Paysage hiver Villars chalets Olivier Fatzer

Michel Dätwyler

Michel Daetwyler, a key player in tourist development for Villars tells us how the resort has evolved over the course of the last 30 years.


Born in Villars, Michel Daetwyler has been an important player in the tourist development of the resort of Villars through his various professional and political activities. A former ski champion along with his brother Jean-Daniel, Michel has been committed to the locality for more than 30 years and has played a part in the municipality for 16 years, five of them as a trustee for the commune. He is currently an honorary member of several committees and a consultant for various major projects for the resort.
Born in the commune of Ollon, Michel Daetwyler and his brother Jean-Daniel spent a large part of their childhood in the skiing area at an altitude of 1,800 m, where their parents ran the Restaurant du Col de Bretaye from 1949 to 1965. This extraordinary childhood certainly goes a long way towards explaining Michel and his brother’s connection with tourism and skiing. Every winter, they went down to the Villars school 600 metres below on skis. As a boy, Michel became familiar with the first ski lift in the skiing area, with the chairlift at Chaux-Ronde, which was one of the first in Switzerland, along with an installation in Davos. Inaugurated on 13 December 1936, on the plot of the current slalom stadium, the cable system with copper belt meant the skier had to hold a closed loop in their hand. The success generated by this chairlift saw the start of the development of the ski area. A year later, the “funi-luge” or chairlift was built at Grand-Chamossaire, and this enabled 120-130 persons an hour to be carried up to Grand-Chamossaire at 2,000 m. Other ski lifts were constructed and Villars became one of the main ski resorts in the country.

In 1965, Michel’s parents left the restaurant and bought a small shop in the centre of Villars, running the restaurant at the ice-skating rink at the same time. During this period, the Villars ice hockey team were the Swiss champions thanks in part to the village having the first artificial covered skating rink in Switzerland, which provided the ideal training conditions for this talented team. As a matter of fact, a generous sponsor, Mrs Potin owned a hockey team in Paris which included the best Canadian players in Europe. She loved Villars and stayed there regularly. In 1960, Mrs Potin offered to build an artificial ice rink at the resort and created Villars Hockey Club. In 1962, she also financed the covering for the rink (umbrella system), which made the Villars rink the first artificial covered one in Switzerland. Villars Hockey Club quickly went up to the national league and they were the Swiss champions in the 1962/63, 1963/64 seasons, and runners-up in 1964/65.
Michel studied hotel management, which he did while skiing competitively with his brother Jean-Daniel. They were both members of the national ski team and took part in World Cup competitions over a period of more than 10 years. Jean-Daniel competed in the Olympic Games in Grenoble in 1968, where he was awarded the bronze medal for downhill along with Jean-Claude Killy. The passion for racing has also continued into following generations. Jean-Daniel’s daughter Céline was twice junior World Cup champion for downhill too in 1991 and 1992. By the way, these achievements explain the presence of the Olympic rings at the entrance to the family sports shop. In spring 1973, Michel finished competing and followed the training course required to take up management of the Swiss Ski School in Villars in December. His position as head of the Ski School also enabled him to bring together the boards of the ski lift and cable car company Télébretaye and the Villars tourist office. He later become president of various corporations, including the ski school at Villars, the ski club, the tourist office and tourist tax body.
For many years, Michel remained very active in the teaching of skiing, and quickly incorporated the steering and technical committee of the IASS (Swiss Ski School Association, which later became Swiss SnowSports). During his years as president of Villars Ski Club, he devoted himself to improving the cooperation between ski schools and ski clubs, the latter focusing mainly on competitive sport. This certainly explains the “strength” and current high level of the Villars Ski Club, as well as its good synergy with the Swiss Ski School.

While he was head of the Swiss Ski School, he created the ski school’s daycare centre and founded the association that maintains the cross-country skiing trails. Conscious of the upswing in this sport, Michel raised funds from private sources and various bodies, purchased a snow groomer, found a driver, and held discussions with all the landowners to enable the creation of slopes dedicated to this sport during the winter season.
When new ski lift or cable car installations were constructed, Michel took part in meetings with farmers to persuade them to have the pylons put up on their land.
In 1973-1975, while Michel was head of the ski school and a member of the tourist office board, an important property developer launched the project to create a “super Villars”. The main aim during this period was the construction of super-resorts at a high altitude, such as Thyon 2000 or Super-Nendaz. The project consisted of creating accommodation for 1,500-2,000 people in the Charmet area (the current area of Villars Golf Club at an altitude of 1,500 metres). Agricultural land was assigned as building zones, and construction approvals were issued.
However, no water source could be found in the surrounding areas and the project was abandoned. By contrast, Villars Golf Club (previously situated in the resort) later had to be moved higher up and this location was retained in part. As a matter of fact, the modification of this zone’s allocation some years earlier to enable the execution of the development project made it easier to convince the utilities and nature protection bodies to convert the building zone into the golfing area. The course was therefore constructed in 1973, first with 3 holes, then 6, then 9. The 9 additional holes were created in 2000.
Michel was also one of those responsible for merging the three cable cars during this period (the Roc d’Orsay cable car, Télébretaye and the Barboleuse-Les Chaux cable car). A member of the board of directors of Télébretaye, he then became its president. Each body had its own ticketing system at the time, and it was necessary to create the first unique ski package for use throughout the ski area. The cable car companies remained independent up to their merger in 1989, and this was made possible by the common determination of the 3 executive boards to consolidate and stabilise their finances to develop the ski area. The Bex-Villars-Bretaye railway company did not integrate with the new body, but remained its main partner. This merger and the creation of “Télé-Villars-Gryon SA” allowed a major reinvigoration of the resort’s winter services.

Michel became an executive of the commune of Ollon in 1990 and presided over it (as trustee) from 2002 to 2006.
Since he retired from political life in 2007, Michel has dedicated himself fully to the family sports shop with his brother Jean-Daniel and their families. The shop is currently run by the family’s next generation.