The new General Secretary of the Austrian Alpine Club, Clemens Matt, recently made a bold statement which will resonate with those seeking to install more and further infrastructure in the mountains of Carinthia, Salzburgerland, and the Tirol, suggesting that every mountain does’t need a cableway, nor a connection between neighbouring valleys.
As winters shorten and a quest intensifies to break virgin ground higher in the Alps as Climate Change chases the ongoing viability of snow sports to loftier altitudes, the pockmarking of mountainscapes with pylons, storage ponds, and new, not modernized lifts is becoming more difficult to justify.
On the face of it there is an argument that appears valid which suggests it is unfair that valleys such as the Pitztal have comparatively missed out on the riches enjoyed by neighbouring municipalities, and who only want to ‘level up’ the playing field to enable greater recreational choice and employment opportunities. This is though a rather specious way of vindicating that many wrongs equal a right, and whilst some areas have benefited from shortsighted decision making that has so often turned a blind eye to aesthetic, environmental, and Global Warming sensibilities, that does not mean that a greater cognizance of and concern for green issues should be disregarded just so other alpine areas can ‘catch up’ with those where the die has already been cast.
A proposal to add yet another lift to an already saturated Stubai valley was referenced by Matt, and Green Party politician Gebi Mair, who stated a belief that the desecration of such beautiful surroundings cannot be justified for a project that will not add any value to the Stubaital’s tourism offer, which if anything could be compromised by negative press of yet another comparatively untouched mountain being sacrificed for no obvious good reason.
There is also the issue of will the proposed lift ‘improvements’ attract more visitors or just thin out existing or declining numbers over a larger area? The Schlick area of the Stubaital is only expected to increase piste coverage by 11%, hardly reflective of blue sky thinking that will revolutionize winter sports in the valley, nor justification for the significant upheaval of what is another pristine setting viewed only as a euro(€) metaphor than for what it really is.
Alternative uses for the project’s budget, a combined amount of €35 million – €16 million to upgrade the Elfer area of the Stubaital; €19 million for a new connection to the Schlick – include for it to be spent on more sustainable projects such as cycle paths – with an emphasis on connecting to the Inn Valley. These and other soft-tourism initiatives are not to their critics where the real money can be made, but placing hope and faith in shiny new edifices and terrain-conquering cableways being an admittedly very expensive answer to securing the Stubai valley’s financial future does not take into account that by doing so there is a real risk of defacing the Tirol’s ultimate selling point.
There comes a point where interacting with the mountains and nature can only go so far by utilizing artificial means to do so, after which diminishing psychological returns become apparent as the scarred landscapes engender negative emotions that override ones the would otherwise correlate with the Alps’ raw, rugged, and natural beauty.
As man continues to attempt to tame his natural surroundings in pursuit of a few dollars more, the short and long term implications of disturbance to nature and from a financial perspective just how will such schemes pay for themselves as winters shorten, even at higher altitudes, still seem lost upon those who are hellbent on keeping up with the other valleys who have long since made their respective beds. It will be more to the credit of those pursuing such a path if they can put pride and greed aside to do the math as to how sustainable, soft tourism can instead be harnessed to maximum effect. It may not have the glamour and bombast of announcing big money cableway projects, but realistically it is the only viable way forward for the Alps.
It will take an individual high up in Austrian regional or national government to announce the death to future big projects in its Alps, assuming anyone has the boldness and courage to do so. That is something many will wish for, but not hold their breath in anticipation of actually happening. There is more than enough infrastructure in situ to supply the needs of winter sports’ and hiking aficionados, but such a restless arms race tacitly taking place between resorts, regions, and across frontiers says otherwise.
There will be a post-Covid stampede to the mountains as there will be to other types of holiday destination, but once the initial frenzy has subsided it will be the default alpine traits of calmness, peace, and communing with nature that so many have missed which will become more important than ever. More cables, steel, and bulldozed mountainsides will not be looked upon kindly, but viewed as destructive and outmoded thinking.
It is time to take an alternative route to alpine sustainability where its inhabitants can still prosper, but it will take a collective leap of faith and an acceptance that the party must be over for projects that fly in the face of logic, financial reason, and the inexorably approaching climate emergency.
Source material and further information:
Tiroler Tageszeitung: http://www.tt.com/artikel/17883422/neustift-stellt-weichen-fuer-neue-seilbahn-in-die-schlick and http://www.tt.com/artikel/17913466/mair-gruene-zu-stubaier-seilbahnplaenen-zu-schoen-fuer-eine-seilbahn