A proposal to substantially invest in Slovenia’s Pohorje ski resort highlights the need for lower-lying areas reliant upon winter sports income to diversify their business models, in the face of the very real threat posed by global warming.

In the east of the country Pohorje is in effect the playground for the Mariborcani, much in the same way the Tirol’s Patscherkofel draws in skiers and hikers from nearby Innsbruck. Topping out at barely over 1,300 metres the massif can suffer from a lack of natural snow or conversely too much, although the frustrations of countless winter bluebird days above green slopes are becoming more commonplace with each passing year. Local climatic vicissitudes have plunged the future of the traditional annual Golden Fox slalom events held as part of the women’s FIS Ski World Cup schedule into doubt, when autumnal temperatures prevent the production of artificial snow. Quite simply, Maribor, and Pohorje’s operator, Marprom, can no longer justify styling the area as purely a winter sports destination when the basic rudiments needed are often in short supply, or nonexistent.

Already a well known location for mountain biking there are though limited year-round financial opportunities to be gained from a pursuit not universally popular with the alpine fraternity. A brand new mid station, presumably at Bolfenk, for the current but proposed to be upgraded cableway would though enable cycling to continue at lower reaches during the winter, although an obsession with mountain biking similar to what has occurred in Saalbach-Hinterglemm must be cautioned against. From economic and skiing perspectives the construction of a gondola mid station would be advantageous should conditions higher up the mountain not be suitable for racing, although if there is a lack of snow at altitude there will be even less so halfway down an already low-lying piste.

In alpine resorts where the production of artificial snow is permitted the presence of man-made water reservoirs to feed the cannons are depressing but increasingly commonplace sights. Lacking the dramatic engineering expertise of a stausee* or organic beauty of a tarn these simulated lagoons are relatively small but disproportionately blazon man’s hand at work in area’s all the more tarnished by winter sports infrastructure. Without the protective aegis of a national park there are few restrictions on building the generic wherewithal consistent with the production of artificial snow, but should ski resorts situated at far higher altitudes than Pohorje keep bringing their winter opening time forward, the only way to guarantee suitable conditions is to give Mother Nature a helping hand.

Only 200 kilometres separate the northwestern frontier ski resort of Bovec-Kanin from Pohorje and although ambitions and respective elevations of these two Slovenian winter sports stalwarts are world’s apart, some similarities are apparent. The abrupt cessation of operations in 2013 of Mount Kanin’s eponymous cableway sent shock waves through a region heavily reliant on revenue generated by the country’s highest skiing, with causation of why several of its carriages, thankfully empty, fell to earth, still to be established. Recognizing the crucial nature of its operation to the area and to prevent further economic damage of guests staying in Bovec but being bussed to Sella Nevea, the Italian side of Kanin, Slovenian central government intervened with a rescue package to bring the gondola, and associated infrastructure, back on stream. Governmental intervention was seen as giving Bovec an unfair advantage over Slovenia’s other struggling ski resorts who now expected the same kind of leg-up, but the importance attached to a fully functioning gondola in Bovec cannot be underestimated and as by far representing the highest skiing in the country, and in theory the most insulated against the onset of climate change, the government fiscal stimulus package amounts to a sound investment.

Just as Pohorje is now seeking to take further, albeit expensive steps to upgrade and diversify, Bovec itself has drawn up a proposal to rejuvenate what is functioning but tired infrastructure. It would not be unrealistic for Pohorje to feel aggrieved that its larger counterpart is utilizing its position, in this case from a geographical perspective, to potentially leverage a grant from the European Union(EU) to realize its ambitions. At the risk of violating anti-graft and anti-competitive rules the EU does not routinely hand out money to resorts on the basis of improving tourism. If it did it for one, the theory goes it would have to provide for all. Where though Bovec has been able to find a loophole is by attaching cross border cooperation with Sella Nevea, both economically and socially, to its application. Such a state of oneness between European Union members countries will appeal to Brussels, and mirror the principals of commonality enshrined within the Schengen Agreement. Without central government and EU handouts Pohorje can expect few favours from elsewhere and will have to go it alone, with finance being sought through loans and access to a fund controlled by Slovenian bank SID Banka, for expressed use within tourist investment programmes.

Diversification and an acknowledgment that standing still will sound the death knell for resorts situated at lower elevations are vital for areas like Pohorje. The task of sympathetically melding the country’s green principals, of which Slovenia are rightly proud, with commercial realities of the development process will present not only a logistical but ideological challenge that must not compromise best environmental practice in pursuit of financial returns.

Source material and further information:

The Slovenia Times: www.sloveniatimes.com/ambitious-investment-plan-confirmed-for-maribor-s-pohorje-hill

  • Stausee: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stausee