Winter is coming

The local ski industry breathed a sigh of relief after the heavy late-November snowfall in the Austrian Alps. White slopes before Christmas are a guarantee of winter tourism and skiing has remained, without a doubt, the number one sport in the Alpine Republic.

Traditionally, Austrian ski resorts are nestled between wooden chalet villages and tree-lined slopes. Every second Austrian can tell you how parents pushed him or her down a snow-covered mountain at the age of three. Owning your own skis was mandatory. Recently, however, there have been big changes. For one, people don’t buy skis anymore – they rent. Last year, worldwide sales stagnated at around 3.3 million pairs, down from 8 million a decade earlier.

"The market has been fragmented brutally," commented Wolfgang Mayrhofer, CEO of Atomic, an Austrian manufacturer of ski equipment. Though dedicated skiers still want their own, skis have become a niche product. Those looking for greater thrills have found them off-piste – a move closely followed by the industry.

Shelves at sports dealers are now stacked with All-Mountain-Skis, Race-Skis, Women-Skis, Big-Mountain-Skis, Deep-Snow-Skis, as well as sporty variations for the Park-&-Pipe areas.

But fears of green ski resorts and low sales have remained unfounded as we face another cold, snowy European winter.

It could be the loss of Arctic sea ice that is bringing "easterly winds from Siberia blowing across north-western Europe," writes the British daily The Independent. Weather experts have already warned that this may be the coldest winter in a century.

So is this good news?

"Winters [in Austria have] indeed … gotten colder over the last 20 years, and in some places quite massively," says the Central Institution for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG), with the last two winters at Kitzbühel the coldest in a generation.

It seems Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) from the HBO Series Game of Thrones was right: Winter is coming… with the fourth season scheduled to premiere early 2014, sooner than expected

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