Austria Glacier development blocked

Public vote blocks project dubbed ‘glacier marriage’ to join Otztal-Pitztal glacier resorts

One high Alpine mountain area in the Tirol is saved from development as conservation groups and locals rally against a planned ski resort expansion that would see the high glacier resorts of Sölden in Ötztal and Pitztal joined.

“The Pitztal-Ötztal merger project that has been planned since 2016 and has now been shut down,” said the Pitztaler Gletscherbahnen in a broadcast on Sunday afternoon.

It was set to be ‘Europe’s largest contiguous glacier ski resort’, stretching from Mittelberg in Pitztal over Griestal up to the Linker Fernerkogel – a pristine mountain with three glaciers. Opponents of the glacier merger criticise the irreparable damage to nature and wild places; advocates prioritise economic aspects.

If successful, the expansion was to include three new lifts with 4km of pathway, blasting and removing 72 ha of glacier terrain (750,000m³ of rocks soil and ice) over 120,000m³ (116 football fields).

The result of local referendum was announced on 17 July, blocking the project. The outcome is backed by organisations including the WWF, the Austrian Alpine Association (Österreichischer Alpenverein), Naturefriends Austria (Naturfreunde Österreich) and the Alliance for the Soul of the Alps.

The announcement comes with the hottest weather ever recorded in the UK, and follows a succession of glacier ski resorts closing early for summer – or not opening at all – due to glacier conditions (more below). The climate disaster is palpable.

Questions are raised: How many ski areas do we need? And what’s a future without wild glaciers?

This agenda is featured in Patagonia’s short film Vanishing Lines, telling the story of these last wild places on the brink of destruction and the movement to protect what we still can; These are the questions brought up in Patagonia’s film.

(c) Allianz für die Seele der Alpen

Tignes, usually open for 365 days of snow sports year, managed just one week of summer skiing this year. Its neighbour resort Val d’Isère decided not to open for summer skiing at all this year. Les 2 Alpes stopped operations early on 10th July.

Austria’s Kitzsteinhorn glacier also closed earlier than expected and the Mölltal glacier didn’t open at all. This leaves only Hintertux, the Zermatt-Cervinia glacier and Passo Stelvio open for skiing.

Sölden in the Ötztal Valley, which hosts the World Cup season openers, is a former year-round ski resort. In an attempt to preserve the snow, Sölden is covered in reflective matting.

It’s likely that at the end of summer the glaciers will likely look very different than before. The Saharan dust that swept through Europe in March has no doubt exacerbated the problem of melting snow by absorbing more heat and speeding thaw.

According to Save Our Snow, “European summer glacier skiing access peaked in the 1980s with a total of 50 resorts; by 2000, this number declined to 40.” Today, during a hot summer and following a winter of low snowfall, just a handful are operating.