Obereggen – A Sustainability Success Story
Until the 1960s the people in Val d’Ega mainly lived off farming and forestry work, with many young residents leaving the region in search of new opportunities. Today, however, the population numbers are stable and the residents of Val d’Ega can look to the future with confidence. This transformation is thanks to a number of pioneers who recognised the potential of tourism at an early stage and were the driving force behind opening up the valley to visitors in winter. Two of the main personalities behind this movement were ski resort managers Georg Weissensteiner and Siegfried Pichler. We sat down with Georg, Siegfried and PR manager Thomas Ondertoller to look back on the early beginnings of winter tourism in the region and to evaluate how it has progressed to where it is today.
The Obereggen ski resort was officially founded in 1970 and opened its first ski lifts two years later. Today it is known as the Ski Center Latemar and is very popular with both locals and guests from around the world. What do you think has made it so successful?
G. W.: We all knew right from the start that the resort would only be able to flourish in the long term if it was connected with the nearby resorts of Pampeago and Predazzo, which already existed at the time. That was definitely a key factor.
S. P.: One of the big things which contributed to the success of the resort was the use of snow-making technology right from the start. We were the first resort in the region to introduce a system of snow cannons able to cover 100% of the pistes. That gave Obereggen a certain reputation – for example, in the late 1980s, when there were several winters with little snowfall, people came to us because they knew we were able to offer snowsure slopes and excellent conditions.
Was the local population always in favour of these developments?
G. W.: When we first set up the resort we needed capital, so we went from door to door to try and get local people to support our initiative as stakeholders. It worked really well. The people saw the resort not so much as an investment but more as a kind of cooperative. I think the development of the resort actually drew people in the valley, where we have a very tight-knit community, even closer together.
S. P.: The people who supported us back then – farmers, craftsmen, blue-collar workers, tradesmen – were dotted all across the valley, such was the breadth of the support given to the project. One of the main reasons for that was the fact that right from the start we committed ourselves to protecting the local environment. In everything we have done over the years we have always paid close attention to the impact on the landscape, for example when it comes to building new pistes. Whenever we make a new ski slope the top soil has to be removed, but we always put it back on when the work is done. As early as the 1980s we started taking soil samples and even had a special Obereggen seed mixture made in order to preserve the diversity of plants and flowers in our meadows. Another thing which was very important to us right from the start was to be as efficient and economic as possible with the water needed to make artificial snow. Since 2004 Obereggen has been officially certified in line with the ISO norm 14001.
Are visitors and guests aware of all these efforts to protect the environment?
T. O.: Absolutely. We get really positive reactions from guests in response to the measures we have taken and continue to take in this regard. We well as our efforts to reduce water use, to use as many local materials as possible and to avoid waste wherever possible, here in Obereggen we have two “lighthouse projects”: the district heating plant and the Berghütte Oberholz. The former is heated using biomass from Val d’Ega and heats all the houses and businesses in Obereggen. This means that since 2007 we have been able to save 500,000 litres of heating oil a year. The latter is a mountain hut which has been designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Water pipes run deep into the ground, where they are heated by the earth’s natural warmth. Ecology and sustainability are topics which are really important to us. People who pay attention to these things in their everyday lives also want to spend their holidays in a place which lives and embodies these same values.
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