A DJ bobs behind the turntables as a steady 4/4 beat thumps and the dance floor swells with sweaty revelers. Outside, clubbers dressed in little black things queue up at the door.
You could be in Berlin or Ibiza, but this party goes down at nearly 6,000 feet, in a tent perched above the posh Swiss ski village of Verbier. It’s yet to get covered in snow, but outside, the temperature registers a nippy -6C, or 21F.
Welcome to the Polaris Festival, a four-day dance music extravaganza that takes place before the winter holidays each year. Now in its fourth year, Polaris is part of a growing trend across the Alps in which ski resorts are throwing dance music festivals to attract younger guests—and patch the bad business brought on by climate change and a weakened euro. In Switzerland alone, the ski season has experienced a decline of 20 percent in visitation numbers over the last decade.
“I wanted to help the young people come back,” says Raphael Nanchen, the co-founder of Polaris, who threw his first dance music festival in nearby Crans Montana 15 years ago. “Fewer and fewer people are skiing now.”
He says that today, millennials would rather jet off to Barcelona for the weekend than risk spending money on poor mountain conditions. “It’s important for ski resorts to find other ways to attract people.”
Other European resorts are heeding Nanchen’s warning. From Austria to France, some of the Alps’ most famous ski destinations are pitching tents and booking big-name DJs in a bid to stay relevant in an increasingly warmer world.
Polaris has quickly established itself as the festival with perhaps the most cachet, attracting some 12,000 revelers over the course of four days earlier this month. They flocked to Verbier for the festival’s impeccable lineup of international DJs—names such as Dixon, Carl Craig, and the legendary Laurent Garnier—as well as for the unique experience of dancing in a transparent tent surrounded by the dramatic mountains.
It all comes at an operational cost. Nanchen estimates that it costs 40 percent more to throw a festival in an isolated Alpine village than a more conventional location—say, that beach resort in Ibiza. Two-thirds of his budget goes to building the venue from scratch, filling it with catering options, and handling customers’ transportation.
Verbier’s tourism office has been offsetting some of those costs now that Polaris has proved a boon for early season business. At roughly $240 for four days (not including accommodations, meals, and other expenses), the festival passes cost about the same as lift tickets, which run $340 for six days here. As a bonus, the clientele doesn’t care much about the weather. “Most of the people are sleeping in the morning, not skiing,” Nanchen jokes.
Polaris 2018 may have come and gone, but here’s a calendar of noteworthy dance music festivals happening throughout the Alps this season; consider it the insurance policy on your next ski trip.
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When: March 9-16 at Alpe d’Huez, France
The Lineup: Armin van Buuren, Afrojack, DJ Snake, Steve Aoki
The Vibe: EDM festival behemoth Tomorrowland brings its mainstream lineup and over-the-top brand to France’s Alpe d’Huez. Popular for its expansive, high-altitude slopes and sunny weather, the southern ski resort will now have pyrotechnics, deafening beats, and some 30,000 fist-pumping fans.
Where to stay: Rest your danced-out legs and pounding head at the centrally-located Le Cristal de L’Alpe, a cluster of blond-wood chalets with a pool, spa, and 70 self-catering units.
Nassau Beach Club
When: March 12-16 at Obergurgl, Austria
The Lineup: Nassau Beach Club DJs and other artists
The Vibe: This five-day series of DJs and live acts will play across the Tyrolean resort’s on-mountain bars—and it’s all courtesy of popular Ibiza venue Nassau Beach Club. The spread-out nature of the event makes it less of a festival than the others on this list, but that also helps Nassau translate its breezy Balearic vibes to the Alps: Think DJ sets at Panorama, with 360-degree views into Italy from nearly 10,000 feet.
Where to Stay: The four-star Hotel Bergwelt’s traditional, half-timbered facade belies a thoroughly modern interior, not to mention a three-story spa.
When: April 2-7 in Chamonix, France
The Lineup: Agoria, Dixon, Ellen Allien, Jeff Mills, Laurent Garnier, Polo & Pan
The Vibe: The only thing more dramatic than this lineup of underground techno vets and buzzy newcomers is the location. Set in Chamonix (home to Mont Blanc, the Alps’ highest peak), it makes use of dramatic venues such as the Aiguille du Midi, a 12,000-foot-high mountaintop terrace befitting a Bond villain.
Where to stay: Book at Hameau Albert 1er, a Relais & Châteaux property whose rough-hewn luxury feels appropriate in this rugged yet glamorous corner of the world. (The hotel’s two-Michelin starred restaurant isn’t bad, either.)
When: April 11-14 in Crans Montana, Switzerland
The Lineup: Ricardo Villalobos, Seth Troxler, Sven Väth, Marcel Dettmann
The Vibe: Like Polaris, the Caprices Festival boasts a lineup that would feel right at home in Berlin. It’s for serious house and techno heads, with four nonstop days of austere minimal beats and booming baselines filling two large tents, one on the mountain and another in the heart of town.
Where to stay: Le Crans is a luxurious retreat in which to recharge for the next day’s party, with the feeling of a private chalet and guestroom balconies overlooking the mountains of Valais.