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Tourism after the ski lift

Ski touring instead of the hustle and bustle on the slopes of the Dobratsch/A: where once there were ski slopes, there is now a nature park. © Michael Gams, CIPRA International

Milder and milder winters are forcing ski resorts to invest in expensive snowmaking and lift facilities – an arms race in which many are no longer able to compete. Some places in the Alps have already found alternatives to skiing.

In Italy, according to a recent report by the environmental organisation Legambiente, 132 ski resorts have already closed down and 133 are temporarily closed. The Slovenian Cableway Association has lost half its members within a decade and, after two mild winters in a row, many ski resorts there are facing closure. The Dobratsch, a 2,166-metre high mountain at the gates of the Alpine town of Villach/A, shows how things could go. The ski lifts there were dismantled over 15 years ago and a nature park established. Ski tour groups ascend along the old piste, nature park rangers offer guided winter hikes, families meet to toboggan in the snow, cross-country skiers do their rounds. In Gaissau-Hintersee near Salzburg/A, meanwhile, the ski lifts have been out of operation for two years because the promised cash injection from a Chinese investor never came. A ski touring paradise with signposted routes and open ski huts is now to be created here – similar to the Sattelberg in Tyrol/A, where the last ski lifts were dismantled in 2006.

More than just winter sports

In 2012, the French Alpine community of Le Biot decided to dismantle its ski lifts at Col du Corbier. Since then, the area has developed into a year-round outdoor destination, offering ski touring, tobogganing and cross-country skiing, as well as trail running, Nordic walking and mountain biking. Support for marketing and equipment rental comes from a sporting goods manufacturer that wants to establish itself outside of skiing. In Switzerland, too, the ski resort on the Stockhorn had to close 14 years ago. The main reason was climate change, an urgently needed renovation was too expensive, and the resort was running at a loss. The gondola lift is now running again and is back in the black, because the Stockhorn has recently started to advertise itself as a barrier-free mountain for excursions with wheelchair-accessible hiking trails. "Pioneers like these have recognised the signs of the times", says Christian Baumgarter, a lecturer in Tourism and Leisure at the Grisons University of Applied Sciences and Vice-President of CIPRA International. "In future they will also be ahead economically because they operate in the market with a clear profile". Others will have to follow suit, Baumgartner said. A trend that is now also being followed by the Riedberger Horn in Germany: instead of another ski resort, a centre for sustainable tourism is currently being built there.

 

Sources and further information:

www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/09/seduced-abandoned-tourism-and-climate-change-the-alps, www.liberation.fr/voyages/2019/11/15/les-stations-de-ski-font-le-pari-du-grand-saut_1763635 (fr), www.tt.com/artikel/30714159/alpenverein-fordert-umdenken-starke-stimme-gegen-groessere-skigebiete (de), https://weserreport.de/2019/02/events/reise/schneewandern-am-sanften-dobratsch/ (de), https://salzburg.orf.at/stories/3015397/ (de), www.augsburger-allgemeine.de/bayern/Erlebniszentrum-am-Riedberger-Horn-Jetzt-geht-es-los-id56670351.html (de), www.sonntagsblatt.de/artikel/bayern/wie-der-klimawandel-den-druck-auf-die-skigebiete-im-bayerischen-wald-erhoeht (de), www.tirol.at/lovetirol/sattelbergalm (de), www.naturparkdobratsch.at (de)