A very special treasure can be found in almost every second Tirolese community: a village lift, also affectionately known as the “mayor’s lift”. Allow me to explain.
In bygone days, I would get home from school, put my ski gear on and head off to the village lift. Homework had to wait until after dusk and fingers had warmed up at home again. My mother had probably drunk coffee and read a few magazines in the meantime (she was most likely busy doing housework if the truth be told, but that’s another story). In any case, she wasn’t allowed to tag along, because these afternoons belonged to us children. The lift workers and a few adults that happened to be around kept a watchful eye. We spent wonderful afternoons building ski jumps (tips, tricks and the necessary shovels were provided by the lift attendant), having races and practising tricks, whilst enjoying the great freedom offered by the mayor’s lift.
Why the village lift is commonly known as the mayor’s lift is easily explained: drag lifts, namely, were often financed and maintained by individual municipalities, to provide local children who had limited access to the slopes with the opportunity to learn to ski. Quite often, the respective mayor was personally involved in safeguarding the services of the (usually) old draglifts. Some of the 120 village lifts in existence are supported by tourist associations or citizens‘ initiatives – and quite rightly so! Because even though you won’t find endless slopes and heated chairlifts here, the village lift has much greater effects than could be suspected at first, or even second glance.
Some village lifts may well be old enough to remember transporting hippies back in the sixties, but there is no need to worry, this is no reason for them to be unsafe. Apart from the fact that the lifts are inspected and serviced regularly, ropeway statistics from the Republic of Austria show that hardly any accidents have occurred on draglifts – and no serious accidents whatsoever.
With two children aged 4 and 6, I am often confronted with the challenge of what leisure activities to undertake where I can cope alone. In winter, there is not much I can do in addition to ice skating, forest walks and visiting the playground because, to be honest, using chairlifts alone with the boys is an absolute no-go. Three cheers, therefore, for the village lift, because the boys have taken using the draglift like a duck to water. This means we can all be outside in the fresh air, I can even sit comfortably and wait at the lift-house, while the boys whizz up and down the slope, gaining more confidence with every single run because they can go skiing “alone”.
One of the biggest advantages of the village lift is that it is so wonderfully manageable. There is one lift, one flat slope and that is it. Young skiers can dare to attempt a run without parents glued to their side and feel like they have really achieved something. And because the village lift is such a family orientated environment, there is always someone on hand to help if need be.
One thing is for sure: if you ski the same slope all day long, at some point you don’t have to worry about finding your way around, but can concentrate on improving and fine-tuning your own technique instead. Tricks included.
The fact that there is only one slope at the village lift certainly does not mean it has less to offer! Several are equipped with floodlights, artificial snowmaking facilities and child-friendly fun-parks. If the skis need a break, the young ones can continue to play at associated winter playgrounds, toboggan hills or ice skating rinks, or just have a rest in the warm and welcoming restaurants.
Almost every Tirolean learned to ski at a village lift and, even though not everyone was able to rise through the ranks to be one of the ski elite, the list of those who began their careers at a village lift reads like the „Who’s Who“ of the ski racing world: Niki Hosp (Karlift, Heiterwang), Benni Raich (Galtwiesenlift, Wald), Günther Foidl (Hausberglift, Waidring) and Mario Matt (ski lift, Flirsch) – to mention just a few.
Whoever decides to spend a day at the village lift, won’t have to dig deep in their wallet for the pleasure: day tickets are available from as little as € 5,- (children) and € 8,-. Sometimes it costs nothing at all. This means budgets for family ski holidays can remain manageable and maybe even leave enough left over for a portion of delicious “Kaiserschmarrn” pancake.
Coming from Tirol, I enjoy having the chance to ski at many top-class ski resorts located more or less on my doorstep. That being said, I also tremendously enjoy days spent at smaller lift facilities. The huge choice on offer means I can spent relaxed, stress-free, yet varied days in the great outdoors with the children. Plus points for the village lifts are of course the unbeatably low prices, which make a ski day affordable for the whole family. In any case, I am delighted that many village lifts – thanks to dedicated local initiatives – remain preserved and in operation, thus enriching Tirol’s recreational landscape.
I have compiled a (very limited) List of Tirolean Village Lifts, which I will update regularly. It is well worth coming back for a second look ;-)