Gaver’s new business model still relies on there still being some snow (if not the consistent coverage needed to keep a lift operation economically viable). But there are now some “ski” resorts where skiing no longer features as part of the business plan at all. When Felix Saller met his partner, Christin Hellermann, at a mountain-bike event, the small ski hill her family owned near Dortmund, Germany, hadn’t had enough snow to open for over a decade. “They opened for two weekends in 2017, when there was really a lot of snow,” Saller says, “but they hadn’t opened at all for five years before that, and it really stopped being a business around 2000 or 2001.”
With his background in the bike industry, Saller realized the place had potential. In July 2022, three years after writing their first business plan, he and Hellermann reopened the resort as Green Hill Bike Park. Their total investment, Saller estimates, was just 2 million euros. Converting the main ski lift, he says, couldn’t have been easier. “There’s a simple hook system called EasyLoop, invented by a guy in Austria, which allows you to convert any drag lift [which tows skiers and snowboarders up the mountain] for bikes.”
While the old family-run ski resort was very much a small-scale affair, the new bike park is anything but. “We obviously haven’t had a whole summer season yet,” Felix says, “but in the last half year we had 30,000 mountain bikers, so in a whole season it will be 50 or 60,000.” In August 2023, they hosted the Swatch Nines, one of the most prestigious international contests in the world of mountain biking—a huge coup for such a new business. “I don’t have the latest ticket sales summary, but by my estimate, around 7,000 people visited on three days that weekend,” Saller says.
Unsurprisingly, this successful revival of a once-dead resort has turned heads within the industry. “We have a lot of requests from other ski resorts—in Switzerland, Austria, Poland, and also here in Germany—asking us to bring our ideas there,” Saller says. “I would say the next years will be a boom for mountain bike parks, especially for all the ski areas under 1,500 meters.”
In Fai della Paganella, where the lifts top out at 2,100 meters, Luca d’Angelo isn’t worried about the winter season disappearing completely just yet. “It’s still very important,” he says, pointing out that lift ticket sales are still worth 12 million euros in winter, compared to 2.5 million in summer. “But pay attention,” he says, explaining that when you factor in the expense of electricity needed for snowmaking, and the relative costs of preparing a mountain bike trail versus a ski piste, the profit margins even out—or even swing the other way. “It’s not an official calculation, but we estimate that every 1 euro a biker spends is worth six or seven times the euro spent by a skier,” he says. These days, Paganella markets itself less as a ski resort, and more as what d’Angelo calls “a year-round destination.”
For the first time this year, he explains proudly, the transition between seasons was seamless. Paganella’s top lifts closed for skiing on April 9, and “that same day, we opened lifts lower down the valley for mountain biking.” The swish of skis on snow giving way to the whir of bike cassettes made it obvious where the future lies.