The Quiet Beauty of Winter - soft winter sports

What could possibly motivate a reasonable human being to tramp up a mountain on two snow shoes resembling tennis rackets? The answer is easy: anticipating an unforgettable experience in the wild that is only possible by moving beyond the flurry on the ski slopes. As with snow shoe nature’s beauty can be truly appreciated while on an exciting ski tour, or on a contemplative winter hike, or a ride on a dog sled or in a horse-drawn sleigh.

As we all know, Inuit are very familiar with snow. That is why they have always appreciated the many advantages of snow shoes and have known how to optimally use them. The large soles keep you on the surface of even the deepest snow, making snow shoes just as ideal for getting around as are touring skies. What is particularly valuable is that snow shoes are quite easy to put on and to use, especially thanks to technological advances that have made them much smaller and lighter. And the spikes on the underside insure safe footing while climbing on icy surfaces. Those on ski tours fasten fur pelts to their skies to achieve the same result. The amateur quickly learns that gaining the necessary skills is easy and will add even more satisfaction to the activity.

There is a special appeal to snow shoe hiking or ski tours. Far away from the prepared tracks and runs you can reach regions that others will never have the privilege of experiencing – and you can enjoy spectacular views such as fresh virgin snow clinging to a mountain cliff, glistening in the sun. You might see a timid wild animal before it dashes back into the woods and appreciate the undisturbed splendour of a glacier field. And as time passes on the trail one regains an appreciation for the inspiring benefits of slow and deliberate motion.

There is an especially impressive snow shoe trail at the head of the Rauris Valley in Salzburger Land. Before the trail leads into the forest you will be amazed by the majesty of the abounding three thousand metre (over 9,000 ft.) high peaks above you. The trail itself is its own reward, but still after three hours and having gained 370 metres (over 1,200 ft.) in altitude it will be rewarding to stop by at the Alpine inn “Ammererhof,” and take in a hearty meal. For the return ride you can borrow a toboggan - or you may simply prefer to spend the night in one of the comfortable guest rooms and start the next day in the fresh mountain air.

Ski tours especially, of course, call for caution. If you are not a seasoned and experienced skier it is of utmost importance to take a professional guide who is acquainted with the region, with the consistency of the snow and with the vagaries of the weather. Indispensable equipment includes an avalanche transciever, a shovel, a sensor, as well as a first-aid kit. Still another security device, which is not yet in very common use because it is so new, is the avalanche air-bag. In any event, one of the several introductory courses that are offered in many high Alpine winter sport regions is recommended. These will provide training in the essential skills needed for tours in open and unrestricted areas. The Austrian Alp Society is also promoting education and prevention with its “Stop or Go” course under the auspices of its “SicherAmBerg” (safety on the mountain) guidance initiative. It is important to see that guests return safe and sound – filled with wonderful memories of their encounter with nature.

For those who prefer a little less ambitious holiday there is, of course, another less strenuous option: They can simply don warm footwear and set off for a winter hike. Meanwhile, all over Austria there are countless, specially prepared trails at all altitudes that lead through enchanting forests, over sun drenched mountain pastures or into the highest mountain regions. There are many variations. You can ascend the mountain in a cable car and start off from there, for instance, to the Salzburg Großecksattel in the Mauterndorf ski area. Often it’s even simpler to simply step out the front door. Many of the accommodations are located directly on a hiking trail. Sometimes the hiking path offers also educational opportunities: The health care spa Mariapfarr, for example, has its own “solar nature trail” with signs displaying interesting information about the solar system, about the sun as a compass, or about solar energy.

Back to the Inuit: Austrian tourist enterprises have learned many other skills from them, for instance, how to construct igloos or the ins and outs of dogsledding. What was once necessary for the people of the far north for their survival now guarantees that winter holiday makers can experience a sense of adventure. At the igloo seminar in Ebensee or on the Styrian Bürgeralm you have the possibility to learn the handed down tradition of the Inuit’s method of building abodes of snow – a fascinating experience for people of all ages. What impresses most is that even on the coldest days the temperature in the interior of the igloo remains above freezing and, happily, clothing and sleeping bags stay dry after meals are cooked and nights are spent sleeping in the finished house.

A ride on a dog sled is also an unforgettable experience – not only for the younger among us. At a workshop one can learn valuable information about the care and character of a Husky, about the most important aspects of manoeuvring a sled and about commands that the sled dogs will understand. All this can immediately be put into practice – of course under the watchful and expert eye of a “musher,” as the driver of the dog sleds are known. A four-legged animal from our own regions, however, is more often hitched to a sled than these temperamental Huskies. Horse- drawn sleds gently and easily gliding through the quiet winter landscape provide guests with that special holiday experience – after they have carefully spread a warm blanket over themselves and snuggled up to each other. This certainly must be considered an insider recommendation for young – and old – lovers alike.

A true “evergreen” in the white snow of winter is clearly tobogganing, and not only by daylight. On the Hirschenkogel at Semmering the most powerful floodlighting system in all of Europe illuminates the toboggan run. For three kilometres tobogganers are regaled with the story of the Wizard of Siebenstein and the wicked Dragon Firetooth, all while fantastical building structures, magical lighting effects and otherworldly sounds create a spectacular atmosphere. On the Wildkogel in Salzburg there is “probably the longest illuminated toboggan run in the world.” It stretches an unbelievable fourteen kilometres and is lit at night for the entire length of the run.

True friends of nature, however, stick with the tried and true methods of yesteryear. They pocket a torch, grab a sled and slowly and easily stroll up the mountain over snow-covered paths through forests and pastures. You can do this anywhere in Austria. And the number of people who yearn to rediscover tranquillity during their holiday increases constantly.


Skiing across the Dachstein

Winter hiking in Salzburg Lungau

Living like Eskimos

Winter hiking in the sun

Ski tours with instruction
Hotel FaSkina in Bludenz

Dog sledding


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