by Nick Squires, The Telegraph, January 10, 2020
Italy has unveiled plans to create what it says would be the world's largest skiing network, a sprawling web of connected pistes and lifts in the Dolomites.
Environmentalists are aghast at the plan, saying that new ski lifts and stations would scar a World Heritage mountain range that is often described as the most beautiful in the world.
The network would offer skiers around 1,300kms of pistes, stitching together existing lifts and resorts and offering days of different routes.
Skiers would no longer have to travel by bus or car to travel between ski areas.
The project, which would expand the existing Dolomiti Superski network, is expected to cost around €100 million, with half of it coming from private enterprise and the rest from government funds.
It forms part of plans to promote the 2026 Winter Olympics, which will be jointly hosted by the upmarket resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo in the heart of the Dolomites, and Milan, in neighbouring Lombardy.
It would link valleys where the ancient language of Ladin is still spoken to areas that were fought over by the Italians and Austro-Hungarians during the First World War.
The project is being championed by Luca Zaia, the governor of the Veneto region, which encompasses part of the Dolomites range, and Gian Pietro Ghedina, the mayor of Cortina d’Ampezzo, one of the country’s most exclusive winter playgrounds.
“We want to be ready for the 2026 Winter Olympics,” said Mr Zaia. “The mountains are suffering from depopulation and tourism can help staunch the hemorrhaging of people.”
Building more lifts and ski stations would take cars and coaches off the mountain roads, thus reducing pollution and carbon emissions, he said.
But environmentalists criticised the idea of building new lifts and cable cars in pristine mountain valleys.
The project would “transform an environmental jewel into an immense theme park of cement and ski lifts,” said Angelo Bonelli of the Greens Party.
The new pistes would require the digging of reservoirs to collect water that will be needed to create artificial snow when there is a dearth of natural snow.
That would do “enormous damage to the hydrological balance of the mountains. It’s as if they think the threat of climate change is simply science fiction rather than sad reality.”
Mr Bonelli said he would write to Unesco in Paris to raise the alarm about the risks posed by the project to the Dolomites’ World Heritage status, which was granted in 2009.
Luigi Casanova, the honorary president of Mountain Wilderness Italia, a conservation group, said: “No one really believes that ski lifts and cable cars will replace car traffic in the mountains. They will simply attract more and more tourists at whatever cost to fragile areas.”
Currently, the world’s biggest ski network is considered to be Les Trois Vallees in France, which boasts 600kms of pistes spread out between Meribel, Courchevel and Val Thorens.
The biggest ski area in North America is Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia.