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SKIING

Is skiing still possible on Austria’s glaciers?

The hot summer in Austria this year was bad news for some glaciers. What does it mean for the winter season? And is skiing still possible on Austria's glaciers?

Is skiing still possible on Austria’s glaciers?
Climate change is impacting Austria's glaciers, but skiing is still possible at some of them. (Photo by Oscar Due Wang / Pexels)

For many winter sports enthusiasts, skiing or snowboarding down a glacier is a must-do activity, and there are plenty of opportunities for that in Austria.

Or at least there were until recent years when warmer temperatures started to impact these large bodies of ice on Austria’s mountains.

In fact, the summer of 2022 had such an impact on Dachstein in Styria that there will be no lift operation on the glacier for the coming winter season.

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

The main reason for this is that the melting ice has affected the structural integrity of the supports for the T-bar lift, reports Der Standard.

For the lifts to open, Georg Bliem, Managing Director of the Planai-Hochwurzen-Bahnen, said: “We would have to move the supports by five metres and close the crevasses on the slopes.

However, Bliem added it was a “huge effort” to move the supports and there was no way to guarantee what the conditions would be like next year.

Typically the ski area has three drag lifts and one double chair lift in operation during the winter. But industry leaders are pessimistic that the glacier can be revived, which means skiing at Dachstein Gletscher (glacier) could be over for the foreseeable future.

FOR MEMBERS: What to expect from the ski season in Austria this winter

Additionally, Mölltaler Glacier in Tyrol is not opening until the official start of the winter season on November 18th. Usually the ski season at the glacier starts in October but the weather has been too warm.

So what about other glaciers in Austria? Are they still open for skiing? 

Thankfully, for winter sports fan, the answer is yes.

Here’s what you need to know about the autumn/winter 2022/23 season at Austria’s glaciers.

Should you cancel your trip to Austria this winter? (Photo by Daniel Frank on Unsplash)

Hintertux

Winter ski operations at Hintertux Glacier in Tyrol officially started on 15th October. However, this resort boasts all-year skiing and even has 20 km of pistes in operation during the summer months.

Lifts at Hintertux are currently in use from 8.15am to 4.30pm and a full day adult ski pass costs €65.

Kitzsteinhorn

The winter season started at the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier on October 7th. Prior to the opening, the 80cm snow cover was described as “quite impressive” in the Salzburger Nachrichten.

Kitzsteinhorn is Salzburg’s only glacier ski resort and has pistes up to 3,000 metres above sea level. The operators have a modern snowmaking management system that helps to regulate the conditions on the slopes.

The Gletscherjet gondola is currently in operation at Kitzsteinhorn from 8.15am to 4.30pm and further lifts will open from December. The cost of an adult day pass is €64.

READ NEXT: Discover Austria: How to make the most of 24 hours in Innsbruck

Sölden

The glacier ski area is also open in Sölden in Tyrol where the Alpine World Cup event was recently held to kick off the downhill ski race season.

The altitude at Sölden ranges from 1,350 metres to 3,340 metres. The glacier ski area across the Rettenbach and Tiefenbach glaciers covers 34.5 km.

The Gaislachkogl cable car is currently open from 8am to 4.45pm and the cost of an adult day ski pass is around €60 (the price fluctuates depending on the date).

Stubai

The autumn ski season at Stubai Glacier, near Innsbruck in Tyrol, started on 26th September. The Snow Park, known as Stubai Zoo, will open on November 4th with a special three-day event.

There are 11 lifts in operation at the resort from 8am to 4pm. An adult day ski pass at the Stubai Glacier costs €56.

Pitztal

At the Pitztal Glacier (Austria’s highest glacier at 3,440 metres), the slopes have been open since October 1st. Together with the Rifflsee ski area, there are 67 km of slopes at Pitztal.

Currently, the cost of a one day adult ski pass varies from €41 to €58. It’s possible to find cheaper tickets by booking ahead – sometimes up to 30 percent off.

The ski area at Pitztal is in operation from 7am to 1.30pm. From December 17th it will be open daily from 8.30am to 4pm. 

Kaunertal

The Kaunertal Glacier in Tyrol (at 2,750 metres above sea level) opened for skiing on 15th October, including the resort’s snow park for freeriding.

There are three lifts operating at Kaunertal from 8.15am to 4pm. The cost of a one day adult ski pass starts at €41 and Kaunertal uses the same ticket pricing system as Pitztal, so it’s possible to save 30 percent by booking ahead.

FOR MEMBERS: 29 ways to save money in Austria (but still have fun)

(Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP)

How much is climate change impacting Austria’s glaciers?

While the winter season is well underway at most of Austria’s glaciers, experts have been warning for years that the Dachstein Glacier is quickly retreating.

A recent report by Der Standard says the snow at the glacier is currently five metres less than what it should be and people are advised to avoid the area or use a mountain guide.

Elsewhere in Austria, scientists are concerned that most glaciers in the country are losing more ice in summer than they are gaining in winter, which is speeding up the overall ice melt.

