Pistes and Feasts
TEXT: WIBKE CARTER
If you’ve never put on a pair of skis, worn snowshoes or had a bite of Kaiserschmarrn, Salzburg region is the place to go. Under sunny skies, our writer Wibke Carter dives into winter fun activities up and down the slopes.
“The mountains are calling and I must go” is what is written on a sign in the lounge of my accommodation in the SalzburgerLand, and what a calling it is for the people who live in the mountainous region of this part of Austria. Take, for example Helmut Kreidenhuber, who has been a ski instructor for 42 years and who is also a part-time lumberjack and snowshoe hiking guide. “Every afternoon, I have to spend about one hour in the office, and that’s enough for me. Out here, I know every molehill”, he laughs as we’re traversing the freshly fallen snow at 1575 m altitude at the St. Johann Alpendorf.
We pass by Obergaßalm (traditional Alpine hut) which is more than 200 years old. In summer, it accommodates cattle until mid-September and is a welcome stop for hikers for homemade regional delicacies, such as cheese and bread and oven-fresh pastries. Kreidenhuber spent a whole summer up here in the solitude of the mountains. “It’s a tough job. You must get up at 3 a.m. to milk the cows, then the bread needs baking and meat platters need to be laid out for guests. But finally, in the evenings when the cable car is closed and the day trippers are gone, the quietness is heavenly.”
Only twenty minutes north by car, my winter adventure continues as I have an appointment in Werfenweng with Alois Schwarzenberger, who was once the world ski instructing champion, for my first ever skiing lesson. At the ripe old age of 40+, I won’t ever participate in a world cup, but sliding down the beginners’ slope is so much fun. After an hour, I’m ready to tackle a steeper run but I manage to fall off the lift on the way up. Lying like a helpless beetle on my back, skis poking sideways and looking up to a cloudless blue sky above, I spot a dozen or more gliders catching the thermals. As well as being a skiing and snowboarding area Werfenweng is also a near-perfect location for paragliding.
I stay at Wood Ridge, the town’s most unusual accommodation comprising of twelve Canadian-style log cabins. Hemmed in by mountains on three sides, each chalet offers panoramic views, most impressively the jagged Brandstätter Riedel mountain ridge opposite. Australian-born part-owner Carolyne O’Brien has lived in the area for a quarter of a century and cannot imagine leaving. “Building these chalets has been the fulfilment of a lifelong dream. And I’m settled in the community. For example, in the morning, I just go to my neighbours’ barn and help myself to the fresh milk we give our guests for breakfast”, she says.
In the morning, I head to the Salzburg State Ski Museum where Richard Gruber recalls fascinating anecdotes from the beginnings of the “white sport” around 5000 years ago to the latest technical developments and the racing of our time. “Before the ski pole was invented, the advice was to ski downhill in the direction of the flowing water. Once you reach an uncontrollable speed, move the skis sideways and throw yourself into the snow. Then repeat.”, he explains. Mankind, it seems, has come a long way.
For lunch, higher altitudes are calling again. The cable car takes me to the Rosnerköpfl mountain station at 1200m where not only the best views in the area await but also the Auszeit Restaurant. Sitting outside in the basking sun and shedding layer after layer, it’s time to try one of Austria’s most famous dishes: the Kaiserschmarrn. A sweet fluffy pancake made with rum-soaked raisins is torn into bite-sized pieces, caramelized, and served sprinkled with powdered sugar, and preserves, in this case, plum sauce.
“Many eco-farmers in the valley still follow tradition: milking their cows, churning butter, making jam, baking bread”, says local Waltraud Steiger as I jump on her horse carriage drawn by stallions Hugo and Storm. “But these days you cannot live from farming alone. Often rental accommodation is part of the family income. In the 1970s some village children had to give up their rooms for paying guests. Luckily those days are over”.
Despite being small in size, Werfenweng is booming with two new hotels and an underground car park in the works. Sitting in my chalet with the valley spread out before me, I come to realize that the balance between tradition and progress is key in this beautiful part of Austria where the mountains keep calling.
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