Winter is coming. However, the popular sport is afraid of the energy crisis instead of waiting. How the clubs still want to finish the season.
Politicians were guests at Oberhof last weekend to celebrate the completion of a winter sports center in Thuringia, which has been upgraded at a cost of more than €80 million. So Oberhof must not only withstand climate change, but also better survive the energy crisis. 80 million euros was a high and promising investment, without which one of the most important centers of winter sports in Germany would have difficulties to survive in the medium term.
There was still no snow when Thuringian Prime Minister Bodo Ramello (Die Linke) handed over the symbolic key to the ice arena. At least not visible. Because more than 40,000 cubic meters of small ice crystals are already stored, which could be more valuable than ever this winter. Beneath the sawdust lies snow that was used last season on ski runs and slopes and is now intended to serve as the bottom layer of sports facilities.
Recycled snow all over Germany
“We don’t want to use the snow for just one season, but as many seasons as possibleSebastian Lenk, who is responsible for the media coordination of the 2023 Biathlon and Bobsleigh World Cup for the Thuringian Ministry of Finance and is jointly responsible for the communication of the location in Oberhof, told Sportchau.de.
Snow storage is now standard in many German winter sports resorts to compensate for the lack of snow caused by global warming. But the energy concept at Oberhof is much more complex.
Oberhof. From 2026, only our own energy
The ice layer in the ice channel is particularly thin due to the special profiling, sections of the track can freeze separately. The buildings on the site are heated by waste heat generated during cooling.
In the long term, the sports high school and hotels near the site should also join the system. And thanks to the photovoltaic systems, the additional energy costs caused by the crisis can be compensated this year, at least for the ski hall, according to Lenk.
Lenk. There are no cuts in popular sports
At this point, however, you still need to purchase additional energy. According to Lenk, he cannot currently estimate how high the additional costs will be for the rest of the system. However, one thing is certain.We will do everything to make competitive sports, youth sports and popular sports possible this winter. There are no cuts for debateLenk says and adds.We owe it to children, youth, clubs“.
Oberhof is currently often referred to as a demonstration project for how winter sports can become more sustainable, how it can use less energy, how it can survive in the future. Elevator systems, cooling systems, floodlights, artificial snow, without which no professional competition can do, all this costs a lot of energy, and therefore a lot of money. Especially in the conditions of the current crisis.
Friday.play with fire“
But such modernization also requires a lot of money, which Oberhof would not have had without funding from the federal government and the state of Thuringia. A winter sports center is also a competitive sports venue, but should also promote popular and youth sports. More than half of the training hours go to young people.
But such measures only help in the long run. Many winter sports clubs in Germany are not looking forward to the wait, but to the unsettling sights of the coming winter. “What worries me the most is predictabilityChristian Freitag, CEO of the Oberwiesenthal Winter Sports Club (WSC). He feels alone by politicians and associations in the current phase of the crisis.What is happening at the moment is playing with fire. There is a danger that especially small sports clubs will no longer be able to pay the costs and will eventually go out of business“So Friday?
Electricity and gas price inhibition for sports clubs
At the federal level, the conference of sports ministers on November 4 decided that both electricity and gas price brakes should be applied to sports clubs. However, it is not clear whether the federal government, as requested by the conference, will also involve the clubs in the settlement of difficulties if the clubs can no longer pay the electricity and heating costs. Further measures are currently a matter for federal states and municipalities.
While the Bavarian state government is providing a €1.5 billion emergency fund and has doubled the club’s allowance for the coming year, clubs in other federal states are still awaiting further concrete measures. On the other hand, the German Olympic Sports Confederation and the Conference of Sports Ministers have called on the clubs to save 20 percent of their forces.
A terrifying look into the future
In Oberwiesenthal, the WSC responds to this request with more effective training; groups merge, training weekends and therefore recovery opportunities are no longer available, the floodlights are only on certain days. It is not possible to completely abandon expensive lighting, so Freitag.During the week we train after school from 4.30pm. If we then leave the children in the dark, that means no training.”
Even with energy and electricity price curbs, he fears costs for WSC Oberwiesenthal could rise tenfold. An amount that the club can repay with the help of sponsors, as he says. “But how will it be next year or 2024? I cannot count on our private sector partners to step into the breach again“So Friday?
Costs add up for recreational skiers
But even so, the club needs to gather its reserves. Sponsorship monies that were otherwise earmarked for young athletes must now cover energy costs. “At the moment, only artificial snow reaches the children from the sponsorship money– says Freitag, who is concerned about children’s development.This is about the welfare of future generations, who have to build something here. Sports greatly contribute to social cohesion. It would be bad if the clubs gave up and the children could no longer play sports.“
And mass sports are also suffering from the energy crisis. It is true that this winter there will also be great activity in Zugspitze in Upper Bavaria. But the already expensive hobby of skiing will cost a lot more, and for some people in a tight economic situation, it will hardly be possible to finance it. The daily wage there will increase by 14 percent to 57 euros. Meanwhile, visitors will have to do without comfort.
Zugspitze. slower elevators, unheated outdoor areas
While the Zugspitze pistes are not supposed to get any snow at all, the Garmisch Classic ski area has only three of the four runs on offer this season, and they’re significantly narrower and with thinner snowpack. Bringing snow to the slopes cost operators €2.5m last year – about 20 per cent of the company’s electricity costs – suggesting energy costs could quadruple.
To compensate, it will also be colder for the guests. No heated seats on cable cars, patio heaters in restaurants, off-peak lift speeds. Very small measures should lead to big results, according to the operators’ strategy.
Lenk. “This region breathes winter sports.”
Despite all the difficulties, winter sports will probably still be held in many places this winter, albeit with great savings and fears. “We are all fighting to keep things safe for children and the sport they love this winter and beyond. Winter sports are simply too deeply rooted in our region for thatsays Oberwiesenthaler Freitag.
And Lenk also emphasizes the importance of winter sports for southern Thuringia;This region breathes winter sports. It is very important for the cohesion of our society. It’s about the kids and young people who love their sport and the thousands of volunteers who do everything they can to keep things happening here.“
Like the biathlon and toboggan world championships this winter, Oberhof is looking forward to two major events and winter sports. “Hotels in the region are well booked“, says Ariane Sturm, executive director of the Thuringian Forest Regional Association.Of course, the war in Ukraine is curbing the desire to travel internationally. Still, many guests do not want to because of the epidemic situation. These challenges also create new opportunities for the Thuringian Forest.“So what he means is: experiences with nature instead of crowded big cities, safe travel. The region has always earned from it.
Winter sports in transition
How long the energy crisis will last and when the situation for the clubs will improve again, no one can estimate at the moment. The current challenges are likely to remain a problem in one form or another in the future.
Because climate change is already reducing the number of days with snow, frost and ice in all German winter sports regions. In the future, a number of innovations and upgrades will be required to continue to offer winter sports around the world. Clubs and operators hope for support.