Anyone who calls Mayor Helmut Knaus these days will meet someone who is not surprised. “I can imagine it,” he says in greeting. And indeed the excitement is great right now, not only in his community Philippsreut and in the surrounding Bavarian Forest. Because the local ski area Mitterdorf is to be expanded for 20 million euros, which not everyone thinks as well as Knaus does. On the phone, however, he first applies the brakes. So far there have only been “rough drafts,” he says of the plans, “now you have to talk through everything.”
The topic has actually been discussed for years, in different places with similar ingredients. Put simply, it looks like this: A ski resort wants to build new lifts at great expense. On the one hand there are city hall and business representatives who see the expansion as a safeguard for the location – on the other hand locals and nature conservationists who want to take green paths into the future. And because the whole thing often involves millions of state subsidies, the state government and the opposition also have a say.
Four-seaters instead of drag lifts, six-seaters instead of double chairs and a fly-line as a summer attraction
These ingredients are also present in the case of Mitterdorf. The ski area in the Freyung-Grafenau district, which is particularly popular with families, is one of the smaller ones in Bavaria, with a few slopes and lifts. The highest point is the Almberg at 1139 meters. The expansion plans envisage replacing the double chairlift with a six-seater and one of the T-bar lifts with a four-seater chairlift. In addition, a “Fly Line”, a kind of zip line, is under discussion as a summer attraction. According to Mayor Knaus, the demands of the guests have changed, there is no way around modernization. He hopes to be able to keep added value in the region: Whether hoteliers, bakers, butchers or carpenters, everyone depends on tourism.
Criticism of the plans comes, among other things, from the local department of the Bund Naturschutz. The snow cannons are already running on the Almberg. The area has to struggle time and again with water scarcity and falling groundwater levels, warns the conservationist Antje Laux on Bavarian radio: In 2015, for example, the situation was so bad that “water had to be transported in tankers”. And the State Office for the Environment, in its most recent “Climate Report Bavaria”, generally promises a rather bleak, because non-white, future for the low mountain range regions. Climate change is already being felt there; the ski areas “have to expect a decline in ski tourism due to their altitude”. Is Mitterdorf digging a million dollar grave?
“We had more snow at Christmas than the Arber”: This is how the mayor defended the plans
Mayor Knaus does not want to hear that Mitterdorf is too low to allow skiing in the long term. “We had more snow than the Arber at Christmas,” says Knaus – even though it is 1,455 meters higher than the Almberg. There are currently 30 centimeters on the slope. Knaus was also audibly annoyed about the water on the phone. Tapping drinking water, “we won’t do that,” he says. Rather, a retention basin for rainwater is planned.
The dispute over new lifts has a certain tradition in Bavaria. You know such discussions, for example, in Sudelfeld, Riedberger Horn or Grünten – even if these cases are comparable to a limited extent with Mitterdorf because of their dimensions. The pressure on and under the winter destinations is increasing. In Austria in particular, some regions have upgraded massively in recent years, investing in snow cannons and the like. If you want to attract holidaymakers, you either have to follow suit or reorient yourself. Both cost money.
The 640-inhabitant municipality has to raise five million euros
The competition is also fierce for Mitterdorf: it is not far to the Arber and the Dreisessel ski area. And as elsewhere, the question of costs alone harbors the potential for dispute. The municipality would have to raise 25 percent of the estimated 20 million euros, i.e. five million euros. With 640 residents, that’s a “giant number,” as Knaus concedes. The state government would probably contribute six million euros from the cable car funding program.
Just last week, the Ochsenkopf ski area in the Bayreuth district was pleased to receive a decision of 10.5 million euros. Photos show Economy Minister Hubert Aiwanger (FW) on the mountain, defying icy clouds. “By increasing the attractiveness of the tourism region of Upper Franconia, we are also actively guiding the flow of visitors and relieving the tourist hotspots throughout Bavaria,” he said in a press release. His spokesman confirms: “This also applies to increasing the attractiveness of Mitterdorf”.
However, according to the ministry, the program is not intended as a funding program for destinations that are off the beaten track. Rather, the aim is to maintain the existing infrastructure, to modernize cable car systems in a targeted manner and to enable year-round tourism. The attractions planned in Mitterdorf would be aimed at the “main target groups”: “Multi-generation families and athletes with disabilities”. And: It should also be considered that the ski region has geared its infrastructure to winter tourism for decades. “It cannot be deprived of its basis overnight.”
The Greens warn against “eventing” the mountains
The Greens, on the other hand, doubt that the money for cable car funding is actually so well invested. Its head of state, Thomas von Sarnowski – who, by his own admission, is an enthusiastic skier himself – is quite critical of the criteria for the allocation of funds. There is nothing wrong with renewing lift systems. But an expansion of capacities “should be calculated carefully”, after all it is about the fundamental question of where public money is most sensibly invested for the future.
In the case of Mitterdorf, Sarnowski is bothered, among other things, by the “eventing” of the mountains, as planned by the “Fly-Line”. Instead, there is an urgent need for funds for gentle and sustainable tourism that, in view of climate change, can also function without snow. “Do people go to the Bavarian Forest because they want peace and quiet,” he says, “or because they want to party?”
Either way: they now have the excitement in Philippsreut – and their very own expansion discussion.