Winter sports vrs. Environment

Garmisch-Partenkirchen on the northern edge of the Alps is one of Germany’s favourite winter sport areas. Money is permanently poured in to keep pace with a very competitive tourist industry. The financial power that goes into maintaining and extending skiing areas increases the conflict between commercial interests and the continued existence of an Alpine way of life.

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Garmisch-Partenkirchen lies about 80 kilometres to the south of Munich in the federal German state of Bavaria on its border with Austria. With a population of 30,000 Garmisch-Partenkirchen stands at the foot of the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain, and is a gateway to the Alps.

Its development into a winter sport area began early in the 20th century. The first German skiing club was founded in 1905 and a bobsleigh run was initiated in 1911. Four years after the establishment of the first cable car in 1926 the rack and pinion mountain railway to the top of the Zugspitze was opened. The 1936 Olympic Games saw further developments. In 1978 the Ski World Championships created a subsequent boom in ski enthusiasm and brought a successive extension of ski areas and ski lifts. There are now 5 separate ski areas around Garmisch.

Of these only the high glacier areas can guarantee snow. The rest of the ski areas lie under the 2,000 meter line. 6,000 tourists a day get to the summit of the Zugspitze. The infrastructure of the Zugspitze with its restaurants, bars, cinemas, ski lifts and ski hire and its meteorological stations have turned what was a high Alpine ecological system into into a confined tourist playground. The changing use of the Zugspitze is an extreme example of overdevelopment in the Alps.

There is no comparison between the high skiing regions of the Austrian section of the Zugspitze area and those of Garmisch-Partenkirchen which has tried to remain competitive by extending their ski runs below 1,500 metres. They hope that their bid to host the Skiing World Championships in 2009 will bring investment and improve their image. 10 million Euro invested in a new cable car system is the first step in the new development of this ski region. Instead of 200 skiers an hour they are hoping for 1500.

But at altitudes of 800 to 1500 metres the effects of global warming are already perceptible. The reason is the shortage of snow. The money required to maintain winter sports is high risk investment and if it fails the well-being of the town is threatened. 2003 saw the first ski area closed down for lack of snow and visitors. 80% of Garmisch-Partenkirchen’s economy depends upon tourism. In summer they get 70%. If new development concentrates on ski areas it will destroy the natural beauty of the rest of the area and the summer tourists will stay away. As an alternative solution there are now plans for hiking, rambling and wellness programmes.

The loss of the fauna through over extensive development and the threat of erosion from unchecked water flow threatens the area. But on the gentler side of tourism those with ecological loyalties take a positive view of the future of the Garmisch-Partenkirchen landscape and its development because of the present day active involvement of conservationists.
Goethe-Institut e. V. 2003
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