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Winter sports: Does the ski season have to start in October?

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Page 1 — Does the ski season have to start in October?

Page 2 — “Already blinded by greed for profit”

Austria has just experienced an October with record heat. Last week in Vienna people were still running around in T-shirts, now the Ski World Cup starts in Austria on Saturday. In Sölden, Tyrol, first the women and then the men compete in the giant slalom. In Sölden this week you saw a familiar picture again: a white stripe in the middle of a gray-brown rocky landscape. Now it snowed from Thursday to Friday and it looks the way the organizers would like it to look. But a fundamental problem remains.

The start of the World Cup in Sölden is a tradition; it has been taking place there for more than 20 years. It’s supposed to drive people to the ski slopes. The message: Look, summer is over, get on your skis. There are currently holidays in Austria, which certainly doesn’t hurt tourism. But winter doesn’t strictly adhere to this schedule. Last year, the start of the World Cup had to be canceled due to a lack of snow, but the plan was to ski around the 4,478 meter Matterhorn, which is supposedly snow-sure. This new departure has now been moved to November.

The races in Sölden can take place this time. However, excavators had to go to the Rettenbach glacier in the summer to do this. In September, Greenpeace published a report saying that ice had been being removed with excavators since April in order to straighten the slope and make it passable. According to Greenpeace, explosions have even been carried out. When asked by ZEIT ONLINE, the organizer wrote that “normal renovation measures” were necessary “due to the retreat of the glaciers (which unfortunately we cannot do anything about)”. “Rock ribs were exposed (…) in order to be able to prepare the slopes for skiers in a more resource-saving and sustainable manner in the future.”

Glacier researcher Rainer Prinz works at the University of Innsbruck, less than 100 kilometers from Sölden. He saw the pictures of the excavators on the glacier and they didn’t surprise him. “We know what is necessary in ski areas to maintain them. In this case, to make a spectacle possible,” he says.

The question is: Does it harm a glacier if an excavator works on it? Prinz says that, strictly speaking, this individual event does nothing to the glacier, but immediately adds: “In truth, it is still wrong. Because it is symptomatic of the economy of the glacier business as usual.”

There are five glaciers in Tyrol, all of which are strictly protected. You can’t just dig around on them. But the glacier ski areas are exempt from this regulation. Anyone who has a permit can intervene in nature.

This is necessary because the Rettenbach glacier, like all glaciers in Austria, has been melting for many years. The skiing legend Ted Ligety, the former master of the curves, described it as a lunar landscape in 2018. And because the glacier is getting smaller and smaller, work has to be done on it year after year in order to be able to build a ski slope on it.

Austria has just experienced an October with record heat. Last week in Vienna people were still running around in T-shirts, now the Ski World Cup starts in Austria on Saturday. In Sölden, Tyrol, first the women and then the men compete in the giant slalom. In Sölden this week you saw a familiar picture again: a white stripe in the middle of a gray-brown rocky landscape. Now it snowed from Thursday to Friday and it looks the way the organizers would like it to look. But a fundamental problem remains.

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