Snow patrol: Lois Hechenblaikner's photographs reveal the seamier side of the Alps


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The Independent Culture

Every year, the Tyrol region of Austria is transformed into the ultimate ski resort: snow guaranteed, party-times promised, a wonderland for tourists to descend upon in their droves. And come they certainly do – over 41 million people visited last year.

Photographer Lois Hechenblaikner grew up in the region, but after leaving Austria for 20 years, he returned in the mid-Nineties to be horrified by the changes the ski industry had wrought: "Tyrol is my cultural background, but we have industrialised the Alps. Photography is my weapon to change something. The tourism industry only wants to show the fashionable side of it, the best side, an Alpine Disneyland. I want to show the [other] side, that tourists cannot always see."

Having snapped the yearly construction and dismantling of these resorts – all the slopes and jumps and bars and pylons and waste – for over a decade, Hechenblaikner's material certainly offers an alternative to holiday-brochure gloss. A book of the project is out later this month, and he hopes it will "open the eyes of people in the industry".

"The snowboarding is very popular with the British younger generation," he says, but adds that really, for a lot of visitors, "it's a big alcohol event, nothing more. City people come here to release energy or get drunk."

For Hechenblaikner, the winter-sports industry also exhibits a depressingly cynical attitude to the traditions of the area. He deems it "tourism mining", where everything from the local culture is manipulated, commodified, turned into tourist tat. Look at those strange simulacrums of alpine lodges: gaudy bars that make disingenuous nods to Tyrolean traditions. Hechenblaikner says that "they pervert the farmers' culture – they have no respect for the old tools, everything becomes only banal, only décor. It's just taking and using and not giving back."

There is another area where there is plenty of greased-palm give-and-take: advertising. Tyrol resorts are partly funded by brand promotion; take, for instance, that Porsche in a glass box below the ski lift (right). "The tourists don't just see beautiful landscape, they see adverts," Hechenblaikner says. "I hope one day someone will ski into that box!"

'Winter Wonderland' is published by Steidl; visit