Take the subway to the ski slopes - many alpine villages are car-free
By Verena Wolff Jan 31, 2012, 3:06 GMT
Serfaus, Austria /Zermatt, Switzerland - Many ski vacationers long for some peace and quiet on the mountain pistes and a host of resorts cater for this need by being car-free.
The holidaymakers naturally want to reach their destination in as much comfort as possible and ingenious solutions to this dilemma include gondola lifts, electric cars and funicular tunnels - not to mention the loftiest and smallest underground railway system in the world.
The subway can be found in the busy Tyrolean ski village of Serfaus in Austria. More than 25 years ago local politicians hatched the offbeat idea. The popularity of winter sports and the growing number of visitors was leading to unbearable traffic conditions. Tourists had to drive one-and-a-half kilometres through the village in the morning in order to reach the cable car and back again in the evening. Snarl-ups were frequent and the air was filled with toxic exhaust fumes.
An underground line with cars suspended on air cushions, like the one in the US city of Denver in Colorado, seemed like an ideal work-around, said Alfred Tschuggmal, who is something of a local historian. The tunnel for the single-track line was dug six metres below the surface and numerous houses had to be shored up in order to make way for it. Now and again clumps of manure from the farmsteads above still find their way into the tunnel.
The service has been operating since December, 1985 with four stops served: The two terminals Parkplatz (car park) and Seilbahn (cable car) and two intermediate stations. The track is 1.5-kilometre long. A journey takes seven minutes and is free of charge.
Serfaus is not the only alpine location that has banned combustion engines. On the southern side of Austria's highest peak, the Grossglockner, is another car-free ski region, the all-year-round pistes at the Moelltaler Glacier in Carinthia. A train takes skiers to the slopes and there is plenty of long-term parking too.
Visitors to Werfenweng in the Salzburger Land skiing region can arrive at their vacation destination by train or else hand over the car keys when they get there and opt for 'gentle mobility' in the form of an electric four-wheeler, scooter or bicycle. These green modes of transport are available to guests around the clock along with dial-a-taxi services and the Werfenweng Shuttle.
The centres of Saalbach and Hinterglemm in Pinzgau are off-limits to motor traffic the whole year round and Oberlech in Vorarlberg is also for pedestrians only in the wintertime and can be reached solely by mountain rail or via the slopes. A system of tunnels is used to supply the needs of residents and hotel guests.
Until three years ago ski fans bent on sport in the striking Kaisertal mountain valley in Austria could only reach the region on foot via 280 steps. The village of Ebbs in the Kaisergebirge was the last in the country to be connected to the road system. For conservation reasons the link may still only be used by residents, local companies and emergency vehicles.
Visitors to the Kleinwalser Valley on the border between Austria and Germany are also obliged to forego their cars, in winter and summer alike. The Walserbus link connects the two main villages in the valley. The centre of Oberstdorf is a pedestrian zone too. It comprises 22.7 hectares or 11 per cent of the town area, making it the probably the largest pedestrianized zone in the world.
There are numerous car-free zones in Swiss cantons. The best-known among them is Zermatt in Valais. The picturesque, upmarket, resort is ringed by 38 mighty peaks and since 1947 most vehicles here have been battery driven and almost completely silent. Electric taxis are plentiful along with horse-drawn carriages.
By comparison, a trip to the holiday village of Wengen, which lies at 1,270 metres at the foot of the Jungfrau mountain, is a jerky affair. The rack railway takes 15 minutes to transport visitors from Lauterbrunnen to this winter wonderland. The traditional Walser village of Muerren, 1,650 metres aloft in the Bernese Oberland, can also only be accessed by rail.
On the other side of the Jungfrau are two other car-free settlements, both of which lie in the Aletsach Glacier area, which was awarded UNESCO world cultural heritage status in 2001. A cable-car ride is therefore the only way to reach the two hamlets of Riederalp and Bettmenalp.