It what I regard as an appalling visual assault and that upon nature the Tirolean Wildschoenau valley has unveiled the first feature of its Drachental Freizeitpark, an alpine coaster.

In what is a grim irony a valley whose name otherwise correctly translates as ‘wild and beautiful’ has had such a scheme thrust upon it by those who completely miss the point as to why visitors seek solace from everyday life in such peaceful, and generally undeveloped surroundings.

It is though its relatively undeveloped nature which has stirred the restless beast within the progenitors of what is called a theme park, but is situated in Oberau, a small village. For all the astonishingly bad historic planning decisions in the UK and those currently being effectuated in it it is nevertheless difficult to imagine that even Boris’ mantra to ‘build, build, build’ and the worst excesses of the National Planning Policy Framework(NPPF) would site a theme park in an upland village. There is though in Austria, in particular within the Tirol and neighbouring Salzburgerland a restive characteristic that seeks to push and push for alpine valleys and even glacial landscapes to ‘pay their way’ by receiving more and more schemes of man predicated on bringing in further guests, and/or captivate existing visitors, designed to extricate their tourist euros(€ ).

From creating connected pistes with neighbouring resorts linked by a sobering network of cableways, pylons, and associated infrastructure that often includes the ability to produce artificial snow, arguably the most divisive of all of humanity’s violence against the Alps, the mountains are seen as fair game by many to become a playground that does not harmonize with its surroundings, but if anything is becoming more at odds with them.

There appears to be little indication that the penny will drop any time soon, that creating more and more incongruous attractions will undermine the reasons that attract so many visitors to such spectacular and fragile surroundings. So much that has occurred within the tourism sector was initially based upon a realization that otherwise impoverished alpine valleys could transform the lives of many of its citizens by opening up the ‘soft exploration’ of their respective regions, placing an emphasis on extolling the natural virtues of the landscape for hikers and winter sports enthusiasts. This though has never quite been enough, and when other resorts/valleys found alternative ways to line their pockets an alpine arms race ensued, as competition for tourists was exemplified by a quest for greater innovation, and which pushed architectural boundaries and eventually, those of taste – often the consequence of financially priorities overriding all other pertinent sensibilities.

Aside from perhaps the Pitztal, which from its desire to develop a highly controversial link with the Oetztal above Soelden is seeking to ‘catch up’ with most other areas within alpine Austria that have taken full advantage to a point of going beyond their respective saturation points, there are probably few other places that have ‘escaped’ overdevelopment, be that through choice or by dint of a remote and inaccessible location. The principal for development had therefore been set and executed in most regions, where what are now established pistes and mountain railways have brought prosperity to many. Where though income may become steady rather than being exemplars of exponential growth, an extra edge is often sought that can often reflect an absence of any further suitable ideas being left to bring to bear, instead replaced by what can be controversial proposals that go too far in the minds of many, but inexplicably get the go ahead. I therefore offer the Wildschoenau’s Drachental Freizeitpark as exhibit A.

The recently opened alpine coaster following a successful test event represents the worst possible attempt to blend a man-made scheme with an alpine landscape. Although winter sports infrastructure is invariably ugly a white winter coat can do wonders for hiding its multitude of sins. There are though few hiding places for a contortion of stilted metal whose unwieldy turns return participants on high back to civilization not close to but still too near Oberau’s excellent Hotel Tirolerhof. Of course, there is more to the Wildschoenau than just Oberau but that is not the point; there was absolutely no justification for it to ‘take one for the team’ whilst protesting that there is still plenty of the valley left for those who arrive for its pristine landscape and remoteness. There was a never an appropriate location within the valley for this attraction and its other component parts at various stages of construction, but this is perhaps the most cynical and inappropriate site imaginable. Transformed from peaceful, uninterrupted pasture and nursery ski slopes into its antithesis, it is as if the area was targeted to provoke the ire and disquiet of those who would see this for what it really is.

A view of the lower reaches of the alpine coaster, where it joins the rest of the Drachental Freizeitpark. Picture courtesy of the Hotel Tirolerhof’s webcam, as viewed through the Bergfex portal.

Tourism income is heavily relied upon in the Tirol, but of course many will have become accustomed to living to a certain standard on the strength of the winter sports industry and to some degree, the summer months hiking season. With an increased uncertainty of how long winter sports can operate in its current form in the face of the very real threat of Climate Change, it is inevitable that alternative revenue streams will be needed to but I cannot state it enough: if all reasonable ideas for sympathetic recreational developments have been exhausted, it is to schemes similar to that is now in the Wildschoenau which will be turned to. It is frankly insufficient justification and specious reasoning to suggest that there is nothing to do for young people on the Wildschoenau side of Woergl: I believe this scheme was dreamed up and approved of by dint of the countless precedents constructed elsewhere, leaving little justification for objection by those who reject the notion that less is more, instead favouring enough is ‘just a little more’.

It was unrealistic for me to expect that the Wildschoenau would be immune to the remorseless blandishments of those who emphatically reject that any developments within the Alps must be of the highest aesthetic quality, and not alter a landscape so far beyond its original, natural state. As with many attractions and new housing developments it will be built and they, the people, will come, but would anyone miss it if it weren’t there? I think we all know the answer to that.

Source material and further information:

Tiroler Tageszeitung:

Mein Bezirk: