?", says Martin Hug.

And with a wink he adds that things could easily change at the next call for bids. "Right now we are convinced that Kässbohrer thinks like us. And that's why the firm is the right, skilled partner for fast realisation of these ideas." I'm thinking, for example, of the active blade control, developing alternative drive systems, real-time communication between the vehicles, and semi and fully autonomous driving of snow groomers.

The actual strength doesn't come from individual components or subsystems - the whole package is crucial. And the common desire of the development partners to think outside the box, to question existing ideas and business models and to keep breaking new ground.

The PistenBully fleet operated by Weisse Arena comprises 25 vehicles, all soon to be fitted with SNOWsat snow depth measurement. The ideal conditions for testing new ideas and making sure the best ones become market-ready.

PRO ACADEMY brings expertise to the slopes
All these ideas and efforts to make snow grooming more efficient can only succeed if the drivers accept them and are in a position to implement them on the slopes. This is where the PRO ACADEMY comes in: drivers are intensively and individually trained in theory and while driving. With PistenBully and SNOWsat they have genuine high-tech tools at their disposal. Professional training is needed to show how these opportunities can best be exploited to make the work more efficient and sustainable. Otherwise the entire investment is not enough. Everyone agrees on that. Accordingly, courses were also booked for the drivers. Because the PRO ACADEMY is the only way to ensure all that skill makes it to the slopes.

Trust is the best foundation
"There has been a clear sense in all discussions that both sides can profit from this", summarise the two CEOs. "In Kässbohrer Geländefahrzeug AG, and its brands PistenBully and SNOWsat, we have found a partner who advocates for us, for our ideas, e.g. in digitalisation too. Or to put it another way: the truly decisive reasons were the open dialogue and the trust in the partnership."

The fleet in Laax: all PistenBully
• Reto Gurtner is the visionary and architect of the Weisse Arena Group.
• Martin Hug still has big plans in terms of snow management.
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