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Thirty years of slope war | TIME ONLINE

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The green lift supports protrude from the snow. The armchairs were removed years ago. The path that was once cut into the mountain forest for the ski lift is gradually growing again. "Maseben Lift" is written in large letters on the crumbling building of the valley station.

The abandoned lifts in the small South Tyrolean mountain valley of Langtaufers tell of times that were already better for tourism. There is still a small drag lift for house guests at a mountain hut. Otherwise, the ten-kilometer-long valley, located at a good 1,900 meters above sea level, overlooks glaciers that border the state Austria mark a few places to stop for refreshments and 350 beds for guests who come for hiking, cross-country skiing and touring. The Langtauferer valley with its more than 400 inhabitants relies on gentle tourism. Perforce.

That should now be completely different. A ski connection to North Tyrol, to the Kaunertal glacier ski area, is to be created via two cable cars that lead from the valley end over the deserted Melag valley to the 3,100 meter high Karlesjoch. It promises a strong economic upswing, full guest beds, new jobs and an end to the gradual emigration. 50,000 additional overnight stays are to be generated in the area, the South Tyrolean Upper Venosta Valley.

For critics of the cross-border lift connection, this is pure fantasy. They refer to the untouched nature of the valley, one of the last of its kind in the tourist center of South Tyrol. Langtaufers threatens to become a through valley, the tiny village of Melag a parking lot for day ski tourists. Because the route via Langtaufers would also be attractive for tourists who vacation in the uppermost section of the Tyrolean Inn Valley: for them, access to the glacier ski area would be easier than via the Kaunertal.

The ski lift plans cause disputes. Whether at the mountain rescue, the volunteer fire brigade or at the bar counter in the municipality of Graun, to which Langtaufers belongs: The project divides. Because about 30 years ago there were already initial considerations for a ski connection to Austria, some even speak of the Thirty Years' War – with arguments that are also discussed elsewhere: Does the expansion of ski areas still make sense? What weighs more: the preservation of untouched nature or the hoped-for economic profit? And who benefits from the major projects?

"There is hardly a more beautiful project in the Alps that makes it easier to get to a glacier ski area," says Josef Thöni. The man is the senior manager of the Hotel Langtauferer Hof near the end of the valley, which he expanded two years ago and enlarged twice. Thöni is one of the most eager promoters of the lift project. He advertises his house as a "mountain retreat" in "one of the most untouched valleys in the Alps" on advertising panels and a homepage. He does not see this as a contradiction to the planned slopes and lifts. "The Langtauferer valley is 20,000 hectares, there is still a lot of space left," he says. He also does not share the fear that guests and added value would be redirected to the Kaunertal: "It would make the whole structurally weak Upper Vinschgau more attractive as a ski region."

To advance the glacier connection, Thöni founded the Oberländer Gletscherbahn AG four years ago together with other colleagues. It mainly brings together local small shareholders. However, the Tyrolean investor Hans Rubatscher is the largest shareholder. The auditor with a large law firm in Innsbruck is a majority shareholder in the Kaunertal Glacier Railway and has great interest in the plan, which promises new guest groups for the Kaunertal ski area.

The total investment should be up to 25 million euros. Almost half of them expect the promoters as a contribution from the South Tyrolean government. It is also she who has to decide in the coming weeks – after years of hesitation – whether the project will get the green light.

The project would have its appeal for South Tyrolean patriots: It would be the first cross-border ski lift connection to Austria, a signal for the much-touted Europe region of Tyrol.

Siegfried Patscheider is somewhat indifferent to politics. The 49-year-old and his family in the Langtauferer hamlet of Grub run the mountain farm Beim-Gruber-Hof with a dozen cattle and three holiday apartments. The Haflinger Arabian mare Lady, the pony Mitzi, rabbits, guinea pigs and mini pigs are also available for the guests to touch in the stable.

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