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To the ski area on the Riedberger Horn

Comment from Stefan Neuhauser

by Stefan Neuhauser ‱ 11/12/2017
Lobbyists from the tourism industry are softening the Bavarian Alpine plan. A classic freeride and touring summit is severely restricted by the lift plans.

The Alpine Plan has been regulating the development of the Bavarian Alps for over 40 years. It is a state planning instrument for the sustainable development and management of recreational use in the Bavarian Alps. Among other things, it regulates the permissibility of traffic development (e.g. cable cars or ski slopes). In the strictest protection category, Zone C (42% of the Bavarian Alps), new developments such as roads, lifts or ski slopes are generally not permitted. 91% of the Bavarian population are in favor of leaving the Alpine Convention as it is.

The CSU majority has now approved the controversial reform of the state development program, paving the way for a ski area on the Riedberger Horn. Nature conservation associations have strongly criticized the decision: according to the German Alpine Association, the fact that the Free State is now agreeing to a softening of the Alpine plan for a single project is setting a dangerous precedent. Freeriders with touring ambitions and ski tourers would lose a relatively avalanche-safe playground for the high winter.

Soft tourism or an alpine arms race like in Austria - this is what the dispute over the Riedberger Horn is all about. A connecting lift is to link the Grasgehren and Riedberger Horn ski resorts, but this would mean building in the highly sensitive Alpine protection zone C and cutting through an official wildlife reserve with a ski slope.

The Riedbergerhorn - meeting point for ski tourers from near and far

For ski tourers, freeriders and snowshoers, the Riedberger Horn is an easy and safe summit destination for young and old thanks to the infrastructure of the Grasgehren ski area. You will often find fine snow conditions from the end of October to May in the various exposures of the slopes of the Riedberger Horn. On a weekend day, you can often hear the different dialects at the summit: Tyrolean, Voralberg, AllgÀu, Swabian, Munich, Swiss, and in exceptional cases even foreign languages such as English, French or High German.

This makes the "Ride-BĂŒrger-Horn" a summit where many people from different walks of life, backgrounds and regions of the Alps and Europe meet in winter.

The ski training groups of the British military, the German-French youth groups of the DAV, the various AllgÀu mountain schools with ski tourers and snowshoe hikers, mountain enthusiasts from Austria, Switzerland, the Black Forest and Swabia come here to climb the summit and enjoy the almost unique distant view across the Alps from the Zugspitze to the Parseierspitze and the SÀntis. In between, you will of course also find a large number of AllgÀulocals from the ski touring and freeriding scene.

The reason for the popularity of the Riedberger Horn is its easy accessibility by car and the relatively avalanche-safe, short ascent options via the two ridges from the Grasgehren ski area. Depending on where you start from, it takes between 45 minutes and 2. 30 hours to reach the summit.

The slopes are up to 39 degrees steep and offer unprepared runs for all abilities in all directions, such as the steep eastern slope towards Bolgenalpe. You need to have some avalanche knowledge to make a good decision about whether to ski after a fresh snowfall. However, if you don't want to take the residual risk, there are plenty of alternatives.

Effects of the planned ski circuit

The new lift is to be built from two sides up to just below the summit. This will reduce the walking time to 10 minutes. Unfortunately, this will put an end to the summit bliss. The south-west exposure of the planned descent to Balderschwang will probably have to be covered with snow most of the time in times of climate change. The altitude of this new ski slope is between 1700 and 1050 meters. The descent passes through an official wildlife reserve. The connecting lift from Balderschwang to Grasgehren runs along a touring ascent from Balderschwang, which is also a popular touring and freeride descent.

With the new lifts reducing the ascent to the summit to 10 minutes, the various slopes of the Riedbergerhorn will be groomed after half a day. The effect that slopes close to the lifts in the AllgÀu are often plowed up within a few hours after a fresh snowfall is well known. The frequency of off-piste skiing will increase significantly. Many of these off-piste skiers cannot read maps and will ski the protected areas that have been avoided by freeriders and tourers up to now.

