Hip resort hopes for ski championship boost

The small Swedish village of Åre will for the next two weeks be playing host to one of the world's biggest winter sporting events. Businesses in the resort hope the international exposure will further cement an already burgeoning tourist industry.

The Åre municipality’s permanent population of just under 10,000 will swell to more than thirteen times its normal size as 100,000 spectators, 1,600 volunteers, 1,500 media representatives and 350 athletes descend from around the world for the 2007 Alpine World Skiing Championships.

The championships, the largest winter sports event ever held in Sweden, promise to bolster Åre’s position on the world tourist map. The last few years have seen major investment in the town, with 2.5 billion kronor ploughed into accommodation, lifts and pistes.

“Everything has been on the up since we found out in 2002 that we had won the bid to host the championships. We have had more tourists and a lot more investment,” says Jan Andersson, business development officer for Åre municipality.

The town is already firmly placed as one of the hippest destinations on the Swedish tourist map. The moneyed party animals of Stockholm’s trendy Stureplan pack up their Veuve Cliquot and migrate en masse during the winter break. In Åre, the focus is on mingling with celebrities in what has become known as one of the best winter parties this side of Chamonix.

They are increasingly being joined by foreign visitors, attracted both by the resort’s world-class skiing facilities and by the partying opportunities. While the short days don’t exactly force keen skiers off the pistes (many of the ski slopes are floodlit), they certainly help the evenings to get off to an early start.

The resort’s reputation as a partying stronghold has long attracted a strong gay contingent, with the Gay Train from Stockholm carrying revellers from across the world on the eight hour journey from Stockholm.

Members of the international jet-set have been snapped attending events during the Åre Gay Days, including Prince Albert of Monaco. The next gay fest in the town is planned for April 2008, and organizers promise it will be the hottest party weekend of the year, with go-go boys and DJs from some of Europe’s top clubs.

But with Åre aiming to increase the number of visitors by 50 percent by 2011, it is looking beyond it’s traditional markets in the hope of bringing in more families, both during summer and winter.

“Until now, we have been focusing on singles and DINKYs, but now we’re looking to open new markets,” says Andersson.

A big part of the move to attract families is Holiday Club, a huge Finnish-operated hotel and leisure complex that opened in 2004 right in the middle of the resort. As well as having 200 rooms, Holiday Club offers visitors eight pools, six saunas, four restaurants, bowling, golf and a spa. There is also a whole range of special activities for kids, the idea being that parents can come to the resort all year round.

In common with many other ski resorts, Åre has also managed to attract sporty tourists to return for summer activities. The Mayhem Bike Festival, held every August, is the largest mountain bike festival in Scandinavia, attracting bikers from all over Europe.

With a state-of-the art new station in the centre of Åre, as well as flight connections to Stockholm from Östersund-Åre Airport and flights to both Amsterdam and London from Trondheim, 150 kilometres away in Norway, the resort is well equipped to keep growing.

“The number of tourist nights in the summer months increased by 10 percent in 2006 compared with 2005,” says Andersson.

With the exposure that Åre is getting from the Alpine Championships, the hope is that the resort’s growth will continue apace.