And according to the International Commission for the Protection of the Alps (CIPRA), temperatures in Europe’s highest mountains have risen by nearly two degrees Celsius in the past 120 years almost double the global average.

What this will mean for skiing on Austria’s glaciers in the future is yet to be seen. But many glacial resorts are already planning to end the winter season early in 2023 to save energy and protect the glaciers.

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DISCOVER AUSTRIA

8 things to know if you’re visiting Austria in December

From Christmas markets to possible strike action and the start of the ski season, here’s what you need to know when visiting Austria in December.

8 things to know if you’re visiting Austria in December

December in Austria is exactly how you would imagine it – twinkling lights, wintry weather and wafts of Glühwein in the air.

And this year, the festive season is set to be even more enjoyable after many Christmas celebrations were put on hold for the past two years due to the pandemic.

So if you’re planning to travel to Austria this December, here’s what to expect.

READ MORE: How to save money and still go skiing in Austria

No travel restrictions

There are currently no Covid-related travel restrictions for entering Austria.

Previously, people arriving in Austria had to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test (known as 3G), but those rules came to an end in May.

This year will be the first Christmas season in Austria without Covid travel restrictions since December 2019.

Christmas markets are on

Another welcome return this year in Austria is the Christmas markets. 

Last year, many markets around the country were cancelled after a snap lockdown in November, although some events still went ahead with strict rules in place.

But this year, the Christmas markets are back in full swing without restrictions, so make sure you visit one (or two) to really get into the Christmas spirit.

Austria’s most famous markets are in Vienna, like the Christkindmarkt in front of the Town Hall that runs from November 19 to December 26.

FOR MEMBERS: IN PICTURES: A guide to the main Christmas markets in Austria

Some Covid-19 rules still apply

The stressful days of pandemic lockdowns might be behind us (fingers crossed), but there are still a few rules in Austria to be aware of.

In Vienna, it is still mandatory to wear an FFP2 mask in pharmacies, on public transport and at stations. So if you arrive at Vienna International Airport and take public transport into the city centre, expect to be asked to put on a mask.

Nationwide, masks are also required at all health and care facilities, including hospitals and clinics.

Possible strike action 

Like in many countries in Europe right now, inflation is rising (see more on this below) and many workers unions are in the process of negotiating pay rises. 

This has already led to a strike by rail workers at ÖBB, Austria’s national rail operator, on Monday November 28, with the possibility of further strike action if a deal can’t be reached. 

Retail workers and beer brewers are also threatening to strike in early December for similar reasons. 

So if visiting Austria in December, prepare yourself for some possible upheaval. Although the latest rail strike caused minimal disruption.

READ MORE: Train strike: What are your rights in Austria if your trip is cancelled or delayed?

Everything is more expensive

Inflation in Austria is currently over 10 percent, which has led to price increases for everything from daily groceries to energy bills and dining out.

Even the Christmas markets are more expensive this year due to higher prices for the Glühwein mugs. This means some markets in Vienna are charging almost €5 for the Pfand (deposit) for that first glass of mulled wine.

The same applies to ski resorts with hotels, lift tickets and restaurants all costing more this year.

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

Public holidays

Besides Christmas (December 25) and Stephan’s Day (December 26), December 8, when Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Mariä Empfängnis), is also a public holiday in Austria.

Of course, there are also several celebratory dates in December. For example, every Sunday until Christmas is an Advent Sunday, and Austrian families commemorate it in many ways, including lighting up candles.

On December 4, there is Barbaratag, while on December 5 Krampus pays his visit to Austrian villages and cities. On the next day, December 6, it’s time for St Nikolaus to bring chocolate and tangerines to children who were nice during the year.

Christmas Eve, Day, and St Stephen’s Day (December 24, 25 and 26) are important dates for Austrian traditions.

It’s also worth noting that Austrians celebrate Christmas on the evening of December 24, usually with a family meal.

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

Start of ski season

In some parts of Austria, like on high-altitude glaciers in the Alps, the skiing season is already underway. 

Elsewhere, some resorts tentatively open in early to mid-December before the winter season officially starts at Christmas. So you can possibly save some money (and avoid the crowds) by going skiing earlier.

For example, in St. Johann in Tyrol, the adult day pass rate is €29 between December 8 to 23 – far below the €53 in peak season (from December 24). 

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

New Year celebrations

Expect lots of fireworks on New Year’s Eve (Silvester) in Austria – no matter where you are.

Most major cities have a large fireworks display planned for midnight on December 31 and hotels tend to book up quickly – especially in cities like Salzburg.

In Vienna, the bells ring out at St. Stephan’s Cathedral to welcome in the New Year, which is also broadcast on national television. This is followed by fireworks and some even take part in a communal waltz on Rathausplatz in front of the Town Hall.

But if you really want to celebrate New Year like an Austrian, then give a marzipan pig to your nearest and dearest. The little pigs represent a good luck charm and are handed out every year on New Year’s Eve.

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