Opinion: The Massive Austrian Ski Resort Expansion Plan That Could Destroy Glaciers
article written by MRI
28.06.23 | 10:06

Recently, news from the Pitztal and Ötztal valleys in Austria caused a stir among the mountain community. The plan to connect the two valleys and expand each ski resort – dubbed “Europe’s largest glacier ski resort” – was planned for many years. The expansion plans included Mittelberg in Pitztal, across Griestal and up to the Linker Fernerkogel, a mountain with not one, not two, but three glaciers. It was set to be the size of 116 soccer fields, mostly on glaciers.  

Amongst the originally planned construction projects were three new ski lifts, restaurants and bars, a tunnel, an asphalted water reservoir, additional artificial snow systems, more than four kilometres of roads and paths, and much more. Despite this plan being rejected in 2022, revised plans have resurfaced

In Austria, just 7% of the country’s national territory is still in a natural state and free from any technical infrastructure, but this “megaproject” threatens to reduce it even more. Construction of the ski resort could result in potentially destroying a natural glacier landscape beyond repair and cause a total loss of many habitats. The biodiversity that is under threat includes three glaciers, plus springs, streams and rivers, as well as animals such as the ibex, the snow grouse and black grouse, the bearded vulture, and the golden eagle.

Tourism Should Contribute to the Sustainable Development of Natural Landscapes, Not Destroy Them

From an economic point of view, the expansion of ski resorts might bring positive economic benefits, but would this be good for nature? In the past 50 years alone, a lot of mountain environments have changed significantly in their appearance, and in just a few years’ time, several glaciers might be gone for good. The Alliance for the Soul of the Alps, the WWF, the Austrian Alpine Association (Österreichischer Alpenverein) and Naturefriends Austria (Naturfreunde Österreich) joined forces to raise awareness of the rapid decline in natural landscapes in the Alps, and to demand the protection of the last remaining “Alpine open spaces” from the exploitation by landscape-degrading infrastructure, as well as the implementation of a strategic, sustainable landscape management policy for Alpine open spaces. Even outdoor clothing brand Patagonia released a documentary about the controversial plan, named Vanishing Lines, in German with English subtitles.


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The Importance of Mountain Research

There have been many development initiatives to safeguard mountain environments which have succeeded at local scales, but according to Wehrli (2014), “efforts to develop the human, environmental, and economic potential and assets of mountains have remained scattered”. 

Unsustainable, improperly-managed tourism and the expansion of ski resorts can put increasing pressure on mountain resources and the people who live there. Mountain research is more critical now than ever, as it can help us to further understand how tourism in mountain regions could work. It allows policymakers and stakeholders to make much more informed and sustainable decisions in tourism development. Resort operators need to understand that even remote mountainous areas are threatened by human activity and that mountains are very fragile environments, and should continue to be protected. The Ötztal-Pitztal project is a prime example of why resort operators and tourism policymakers need to think perhaps more about putting nature before profit. 


‘Erschließungswelle bedroht Ötztaler Alpen’ – Österreichischer Alpenverein on LinkedIn

Alpine Glaciers Under Attack: Facts About The Megaproject Pitztal-Ötztal

Vanishing Lines – Patagonia

Controversial Plans to Link Pitztal & Soelden Cancelled

Erschließungswelle bedroht Ötztaler Alpen – Verbände fordern Ausweitung des Ruhegebiets 

Earth’s Cathedrals: Europe’s Mountains Are Cultural Heritage, Not Just Natural Heritage

Listening to the song of melting glaciers

Why Mountains Matter for Sustainable Development

Mountain Research to Protect Our Future

Cover image by Aron Marinelli.