Dachstein Gletscherbahn Ramsau, the company operating the lifts on the Dachstein Glacier, announced on September 15 that the glacier would not open for skiing or boarding this ski season. Following the below-average snowfall last season and extreme heat in the summer, the glacier was deemed unsafe for snowsport operations. Whether skiing can ever resume is currently uncertain.
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The Dachstein Glacier is located in the Austrian region of Styria, or Steiermark as it is called in German. The area is located about 90 minutes southeast of Salzburg. The Dachstein Glacier is part of the greater Schladming-Dachstein area, which operates several alpine resorts, cross-country skiing, and ski jumping. Schladming is famous for holding the men’s FIS World Cup Night Slalom every year.
The Dachstein Glacier is open year-round for exploring and features a hanging bridge, ice palace, hiking trails, and a skywalk viewing platform. The glacier used to offer summer skiing in an area situated between 7,428 feet (2,264m) and 8,858 feet (2,700m) of altitude. It was a popular athlete training venue, but this was abandoned six years ago. The glacier ski area typically would open early in the season and offer essential training for athletes in September and early October. This will be the first time in its history that the glacier will not open for skiing or boarding.
The decision to not open for the 22/23 season was made due to the extreme snow and ice melt, causing massive instabilities across the glacier area. Crevasses have opened up, and some parts have collapsed. The area has been deemed unsafe for winter sports. Lifts will remain open for sightseeing and exploring some of their year-round attractions, but this is also subject to heated discussions in the local Styria government.
Lambert Schönleitner, member of the Austrian Greens party and on the Styria parliament, said “It is not appropriate in this day and age to present our glacier in a ‘Disney’-fashion and spend enormous amounts of energy to operate the air conditioning to keep the ‘ice palace’ going, while we ask the general population to conserve power and have cold showers. It is counter-productive and endangers sustainable tourism in the Styria region. Nobody wants to cancel tourism, but the positioning of the Dachstein area has to align with the concept of climate change.”
Dachstein Gletscherbahn Ramsau has stated they will re-assess the situation for the 23/24 season. Given the shocking state of the glacier, it seems near impossible to restart operations when the glaciers are deteriorating at unprecedented speed.
The huge cracks and crevasses that have appeared all over the glacier and the unstable, soft snow make any activity on the glacier dangerous. Local mountain guide Hans Prugger posted scary videos on his Instagram account of large chunks of the glacier just having collapsed several hundred feet. He warns people only to head out if they are experts and to come well equipped.
It is excruciating to watch the European glaciers disappearing before our eyes, and we can only hope that a way can be found to preserve these monuments of nature.
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