The question is whether Balderschwang is doing itself a favor as a winter sports community by attracting even more day visitors to the valley with the connecting lift. The average length of stay of winter guests in the AllgÀu has apparently already fallen to 3-4 days. Holidaymakers who stay longer are looking for relative peace and nature. This winter tranquillity and nature will be even more difficult to maintain with further access to the valley via the ski circuit. The many day visitors who now flood the valley at weekends make Balderschwang a short-break destination of the highest order.

The Riedbergpasstrasse would provide an easy way to bring skiers who want to change areas from Grasgehren during the day to Balderschwang and back again with a regular shuttle bus. This highest pass in Germany has existed since 1962, and a regular shuttle bus would not affect protection zone C and the official wildlife sanctuary. It would also not have to be covered with snow, like the new south-west-facing slope.

The decision-makers should not underestimate the fact that many well-behaved, mountaineering citizens in Bavaria now feel "taken for a ride". Mountaineers, ski tourers, snowshoe hikers and freeriders have adhered to the various protected areas for years. Now they are waking up to the realization that the restrictions apply to individual citizens, but not to lobbyists from the tourism industry and their special interests from the traditional Bavarian party.

In order not to overstretch nature, everyone has probably been happy to accept the restrictions up to now. The Bavarian state elections are just around the corner and the disappointment of many nature-loving people in Bavaria about this decision is more than present at the moment.

The long arm of the tourism lobby

It is actually a farce to build ski resorts and then close the adjacent slopes to off-piste skiers for nature conservation reasons. Often, attempts are made to restrict those skiers who have no lobby (tourers and freeriders) with flimsy, untenable reasons. This is what almost happened on the north side of the Bolgen in the Grasgehren ski area:

The wildlife biologist Zeitler wanted to have the entire north slope of the Bolgen closed on the basis of a purely subjective opinion, arguing that ptarmigans would be in this area in high winter. Martin Engler (known from the Snowcard) was able to prove at the time that the ptarmigans are not in these shady slope areas in high winter, but on the sunny side of the Bolgen. Thus, at least until March 31 of each year, the compromise was reached that part of the north side of the Bolgen could be skied.

It should be noted that part of the Grasgehren ski area runs along the sunny side of the Bolgen. In a truly rational argument, this is the real reason why the ptarmigans have to put up with restrictions and disturbances.

The construction of a ski resort undeniably has much more far-reaching consequences for nature than ski tourers and off-piste skiers. Once the white noise is over, there are no more people there. The effects of off-piste skiers are disproportionate to those caused by alpine farming, forestry and alpine paths, earth movements for routes and pistes, lift facilities, reservoirs and other buildings and construction measures by lift operators on the mountain slopes. These also affect nature in summer and have an impact for decades.

What no one has yet taken into account is that compensation areas (additional protected areas) are designated when ski resorts are built. Tourers and freeriders are not allowed to enter or ski in these areas. This will also affect the more delicate aspects of the tourism industry, so-called soft tourism, such as mountain schools and hiking and mountain bike operators who are out and about in the mountains without artificial ascent aids.

"Sell the homeland to the tourism industry, the hunting tenants and other friends of the Bavarian party and in return, let the free access to nature be curtailed", this is the motto I now impose on our Bavarian Minister of Homeland!

Further information:

Statement of the Landesbund fĂŒr Vogelschutz.

Overview of the project from the DAV

BR report

About the author

Stefan Neuhauser is a mountain guide and photographer. He discovered his love of the winter mountains at an early age in Grasgehren and on the Riedberger Horn.

"My parents leased an alpine pasture in Balderschwang in winter from 1972 to 2003. You have to ski up for an hour to reach it in winter. I learned to ski tour there at the age of 8 and as a 12-year-old I regularly went ski touring alone with my brother at weekends and during the vacations. We learned a lot intuitively about the winter mountains. As a 16-year-old, I often climbed up at night with a headlamp in the snow to spend the night up there. The next morning I enjoyed the "morning run" over the freshly snow-covered slopes directly into the village, where I worked in the ski school during the day. From 1972 to 1985, Balderschwang was a bit like my second home in winter. That's why it's particularly important to me that no frivolous decision is made to expand the ski area in Grasgehren on the Riedberger Horn."

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This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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