Thousands of people took to the streets of Innsbruck, Austria, on Friday to protest the planned destruction of a glacier to connect the Pitztal Glacier and Ötztal Glacier ski resorts in Tyrol, Austria.
The plans involve exploding and removing more than 750,000 cubic metres of snow, rock and ice from the mountainside to create new ski slopes and services, reports the Daily Telegraph.
A petition with more than 168,000 signatures and printed on a 60-foot roll was handed to the Tyrol state government.
“For only five additional ski slopes, the ski resort operators want to block three untouched glaciers. In doing so, they are destroying the unique high-alpine natural landscape, which is already threatened by global warming. That’s negligent and we want to prevent that.”
– Gerd Estermann, the petition organiser
Supporters of the plan have been trying to win its approval since 2019, while the Alpine Association Austria, nature lovers, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are demanding that the development be stopped immediately. At a 2019 press conference in Innsbruck, the local Alpine and nature conservation associations criticized the ecological short-sightedness of the project’s plans. Animal species that would put at risk include the ibex, chamois, ptarmigan and black grouse, bearded vulture, golden eagle, mountain hare, and marmot, adds the Telegraph.
The Pitztal-Ötztal glacier complex plans to level an area the size of 90 football fields (64 hectares) on wild, rugged glacier landscape to form ski slopes. For the construction of new buildings, two football fields (1.6 hectares) are to be removed from glacial ice. The mega-project has already begun, with bulldozers in the process of destroying an original glacier and high alpine landscape to create a new ski area in favor of mass tourism. Excavators are digging up the glacier ice for snow groomers to distribute the snow to create slopes for the coming winter season.
“In the neighboring ski areas you can already see what the pristine glacier mountain is threatening: an annual major construction site, where tourism works against nature instead of with it. In addition to a courageous climate and environmental policy, we need an effective glacier protection, which is implemented without exception.”
– WWF expert Josef Schrank
Only seven percent of Austria’s territory today is largely natural and undeveloped. But the use and development pressure on these particularly valuable, last alpine open spaces, is greater than ever. For prestige projects such as the Pitztal-Ötztal glacier, the precious landscape is being destroyed forever.
“The installation of pristine glacier wilderness with energy-consuming infrastructure is emblematic of Austria’s failed climate and environmental policy: Instead of holistically looking at the major challenges of our time – climate crisis, biodiversity crisis and surface pollution – and at all levels, there is a negligent shortsightedness on the part of the decision makers.”
The dredging and paving of a reservoir, the construction of buildings, cable cars, paths, and slopes will inevitably mean the total loss of valuable alpine habitats. For the construction of the mountain station, even a summit will be removed. Water drains for technical snowmaking, crossings and piping threaten to worsen the condition of natural waters.
Without comprehensive climate protection measures and further increasing global warming, all glaciers in the Alps could have largely disappeared by 2100. Therefore, instead of new tourist infrastructure, more comprehensive protection for alpine regions is needed, write the associations.
“It is incomprehensible why such destruction is accepted. The glaciers melt away under our feet. At the same time, pristine streams are being used to snow glacier ski areas and reservoirs have been built.”
– Robert Renzler, Secretary-General Austrian Alpine Club
With almost 3,000 cable cars and lifts, Austria is in second only to France for ski infrastructure, and ahead of the USA.