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Austria to crack down on ski tourists evading lockdown

Austria will tighten checks to deter foreign skiers from using loopholes in the country's coronavirus lockdown to travel to the country's ski resorts.

Austria to crack down on ski tourists evading lockdown
Photo: GEORG HOCHMUTH / APA / AFP

“We will intensify controls” in Alpine ski resorts and at the border, Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer told a press conference.

Though a lockdown has kept hotels, restaurants, bars, schools and all non-essential businesses closed for weeks, Austria's government allowed ski lifts to re-open just before Christmas, maintaining that outdoor sports posed little transmission risk.

But while the measure was intended for locals only, there have also been reports of hundreds of foreigners being lured to the pistes and several virus outbreaks have been reported at resorts.

Authorities in St. Anton in the western Tyrol region last week complained about two hundred foreigners from the UK, Denmark, Germany, Australia, Ireland and Sweden who had mostly arrived by train from Zurich.

Local officials said the visitors had registered for residency, claiming they were looking for employment in the closed-down tourism industry.

More than 44 addresses in the area were raided on Friday and Nehammer said “it was possible to file more than 100 charges and to set an example”.

The majority now face fines of up to 2,180 euros ($2,620), a spokesman for Tyrol's provincial government told AFP, adding that the exact amount would be determined on a case-by-case basis but that none of them could be deported or arrested.

Still, the raids prompted about 30 foreigners to give notification that they were leaving and depart St Anton over the past few days, Helmut Mall, the mayor, told AFP on Tuesday.

Mall said he hoped “this was a clear message that nobody should come — we're still under lockdown,” he said.

EXPLAINED: How Austria's coronavirus restrictions are about to change 

“Now some calm will return,” to St. Anton, which usually hosts about 12,000 skiers per week in the winter, Mall said.

A single skier from Germany was placed under quarantine on Friday in St. Anton, as she could not produce pre-travel clearance documents required to cross the Austrian border, Helmut Pintarelli, a police inspector in St. Anton, told AFP Tuesday.

Pintarelli denied previous media reports that 96 foreigners were placed under quarantine and that they had been charged for partying in the small village.

Interior Minister Nehammer on Tuesday also announced tougher border measures, including a requirement for cross-border commuters to register with authorities and get tested on a weekly basis.

Though Austria will ease restrictions starting Monday, with stores and schools allowed to reopen, hotels, cafes and restaurants will stay closed.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Austria’s famous Dachstein glacier to be closed off for skiing this winter

Heat, rain and even Sahara sand have affected the ice in the famous Austrian Dachstein glacier, forcing authorities to close off the ski lifts this winter.

Austria's famous Dachstein glacier to be closed off for skiing this winter

Austrian authorities have decided to cancel winter skiing in the Dachstein glacier, located on the highest mountain in Styria, Austrian media reported.

“There will be no autumn or winter skiing on the Dachstein this year,” Georg Bliem, the director of Planai-Hochwurzen-Bahnen told Kleine Zeitung on Wednesday.

For years now, the glacier has been steadily melting in summer. The year 2022 has been no exception, as heat and extreme rain (and even Sahara sand) have hurt the ice structures, causing the region to become dangerous for non-experienced hikers.

READ ALSO: From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

The melting ice has been particularly affecting the structures for lift operations. To operate safely, the supports of the lifts would have to be moved.

“That’s a huge effort, and we have no guarantee that it won’t need to be done again next year,” Bliem said.

On the slopes, the rock is coming through in some places and even the lift line now runs over rock, he added.

For this reason, the decision to forgo winter skiing, at least this year, has been made. But further checks will take place next year.

READ ALSO: How will climate change impact Austria?

“In the spring we will evaluate the situation,” Bliem said. 

The peak season on the Dachstein glacier is autumn when snow cannons cannot yet be fired up at lower altitudes. In Styria, the Dachstein was the only ski destination to offer skiing as early as September and October. Many professional athletes in particular had used the slopes for training runs.

Other attractions will remain open

The area has many other attractions that will remain open, the authorities highlighted. The ice palace, the famous stairs leading up to the panoramic viewpoint, and the hilltop restaurant, for example.

The area for cross-country ski trains will be larger, and ski touring crossings will continue to be possible. The park is also looking to develop a new concept for future winters, offering more hiking trails.

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