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CLIMATE CRISIS

Austria’s famous Dachstein glacier to be closed off for skiing this winter

Heat, rain and even Sahara sand have affected the ice in the famous Austrian Dachstein glacier, forcing authorities to close off the ski lifts this winter.

Austria's famous Dachstein glacier to be closed off for skiing this winter
A cross country skier walks through the snowy landscape near the village of Ramsau at the Dachstein mountains in Austria. Photo: CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP

Austrian authorities have decided to cancel winter skiing in the Dachstein glacier, located on the highest mountain in Styria, Austrian media reported.

“There will be no autumn or winter skiing on the Dachstein this year,” Georg Bliem, the director of Planai-Hochwurzen-Bahnen told Kleine Zeitung on Wednesday.

For years now, the glacier has been steadily melting in summer. The year 2022 has been no exception, as heat and extreme rain (and even Sahara sand) have hurt the ice structures, causing the region to become dangerous for non-experienced hikers.

READ ALSO: From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

The melting ice has been particularly affecting the structures for lift operations. To operate safely, the supports of the lifts would have to be moved.

“That’s a huge effort, and we have no guarantee that it won’t need to be done again next year,” Bliem said.

On the slopes, the rock is coming through in some places and even the lift line now runs over rock, he added.

For this reason, the decision to forgo winter skiing, at least this year, has been made. But further checks will take place next year.

READ ALSO: How will climate change impact Austria?

“In the spring we will evaluate the situation,” Bliem said. 

The peak season on the Dachstein glacier is autumn when snow cannons cannot yet be fired up at lower altitudes. In Styria, the Dachstein was the only ski destination to offer skiing as early as September and October. Many professional athletes in particular had used the slopes for training runs.

Other attractions will remain open

The area has many other attractions that will remain open, the authorities highlighted. The ice palace, the famous stairs leading up to the panoramic viewpoint, and the hilltop restaurant, for example.

The area for cross-country ski trains will be larger, and ski touring crossings will continue to be possible. The park is also looking to develop a new concept for future winters, offering more hiking trails.

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SKIING

How to save money and still go skiing in Austria

Is it possible to go skiing in Austria this year and not spend a fortune? Yes, as long as you don’t mind compromising on a few factors. Here’s how.

How to save money and still go skiing in Austria

Buy a season pass

If you live in the mountains, or not far away, and you plan to go skiing on a regular basis this winter, then the best value for money is a season pass.

A season pass gives you access to the slopes for the entire winter season, which means you can save a lot of money when compared to buying day passes. However, for the cost of the season pass to really pay off, you need to make the most of it and use it often.

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For example, an adult season pass in St. Johann in Tyrol is €382 and a day pass in peak season (December 24 to March 17) costs €53. This means you need to spend at least eight full days on the mountain to save money, otherwise a season pass actually becomes the more expensive option.

Go off-peak

Discounts are available for skiing during the off-peak season. 

As mentioned above, the main ski season is from Christmas to mid-March. But many resorts open earlier in December, if conditions allow, and offer big discounts until December 24.

In St. Johann, the adult day pass rate is €29 between December 8 to 23 – far below the €53 in peak season. Likewise, accommodation is often cheaper during off-peak times, providing another way to go skiing in Austria and still save money.

These off-peak rates don’t apply at all ski resorts but it’s worth checking before booking a trip to the mountains.

Try other winter sports

If the cost of skiing puts you off but you still want to explore the mountains, there are other (and cheaper) options to consider.

Langlaufen (cross-country skiing) is popular in Austria – especially during a good snow year. It involves gliding across groomed trails in the valleys and is completely free to enjoy. Apart from the cost of buying or renting Langlaufen skis and boots.

READ MORE: Is skiing still possible on Austria’s glaciers?

The Langlauf season is also shorter than the ski season. It usually starts around Christmas, or earlier depending on the amount of snowfall, and runs until around the end of February. 

However, the season can go longer if the conditions are right, like during the winter of 2021/2022. Or it might not happen at all if there isn’t enough snow. 

(Photo by Daniel Frank on Unsplash)

Then there is Skitouren (ski touring), which is hiking up the mountain on special skis with fur grips before skiing down. This is a good workout and a great way to explore the mountains, while also getting a skiing fix at the end. It’s also free in some places, or much cheaper than buying a ski pass.

The only downside to Skitouren is that you need to buy or rent different skis and boots, which can add to the cost.

An alternative to ski touring is snowshoeing where you hike up on special snow shoes. This can be done along ski touring trails but unless there is a gondola at the top, you will have to hike back down again.

Buy second-hand gear

It’s no secret that winter sports equipment is expensive with everything to consider from skis to boots, helmet, goggles, back protector and clothing. But there is a way to save money with second hand gear.

A good place to start looking is on Willhaben – Austria’s online second-hand marketplace. Alternatively, many sports stores that sell winter sports gear often have end-of-season sales, although this requires some advance planning.

Many ski rental places also sell ex-rental skis, boots and poles. This isn’t usually advertised but if you ask you can get a good deal. Just make sure the equipment is still in good condition, otherwise it’s not really worth it.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Is travelling to Austria this winter worth it?

Stay at self-catering accommodation

Staying in a hotel and going out for dinner every night is a great way to enjoy a week in the Alps. But it quickly becomes expensive – especially this winter with high inflation and rising prices.

Instead, try booking self-catering accommodation, like an apartment, where you can cook your meals and prepare packed lunches for a day on the slopes.

There are also many Pensionen (boarding houses) in cheaper ski resorts that offer good value for money and usually include breakfast. Some even do half-board, which can help to bring down costs even more.

Shop around

It’s human nature to want to follow the crowd and go to the most popular ski resorts, but they are often the most expensive.

Instead, do some research to find smaller, less expensive places to go skiing in Austria, like Ellmau, Kirchberg and Mayrhofen in Tyrol. 

And if you really want to save money, steer clear of places like Kitzbühel in Tyrol, Zell am See in Salzburg and Lech am Arlberg in Vorarlberg – all of which are known as ‘luxury’ resorts with a price tag to match.

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