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Ski tourism: an insatiable hunger

The expansion and technical development of ski areas is only a short-term solution in the light of climate change. © DAV, Manfred Scheuermann

Gigantic artificial lakes, myriads of snow cannons, secret forest clearances. Ski areas are continuing to expand in all Alpine countries, often using questionable methods and concepts. Below are three examples.

What is the future for winter tourism in the Alps? Scientific studies reckon that skiing is losing the race against global warming. Expansion is nevertheless forging ahead everywhere, not even stopping for protected areas, although the Alpine Convention requires signatory Alpine countries to maintain such areas. The following examples from Italy, Austria and Germany show how the last unspoilt natural areas left in the Alps are being treated – and just how important it is for civil society to get involved.

The Sexten Dolomites: excavators pre-empt the courts

The Italian administrative court has now decided that construction of the Helm-Rotwand ski link in the Dolomites will be permitted, subject to 50 conditions. Prior to the final decision of the court, however, the developers created facts on the ground: in August 2013, during one weekend in the holiday season, ten hectares were cleared of forest in order to pre-empt the court-ordered building freeze, decreed for the following Monday. Environmental organisations and citizens’ movements had criticised the project on the grounds that a natural area and a habitat for rare plants and animals was being destroyed to make way for two new ski pistes and lifts. A single cable car system, without slopes, could also have connected the two ski areas.

Mölltal Glacier: the Alpine Convention shows the way

Can a nature reserve be made smaller for a ski slope? This is the argument in Carinthia, Austria. Investors are planning a 900-bed hotel on the Mölltal Glacier. They aim to invest 90 million euros, but also want to create a downhill run through the two nature reserves of Kleinfragant and Wurten-West. The Nature Conservation Council, referring to the Alpine Convention, has now rejected the planned ski slope. A report by CIPRA Austria claims that the project would be contrary to international law, as protected areas must be preserved as such. Laws cannot simply be changed. The decision of the Nature Conservation Council is in fact binding. Some political parties however, including the People’s Party, as well as the mayors in the Mölltal Valley, want the project to go ahead at all costs.

Sudelfeld: the largest and most controversial expansion in Germany

The expansion of the Sudelfeld ski area, supposedly in the public interest, is going ahead. In mid-April 2014 the authorities approved the construction of an artificial lake together with snow-making facilities in the protected landscape area of Sudelfeld. The lake alone is gigantic, covering an area of 1.5 hectares with a dam height of up to 38 metres, all designed to provide water to over 250 snow cannons. The Bavarian State Government wants to contribute up to 45 million euros. Mountain and environment organisations have criticised the decision as sending the wrong signal for nature conservation and tourism: the investment is short-sighted on account of climate change, while many questions regarding the effects on the water inventory remain unclear. Nor should public money be used to destroy a protected landscape area. The Bund Naturschutz conservation group and the German Alpine Association are therefore petitioning the courts for a construction freeze on the project.

Source and further information: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/bayern/streit-um-skigebiet-gigantische-baumassnahme-soll-zukunft-des-sudelfeld-retten-1.1943883 (de), http://www.alpenverein.de/presse/beschneiung-sudelfeld-klage_aid_14106.html (de), http://www.landesforstdirektion.ktn.gv.at/27987p_DE-ktn.gv.at.?newsid=22568&backtrack=27987 (de), http://kaernten.orf.at/news/stories/2643194/ (de), http://www.forum-bruneck.com/?tag=rotwand (de)

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