Clampdown on off piste skiing

Vorarlberg has been looking at ways to improve safety for winter sports lovers while off piste and has come up with a series of measures to make it safer and also to protect the natural environment.

Among the measures are increased fines for people who breach the rules.

After the heavy snowfalls of the last winter the subject of avalanches was also particularly prominent at the congress. The situation was given particular impact this year after an avalanche that buried Dutch Prince Johann Friso in Austria leaving him in intensive care and on a life-support machine.

The meeting was organised by local MP Erich Schwärzler (ÖVP) and included various other politicians and groups from the tourism and lift operating companies as well as foresters, hunters, mountain rescue and ski guides.

In the end what was agreed was a six-point programme of concrete measures that puts responsibility on the sports people themselves but also an improved information network and tougher controls in the interests of security and safety and protection of forests.

But the main message is a bid to stop skiing through woods. Foresters said that thousands of skiers and this year travel down the mountain through the woods and these need to be limited with checks to make sure they were sticking to approve routes and in particular tougher fines for those that breach the rules.

They said the current fines were laughably small for transgressors.

Mountain rescue groups however are in favour of more information on how to behave in the mountains. In the end it was agreed that better information and tougher controls should go hand-in-hand.

This included warnings about safe skiing in tourism brochures which the scheme with operators said they would implement from next year.