The seemingly inexhaustible desire for further, bigger, longer, and higher cableways in the Austrian Tirol and Salzburgerland provinces is to many a distasteful, unquenchable process that will never be sated. The marginal net gains promised by many projects fail to justify the financial outlay but crucially, the environmental scarring of landscapes to facilitate further pistes, and sadly in some cases, mountain-biking tracks, can reflect indifference to the very reason that annually attracts millions of visitors.

Upgrading what is already in situ is certainly a preferable, and more financially and environmentally sustainable route to pursue – as I recently observed at the renovated Schatzberg gondola in Auffach. While this approach is more or less mandatory each decade or so for established lifts, it is the constant, restless search to tack on extra, frivolous additions which shout of greed dressed up as being the next ‘essential’ driver of income into the resort in question. There is also now the issue of “linking” resorts/valleys which isn’t always a bad deal, although it can leave otherwise unmolested mountainsides a lot less wild than was previously the case. Interestingly, some of the much-vaunting linking of ski areas to create something far larger to be covered over a single lift pass, often doesn’t include operations during the summer hiking season; the Inneralpbach connection with the Schatzberg being one such example. I do not understand why even a limited summer timetable, similar to the one operated by Obergurgl-Hochgurgl Wurmkogel/Top Mountain Star gondola and chairlift cannot in such cases be accommodated.

In the rarest of outcomes but which may yet prove only to be a stay of execution, Neustift’s local council have rejected plans to link up the Stubaital resort with the Schlick 2000 ski and hiking area. In heated discussions one councillor attested that for what would be gained by the estimated €19 million project doesn’t justify the “brutal” incursion on the area’s immediate ecosystem. Counter-arguments concentrated on falling numbers of visitors to the Neustift-Stubai region, with tourism being the only realistic revenue-stream for the area. I would personally suggest enlarging capacity on existing lifts, increasing throughput at peak times would generate extra revenue from the sale of lift passes and parking permits, rather than creating something whose benefits to the region are at best, negligible and subjective. It is vital that environmental considerations are flagged up at planning meetings; whether it be agricultural land or upland forests, once they have been sacrificed to development their loss is permanent.

Those who wholly reject the Brexit vote in the UK would like to keep holding referenda until their preferred outcome is secured, and one can eventually see this happening in Neustift. The only area in Austria which comes to mind that has successfully over a long period of time resisted development is the Jamtal, in Galtuer, a wild region with perhaps the biggest grazing cows in the Alps. As though the uncertainties of global warming intensify with each passing season, it is inevitable in years to come that resorts situated at lower altitudes will suffer, and in some cases the ski side of their leisure offering will have to be abandoned altogether. The Tirol, so reliant on all year round tourism will as a consequence need to find ways to drive its winter-sports facilities higher, but the finite limitations of mountains ensures that not even the latest innovations in artificial snow-creation can make up for the ultimate altitudinal end points.

From an outsider who frequently looks in my message is quite simple: work with what you have, rather than risk financial ruin at the expense of the environment, for which, after all, the Tirol relies upon as its USP* to attract the numbers it does. Once saturation point has been breached – in some resorts/valleys this has already been achieved – the synonymous visual appeal will give way to a mesh of cables and an army of pylons as much in-keeping with an area as snow is to the Sahara. In the end, be careful what you wish for.

*Unique Selling Point

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