Corona crisis – school ski courses have threaded in with Corona

The view from the window in Wagrain is still slightly foggy, but the sky is blue. While it was a typical drizzly, gray January day in Vienna, around half a meter of fresh snow lured people to ski in the winter sports resort in Salzburg’s Pongau on Monday.

The Jugendhotel Wurzenrainer is still empty on Kirchboden in Wagrain. Because of the Omicron Corona variant, the Ministry of Education banned all school-related events until the end of February. The school ski courses have also meshed with the strict Corona regulations. 180 beds are available in the house itself. “There is almost nothing left of our occupancy plan,” says managing director David Kramer of the “Wiener Zeitung”.

There is still a reservation from far away Belgium of all places. And there is at least the hope that school classes will come to the ski course in March this year. However, that is now “crumbling” slowly because school directors consider it too risky in view of the uncertain corona situation.

Turquoise-green wanted a winter sports week as a mandatory requirement

It is the second winter season in which many school ski courses have been cancelled. The ÖVP and the Greens wrote exactly the opposite in their government program in January 2020 as a project in the Sport chapter on page 43: In addition to the introduction of four sports days in elementary schools, there were secondary levels I and II, i.e. middle schools and AHS lower levels as well as higher schools , at least every two sports weeks the goal. Addendum: “Although one of them must be dedicated to winter sports.”

This was also intended to respond to the fact that the number of students in ski courses had declined significantly up to 2011. This is especially true in comparison to the 1970s, when many emulated the ski heroes such as Olympic champion Franz Klammer. The goal in the coalition pact was in this respect a small surprise, after all the Greens are very critical of winter tourism, which is geared towards lifts, and thus also of efforts to expand this winter sport because of climate change.

The pandemic buried more ski courses for schoolchildren like many other things in the coalition agreement like an avalanche. In the office of Vice-Chancellor Werner Kogler (Greens), who otherwise likes to be Minister of Sports, the government immediately referred him to Martin Polaschek, Minister of Education who is responsible for schools. Of course, he currently has his hands full trying to manage the crisis with corona tests in order to maintain face-to-face teaching despite breakdowns. Like many other things about the pandemic, it is unclear how the school events and thus also the school ski courses will continue from March 1st.

How many schools will take classes on ski courses in March, if this is allowed, is uncertain. According to Sonja Spendelhofer, specialist inspector for physical education and sport in the Vienna education department, the mood is divided. There are “many really dedicated” teachers who want to take advantage of this opportunity this year. At the same time, however, there are many who say because of the unpredictable corona situation: “We don’t like risking anything,” she admits.

However, the specialist inspector also emphasizes that there are alternatives for school classes to ski courses. There are schools with groups for snowshoeing. Spendelhofer puts the costs for school ski courses in relation to other school-related events: “The language weeks are the most expensive.” There are also support options, for example through the parents’ associations. In Vienna you can rent ski equipment from the sports office. Some people think that summer sports weeks are cheaper. However, there would also be costs for sailing or tennis lessons.

Participation in school events is still mandatory in principle, but cancellations are possible for events lasting several days. But if not 70 percent of a class participates, there is no ski course.

“The youth hotels bring the future skiers,” says Michael Walchhofer, hotelier in Zauchensee and 2003 downhill world champion in St. Moritz. The Walchhofers themselves hosted school ski course participants until 2010, and there are two more youth hostels in Zauchensee near Altenmarkt im Pongau. Walchhofer also doesn’t just want to paint black: “What makes me positive at the moment is that the enthusiasm is very great.”

“Loss to Society Due to Sport Restriction”

For the former top skier who grew up with the ski slopes on his doorstep, it’s not just about the negative economic impact on winter tourism. This generally affects the loss to society due to the corona restrictions on sport and school sports, he notes as a personal view. Because for him that is “an incredible contribution to a sporty lifestyle,” emphasizes Walchhofer. The restrictions, especially for sports and school sports, “are completely beyond my understanding”.

Jugendhotel managing director Kramer has and must also keep an eye on the economic side: “We’ll get by somehow, no matter what.” This is mainly with state Corona aid as well as for other companies. In addition to school classes that stay away, the payment of the fixed cost subsidy II has also become a test of patience: “Sometimes you have to wait a very long time.”

Education Minister Polaschek is trying to counteract this, at least in the schools, with a support package that was presented two weeks ago. For joint school activities with overnight stays lasting several days, there is support of 500 euros in the summer semester. Admittedly, providers in spring and early summer are more likely to benefit from this.

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