Winter sports at any price: guns against climate change

So far, the sports industry is resisting global warming. The ski resorts of the Alps are increasingly becoming amusement parks, thanks in part to snow cannons.

Picturesque CO2 slinger: snow cannon on the Fellhorn near Oberstdorf. Photo: dpa

Snow has finally fallen on the Zugspitze. But the extremely dry November is still having an effect. At Germany’s highest ski resort, the only one on a glacier, the lifts are still at a standstill. The opening party planned for November 27 had to be canceled. There was too little snow.

The operators of the lifts from the Zugspitzbahn now hope that it can start in the coming week, otherwise the next party will also have to be canceled. December 18 is Children’s Day at German ski resorts. The Association of German Cable Cars invites everyone who is not yet 16 to ride a lift for free – a present for tomorrow’s customers. But will there even be a tomorrow in view of climate change?

Only about 100 kilometers southwest of the Zugspitze, people are not worrying about that at the moment. There is plenty of snow in Ischgl in Tyrol. Not in the town with its 1,500 residents and more than 10,000 guest beds, the snow is where winter sports enthusiasts need it, on the slopes. About 900 snow cannons have made snow in the Silvretta Arena.

18,000 people came to the season opening on the day the Garmisch opening party was canceled, and let the Swedish pop duo Roxette get them in the mood. A day ski pass costs 41 euros, which includes 4.50 euros for the snow-making equipment, according to Silvrettabahn AG. The artificial winter is not to be had for free.

Nature sports and environmental protection

"It’s certainly extreme," says Thomas Urban, the main shareholder of the German Alpine Association. On the one hand, his association is recognized as a nature conservation organization; on the other, it sees itself as a sports organization. The fact that these two areas are sometimes difficult to reconcile manifested itself not least in Munich and Garmisch-Partenkirchen’s bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

While many environmental associations that initially worked on an environmental concept for the Games ended up rejecting the bid altogether, the DAV stayed on board until the end. "That was a test of endurance for us," Urban recalls. Many members, he says, left the DAV because of its commitment to the Olympics. Urban still believes it was right not to have rejected the application.

He still believes that a "symbiosis" of nature sports and environmental protection is possible. This is one of the reasons why he is involved in an association of stakeholders from sports, politics and business called the "Sport and Nature" board of trustees. In addition to sports politicians, associations for divers, paragliders and canoeists are working on the future viability of their sports in times of climate change. They also see their function in documenting changes in nature triggered by climate change.

Urban reports on cracks in the mountain huts operated by the DAV, which were once built on permafrost. The ground is thawing, and so, for example, the highest DAV hut, the Brandenburger Haus, which stands at an altitude of 3,277 meters in the otztal Alps, is moving more and more. When the ice that holds the boulders on the north faces of the high Alps melts, mountaineers have to deal with massive rockfall more and more often.

Good mood advertising

Many northern routes have long since become impassable. Mountaineers are staying away from them. Only skiers, driven by lavish feel-good advertising by the equipment industry, continue to flock to the Alps, where winter resorts like Ischgl are firing snow cannons to combat climate change.

There are no such gigantic ski resorts in the Bavarian Alps. But even in this country, the production of artificial snow has long been taken for granted. It wasn’t always that way. "Fifteen years ago, we were still against snow cannons," recalls Thomas Urban. They were downright frowned upon back then. For years, no new plants were approved in Bavaria.

That has long since changed. Massive encroachments on nature are accepted in order to be able to guarantee snow. Plans are currently underway to excavate a gigantic lake at 1,300 meters above sea level at Brauneck, a ski resort popular with Munich’s millionaires for day trips, to store water for snow production.

The responsible municipality of Lenggries wants the giant pond with a capacity of 100 million liters at all costs. "This is the only way we can remain competitive," says Lenggries Mayor Werner Weindl. Conservationists are outraged. Friends of the mountain world, who have joined the activists of the "Mountain Wilderness" group, are organizing demos and actions not only at Brauneck. Their motto: "No Funpark Alps!"

Important for the German ski industry

The German Alpine Association also sees itself in a mediating role here and has to watch how the sporting goods industry seduces people to do sports in the mountains with ever new ideas. Their hobby not only interferes with nature when they ski on artificial snow.

Once there is natural snow, more and more skiers push their way onto slopes away from the groomed runs and enter areas where no one normally goes in winter. With new map material, the Alpine Club tries to guide skiing enthusiasts on the right path through the mountains – not always with success. Less than 70 kilometers from Munich, around the Rotwand at Spitzing, says Thomas Urban, the "pressure has almost become too great."

The sporting goods manufacturers are the main beneficiaries of this. They, too, are members of the Board of Trustees for Sport and Nature through the Federal Association of the German Sporting Goods Industry and try to articulate their interests there. Nature lovers, on the other hand, often have a hard time. How did Eurosport presenter Guido Heuber comment on Garmisch skier Fritz Dopfer’s sensational third place in the World Cup giant slalom in Beaver Creek a week ago? "This is so important for the German ski industry." Exactly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *