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Seasonal days below average in most ski resorts

After last weekend's sporting highlight, the Snowboard World Cup in Winterberg, the operators of the five lifts that are still open are looking towards the end of the season. One or two lifts are expected to remain open until at least Easter. Nevertheless, the Wintersport-Arena Sauerland is now taking stock of the past mild winter. 

It often happens that a peak season is cancelled. But the fact that the Christmas holidays and crocus holidays only had a small basic offer is exceptional. This was not only due to the mild temperatures, but above all to heavy rainfall and wind. What was good for the forests and nature as a whole was very detrimental to the snow cover on the pistes.

Alpine skiing 
The season began on 29 November on the basis of natural snow in the Hohe Bracht ski area near Lennestadt. The Winterberg ski lift carousel followed just two days later, initially with three lifts. Thanks to frosty cold temperatures and abundant snow production, 23 ski and toboggan lifts were operating in ten ski resorts on the second weekend of Advent. By one week before Christmas, the number of lifts had reached a temporary peak with 33 lifts in only five snow-covered ski resorts. The "Christmas thaw" so typical of the low mountain range continuously reduced the number of lifts available. 

The second week of January brought the longed-for cold weather needed for a new basic snowmaking programme. Within four days, the number of lifts had shrunk from 6 to 63, with the most extensive range available on the third weekend in January with 93 lifts. In addition to the 18 ski resorts registered in the Wintersport Arena Sauerland, other small ski resorts were open on this sunny and snowy weekend, right up to the middle altitudes. 

Thanks to technical snowmaking, the lift operators were able to offer their guests a continuous season. By Easter, the duration of the season will have risen to 123 days. However, this should not obscure the fact that the operating days of the vast majority of lifts are significantly shorter. Ski resorts with snowmaking at high altitudes report 40 to 70 days, while ski resorts with little or no snowmaking at medium altitudes report 5 to 10 days. These figures are below the average of the past 20 years. 


Nordic skiing 
Thanks to the abundant snowfall, cross-country skiers were also able to get an early start to the season. The members of the Girkhausen ski club prepared the first cross-country ski trails in the Steinert cross-country ski area on 28 November. The offer reached a temporary peak with 159 kilometres of trails in nine cross-country ski areas in the first week of December - before the thaw caused the cross-country skiing offers to melt away again within just one week. The heavy snowfall in January ensured that twelve cross-country ski areas set out their trails and at the peak covered 281 kilometres of trails (21 Jan.). The cross-country ski areas that relied on natural snow had a maximum of 20 days in the season. Only the Westfeld cross-country skiing centre, which is covered in snow, managed 50 days. The last day of the season there was 21 February. 

Sporting highlights 
The Luge World Cup (6 and 7 Jan.), the Ski Jumping World Cup in Willingen (2 to 4 Feb.), the Bobsleigh and Skeleton World Championships (19 Feb. to 3 March) and the Snowboard World Cup in Winterberg were the sporting highlights of the season. The snowboard parallel slalom was the crowning glory of the season. While Berchtesgaden had to be cancelled due to the widespread lack of snow, the raceboarders held their final in Winterberg on 9 and 10 March. 



Four months of ups and downs lie behind the region's ski resorts. Despite the mildest February since weather records began, the winter as a whole was "only" the fourth mildest of the past 20 years, after 2006/07, 2013/14 and 2019/20. Two deep cold and snowy phases of two weeks each provided some compensation. Severe frost with temperatures below minus 10 degrees in some places right into the valleys made abundant snow production possible, but was quickly replaced by a mild, wet and windy phase. On 18 days, the natural snow cover on the mountains amounted to at least the 20 centimetres required for skiing. The records show 26 days of ice; since 2001, there have only been three winters with even fewer days of permafrost. 

However, this is the principle of snowmaking: using cold phases to finely atomise clear water and freeze it into snow crystals in the cold air, thus bridging mild phases. As the snow produced in this way often lasts for weeks, this worked for three to four weeks in the past difficult winter, even in medium-sized ski resorts. In order to operate a snow-covered ski area economically, the master plan is based on an average of around 80 days per year. 

Beyond the two winter phases, it was a mild to very mild winter. As a result, the Christmas holidays and February, the two most important phases for winter sports enthusiasts, were largely free of frost and natural snow.  

The Altastenberg ski carousel is starting the new season with the biggest investment in the ski resort's history. Winter sports have a future, the operators have recognised this and are investing around 4 million euros. After two years of planning and three months of construction, the new Kapellenbahn lift went into operation at the Altastenberg ski carousel. It was completed just in time for Christmas. After successful snow production, the first guests were able to test the lift and 700-metre-long, optimised family run for the first time on 12 January. The operators received nothing but positive feedback on the lift and run. In previous years, they had already taken various measures to improve snow safety. This allowed them to open for a comparatively long time during the difficult winter. 21 February was the last day of operation. 


Demand and visitor channelling 
The past season shows how important the channelling function of ski resorts is. Snow, cold, clear air and sunshine attract large numbers of snow tourists from the surrounding urban centres to the winter sports region. There are only ever very few weekends like this in a winter. Last season there was only one. With snow down to the lowest altitudes, the 20th and 21st of January were one of the busiest weekends in recent years. 

On such weekends, it is important that the region provides a comprehensive overall offer. The small ski resorts in particular are important at such times in order to meet the high demand for snow experiences. This is one of the main tasks of the Wintersport-Arena Sauerland: to publicise the overall offer in the region and to point out that there are not only good winter sports opportunities in the core area. 

Wintersport-Arena Sauerland and the major ski resorts also draw attention to offers outside the busy weekends. Both during the week and in the off-season, the ski resorts are significantly less frequented. This also demonstrates the value of technical snowmaking, which enables a continuous season from December to March, making it possible to switch off in the first place. 

The ski resorts have created further measures such as the Winterberg ski bus. Although this had fewer operating days in the past season, according to the bus operator, passenger utilisation was higher. The ski resorts also confirm an increase in demand from guests. The ski bus can be used free of charge with the Wintersport Arena Card (valid in seven ski resorts). In addition, two years ago the Winterberg ski lift carousel opened up its one and two-day tickets for use in the surrounding ski areas and included the use of the ski bus. The aim is to show guests the variety of ski areas in the region and to offer a balance during busy periods. Due to the positive development, those responsible are planning to expand the system. 

Traffic management 
The AIR project (AI-based Recommender for Sustainable Tourism) aims to manage demand and regulate traffic. In a nationwide network of destination practitioners and research partners, a digital visitor management system is being created using AI. It is intended to provide visitors with suitable information about the expected capacity utilisation at the desired destination at an early stage and draw their attention to alternative offers. The measuring stations at 13 car parks were installed in the run-up to winter. 

The first prototype for forecasting car park capacity utilisation was published in good time before the start of the past season. This currently calculates the expected capacity utilisation over the next 48 hours based on the measurements. The results obtained have been and will be continuously checked, compared with the real situation and the parameters adjusted. By next winter, it is planned to improve this forecast with the help of further external data and extend it to four days, and finally to distribute it to as many hotels, tourist information centres and websites as possible.

Youth promotion 
The Wintersport-Arena Sauerland has made a day in the snow with the whole class available to three schools free of charge. The campaign was publicised on social media. The first three teachers to get in touch were to receive the packages. They were allocated within a very short time. The sessions took place after the main season, at the end of February. Thanks to professional instruction, even beginners were able to complete a full run independently in the morning. 
Also taking part were: 
Class 7e from the secondary school in Winterberg
Class 8b from Bad Berleburg secondary school
Class 9c from Drost-Rose-Realschule Lippstadt
You did a great job!!!

The trip was actually supposed to go to the Altastenberg ski carousel. As it was no longer possible there, the Winterberg ski lift carousel stepped in. The event organised by the Wintersport-Arena Sauerland with the support of Neue Skischule Winterberg and Ski-Klante ski hire was just the first "test balloon" Further measures to promote winter sports in schools are planned for the coming year.

The coming weekend could be the last of the season with a networked lift offer from Remmeswiese to SĂĽrenberg in the Winterberg ski lift carousel. Five lifts are currently running. At least the lifts on the Poppenberg should run until Easter, if possible until the end of the holidays.