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Point of view: Skiing, adieu!

Katharina Conradin, President of CIPRA International © Martin Walser

Winter is here and in many ski resorts the snow cannons are running at full blast. Yet the number of skiers is in decline, making it hard to justify the immense investments made with the aim of expanding ski areas. It is time to realise that skiing is not a business model with a future, says Katharina Conradin, President of CIPRA International.

The numbers of first entrants in ski resorts in Switzerland are considerably down – by more than a third in the past 25 years. In Italy too the trend is clearly downward while, compared to 1995, one third fewer Austrians go skiing as did in the mid-1990s. Growth is only possible by wooing guests away from other ski areas. The consequence of this is that a quarter to a third of all ski resorts in the Alps are today running at a deficit. Meagre snowfall in recent winters has simply made the situation worse.

It seems all the more absurd, then, that every year hundreds of millions of euros are still being invested in the expansion of ski resorts: from the planned link between the Ötztal and Pitztal ski areas in Austria, all the way to Sudelfeld in Germany, Andermatt-Sedrun in Switzerland, and Les Vans in France, the planners have numerous projects stashed away. Many are now once more being dusted off, as CIPRA has highlighted. A long-standing legal dispute regarding the Riedberger Horn in Bavaria was settled just last december – to the detriment of nature, and bereft of any financial reason.

But the more is invested in skiing, the more difficult it becomes to call a halt. Because, at a certain point, the ski circus becomes «too big to fail». And because what cannot happen may not be allowed to happen, governments or municipalities leap into the breach and assume the deficit, thus contributing to the risk of public debt.

Yet we are not only building over the mountains with these investments – we are building over our own future. Because all the money that is now being invested in the expansion of ski areas is unavailable for developing sustainable projects that look beyond energy-guzzling, landscape-blighting winter tourism. It is not acceptable that we continue as before simply because we are too blind to imagine a future without skiing! It is time to rethink and plan for a future in the Alps without ski lifts – a future that is based upon collective, holistic principles and regional strategies, as outlined in the CIPRA position paper «Solstice in winter tourism».