By Steve and Jean Bond
We arrived at Innsbruck Airport for a summer holiday in the Tyrol much as in previous years, comfortable in the knowledge we knew the area we were visiting and so unlikely to encounter any surprises. Processed efficiently, we were on our way to Ellmau in the Skiwelt with a short journey on familiar roads.
Unable to concentrate on my book, for once, I was looking out of the window and admiring the scenery as we left Soll when I spotted a new chairlift, not striding majestically up the mountain but in bits in a lay-by on the main road. Everything was there, pylons (in pieces), rollers for the cables and cross members for the rollers but what were they for? We proceeded to Ellmau and the village we knew so well, or did we?
You see, the funicular up the mountain has an unremarkable top station with an adjoining restaurant, or it did until the huge cranes arrived and made it appear like a scene from "War of the Worlds". As we got our bearings and strolled around the village we noted that building work was transforming this small village and extending it in all directions.
The following morning we went up the Funicular to find that the top station was still there (just) but the restaurant had vanished to be replaced by, on the right portaloos and a snack bar, and on the left, a huge building site which was to become a new and apparently enormous replacement. The webcam for Ellmau had mysteriously disappeared at the end of the winter from the SCGB website and we wondered why, easy, the building it was attached to had vanished!
Not to be deterred by changing topography we set off for Scheffau and as we rounded the hill we saw more cranes. Gratifyingly, when we arrived at the Brandstadl restaurant it was still there although it was apparently imperative to build another one, just as large, further down the mountain on what was previously a ski slope. The need for this was explained by the way the whole face of the mountain had been reconfigured by extensive use of bulldozers so that the new watering hole had a new piste to service it. Thinking we had seen all the local plans for development we continued toward Soll and as we rounded the path we saw the huge concrete bases awaiting the pylons in the lay-by and realised that everywhere was in the grip of the builders.
Over the course of the holiday we walked extensively in the area and were struck by the fact that nowhere was safe from the army of builders determined to change the face of somewhere we thought we knew reasonably well. The development was ugly, disfigured slopes, removed vegetation and encouraged extensive erosion on unconsolidated slopes and yet will no doubt improve the skiing in the area considerably. By chance we met a couple from London who moved to Soll 5 years ago and we had met on a previous holiday and they explained that this happens every 5 years or so when permission is granted for all types of development by the local council and apparently EEC funding becomes available.
The visitors next winter, probably including us, will reap the benefits of improved links, particularly travelling back to Soll from Scheffau, more restaurants and more slopes but by seeing the level of destruction in a relatively small area, it does remind us that there is a price to pay for our enjoyment in the short term. No doubt in 5 years time the grass will have grown and it will look like it's the natural topography, until the builders return of course!