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It’ll snow on Wednesday

It’ll snow on Wednesday

It’ll snow on Wednesday

This is the forecast offered by lift operator Reinhold Walser in the Krähenberg ski resort in Sibratsgfäll. The author spent a number of skiing holidays here as a child. While waiting for the snow to fall, they discuss the many changes since that time as well as the future prospects for the lift.

At the edge of the Bregenzerwald, where foxes, hares and four hundred inhabitants bid each other good night, there are farms, inns, two small settlements, a church, one primary school, a kid’s lift and a surface lift. In total, the whole operation is actually one kilometre long, but with one ski run to the left, one ski run to the right, there are two kilometres of slopes to enjoy. Sorry folks, there isn’t a snow cannon, but is this a reason to tear down the whole operation? On the contrary!

After two particularly wonderful winters with plenty of snow, the lift company invested in an electric drive in November of 2019. Gone are the days when children would get sick from the smell of diesel in the car park let alone on the slope (I’m writing from experience here)! Yours truly spent many Sundays here as child. On Mondays at school, when asked where I had spent my weekend, I held my head up high and said with a measure of pride, “Skiing in Sibratsgfäll!” I always felt special, and with good reason: “It’s the most beautiful place. You don’t have to queue and everyone can do what they want. My dad went cross-country skiing. My mum headed for a walk. My big sister met up with other teenagers and my little sister and I went skiing.” We couldn’t get lost.

Endless kilometres of slopes and the feeling that every ascent and descent was a new adventure. Everything was great except that damned lift! It cost us a lot of nerves! In some places, it lifted us up awkwardly, which always felt terrible. Screaming, we clung to the t-bar and fell into the snow in relief. Forty years later, I learned from Reinhold Walser that this was due to the shortness of the rope and the fact that we were too light. But even the lift didn’t stop us from coming. Before every ascent, a lift man handed us the t-bar with a smile.

In 1991, the system was changed to feature a longer rope. Couldn’t they have done that sooner? Reinhold Walser, who worked in a textile company in Dornbirn and had a ‘side job’ as mayor of Sibratsgfäll from 1979 to 2010, led a stressful double life. He is closely connected with the history of the lift: As a teenager, he and his brother helped with the construction because their father was on the local council. That was in the early 1960s. At that time, there was plenty of discussion about where the lift should be. They decided on a slope below the village with guaranteed snow and founded a lift company. It was the first and only lift for miles around. Lifts such as the Hochhäderich, Balderschwang and Schetteregg came much later.

Snowy winters led to a strong influx of visitors. Winter tourism grew and the number of overnight stays increased correspondingly. The only problem was the lack of a snow groomer. School kids were often enlisted to help, which was not very popular. At one point, someone from the village cobbled together a two-and-a-half-metre frame with a moped motor and wooden slats. During the first attempt to groom the track, the unfortunate machine bounced down the slope, overturned and lay broken in the stream bed. Because the community had no money for a snow groomer, it founded a limited partnership to buy one. When one of the two investors withdrew in 1979, Reinhold, who was chairman of the ski club, took over its shares.

Ten years later the second, external investor passed away. Reinhold became the sole general partner responsible for the lift. At the end of his time as mayor, he handed over the shares to his son. These days he still does the work. For the sake of the environment, it was unanimously decided to switch to electricity. The one hundred thousand euro investment costs came from federal state subsidy, equity capital, outside financing and shareholders.

Ironically, no snow falls after the renovations are complete. The forecast says that there should be snow on Wednesday – fingers crossed. It is 1 February 2020 and Reinhold Walser gazes down at the green slopes from his parlour. He doesn’t look worried: “We’re running in low-power mode for now,” he says. Presently, he only has to pay his three employees (retirees or farmers) when the lift is running. He operates the cash register himself. The company also leases the Elsa’s Wunderbar restaurant, which is always open and is well frequented. “We’ll just have to wait,” he says, pointing to winter photos from 1987 when the grass was also green. “Snow would be nice for the semester break. Every year we organise the Rossignol Kids Race ski race for 300 children. Where else can children learn to ski on a day ticket for 7 euros?” Three days later, snow does indeed fall. On a Wednesday.

Issue: Winter 2020-21 Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine
Author: Irmgard Kramer