Much has changed for the Bovec region of northwestern Slovenia since the cessation of operations in January 2013 of its iconic and eponymous Kanin cableway, precipitated by a near-catastrophic fall to earth of several of its carriages. The reason to this day for the collapse has never been ascertained, or at least been made public.

After several winter seasons of damaging inactivity for the Bovec resort and region the cableway’s reactivation was bankrolled by funds from central government, who were mindful of the economic importance that the highest skiing in Slovenia brought to an area almost entirely reliant upon tourism. Before operations recommenced on the Slovenian side of Kanin the Italian resort of Sella Nevea benefited from its hegemony of the mountain, which saw guests staying in Slovenia being transported over the border; in effect, almost exclusively spending their tourist euros(€) across the frontier. Although by dint of its altitude and status as a vital financial driver for the Bovec region, the government bailout of Kanin’s cableway inevitably drew consternation from other, albeit lower lying, Slovenian resorts desperately in need of their own financial stimuli.

After successful winter and summer seasons back in the fold Kanin’s cableway is seeking European Union funds to further modernize the Slovenian side of its mountain railway infrastructure, coupled with a collaborative aspect of plans to forge greater developmental links with its cross-border counterparts. The cynical side of me would suggest that this tie up represents a path of least resistance to EU funding, predicated on a ticket of cross-border cooperation seen more as a regional stimulus package than a non-competitive act of favouritism towards an individual resort. Dressed up as a friendly alliance between two neighbouring countries rather than a purely commercial proposal, the EU will view such an overture with a not inconsiderable amount of sympathy. It does not facilitate through financial aid commercial schemes that potentially leave it open to accusations of favouritism acquired through blandishments,  contrary to enshrined anti-competitive and anti-graft principles.

The economic development of cross-border regions is broadly a positive aspect of EU membership, albeit contingent that each nation retains through being linked by a common thread its own individual identity. There is little benefit of standing atop Kanin’s 2587 m summit to view on one side a viable, thriving resort as the antithesis to the other. Nevertheless, Slovenia’s legendary commitment to ‘green’ principals must not be compromised or adulterated by potentially differing standards of environmental stewardship over the border. There is much potential for this to work as one project linking two very different countries unified by common topography, albeit with an inherent need to develop both sides sympathetically and without selling out the mountain’s soul.

In effect a special case due to its frontier situation and altitudinal advantages, Kanin will always offer a compelling case for both private investment and centrally-sourced funding. It must though then prove it can stand on its own two feet, and diversify its offering to tourists as the creeping death of global warming inexorably moves ever closer. Preventing further depressingly predictable eyesores attendant to cableway development will be key; neither this, nor any other mountain should have to rely on its winter coat to look its best, and hide a multitude of sins. Although inconsistent with absorbing the territory in question into Slovenia’s highly protective Triglav National Park (TNP), this project should demonstrate best practice of environmental and alpine stewardship, ranking the needs of its endemic ecology ahead of commercial development.

Slovenia must continue to guard against rampant over-development of its precious alpine regions, if only because many of its lower lying resorts will struggle to justify the installation of further winter sports infrastructure in the medium to long term. Austria has in many ways shown the way how to fail to recognize when enough is enough, preferring the ‘just a little more’ attitude to alpine development. Primarily competing against neighbouring resorts and provinces, and in effect itself, rather than fellow mountainous states, Austria’s relentless restlessness is scarring the landscape it so relies upon to attract the guests needed to repay the high cost associated with complex alpine infrastructure projects. A few areas more concerned with a holistic, symbiotic approach do still exist, although the craze for linking ski areas, again in a pseudo cross-region/province/valley attempt to unify rather than compete with, is having the same effect as the insatiable desire to keep on adding to what one already has.

Slovenia must therefore keep at the forefront of its thinking that to attract the sustainable level of guests it desires, requires the very reason for its popularity to be protected, not degraded. A headlong pursuit for increased footfall can in the end put off those for whom the extra facilities are being constructed. There is a very fine balance to be struck, which in a cross-border project can mean different things to each stakeholder. Where there are obvious benefits to trans-border cooperation, sometimes going it alone can in the end be the preferred option. It is though unfortunate that this usually only become obvious once it is too late.

Source material and further information:

Primorske Novice: www.primorske.si/mnenja/komentarji/kanin-gre-v-bruselj

24ur: www.24ur.com/novice/slovenija/bovec-med-25-in-45-milijonov-evrov-za-visokogorsko-smucisce.html

RTV Slovenia: www.rtvslo.si/news-in-english/kanin-ski-resort-to-be-modernised-first-with-a-new-delivery-cableway/468756