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SpotCheck | Johnsbach in the Gesäuse

The mountaineering village as a ski touring location: "Even in winter when it snows"

by Helmut Gassler • 02/12/2022
From the perspective of Switzerland, Germany and the western federal states of Austria, for most people the Alps and their "interesting" part in terms of skiing end with the "almost three-thousand metre" Dachstein. The areas further east are generally referred to as the eastern edge of the Alps even by experts (such as the PowderGuide community) and are wrongly considered to be insignificant in terms of skiing.

Of course, residents in the east of Austria (and also in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) see things very differently. For this group, the Alps begin here! From the perspective of the Hungarian lowlands, for example, the Schneeberg (which can be easily seen from western Hungary or from Lake Neusiedl on fine days) towers almost 2000 metres above its own location.

In fact, this part of the Alps is home to a number of valleys and mountain regions that have earned a well-deserved and prominent place in the history of Alpine skiing and still make the hearts of all powder freaks beat faster today.

One of these regions is the Gesäuse, which takes its name from the sound of the untamed Enns River flowing through the deeply carved rocky gorges. The mountains to the right and left tower over the Enns in steep rock faces. The highest peak, the Hochtor, reaches 2369 metres and towers over the river valley by almost 1800 metres! This area has been specially protected as the Gesäuse National Park since 2002. The Gesäuse was already famous in the late 19th and early 20th century as a climbing area, where the Viennese and Graz climbing elite of the time were able to realise some famous routes.

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In the western part of the Enns Gorge, a small valley branches off, squeezes through a narrow, rocky gorge between Reichenstein and Ödstein and then runs parallel to the Enns directly south of famous Gesäuse peaks such as Ödstein, Festkogel and Hochtor. The only village in this small valley is Johnsbach, whose hamlets and individual houses are scattered throughout the valley. Many of the walls and routes of the Gesäuse were developed from Johnsbach. A manifestation of this history of alpinism can be found in the "mountaineers' cemetery" Johnsbach, where famous alpinists such as the painter and alpinist Gustav Jahn (who died in an accident on the so-called Preuß-Quergang on the Ödsteinkante) have found their final resting place.

The Alpine Club's "Mountaineering Villages" initiative ennobled Johnsbach as a "mountaineering village" very early on. In my opinion, this is more than justified, as people who want to get closer to the mountains in a sporty way, be it hiking, climbing or skiing, can be found here all year round. However, there is no mass tourism here.

Winter in the Johnsbach Valley

Johnsbach is a very chill village with just 150 inhabitants spread across the entire valley and a total of three (!) Inns (there are also several accommodation options in private accommodation, holiday flats and farm holidays). Despite the low absolute altitude (from approx. 800 to around 1000 metres), snow is guaranteed even in the valley, as the region is still in the accumulation zone of the north-west weather conditions. The high Gesäuse mountains in comparison to their neighbours then ensure that the precipitation clouds unload their coveted cargo here. As the area is in the extended catchment area of Vienna, Graz and Linz, it is particularly busy at weekends. It is all the quieter during the week, when we have been the only overnight guests at the Inn a few times and have not met anyone else on tour all day.

The ski touring area of Johnsbach has a double face. The south is dominated by gentler slopes and fine ski hollows or cirques, which can be reached via long access trenches (mostly via forest roads). The summit heights are around 2000 metres. Thanks to the north-facing slopes and cirques, you can find fluffy powder snow here for a long time and some of the tours are often possible from as early as December with the first heavy snowfalls. Here you will find some typical bad weather or alternative destinations that are still possible even in uncertain conditions.

In the north, on the other hand, the famous limestone giants dominate and form the impressive backdrop for the leisurely ski tours in the southern part on the one hand and ambitious ski destinations themselves with long and steep, south-facing descents on the other. There are also some "extreme descents" here. The "parade ski mountain" of the Gesäuse par excellence, the Lugauer (2206m, also known as the "Styrian Matterhorn"), is somewhat out of the ordinary, as it is not difficult in terms of skiing technique, but with its total ascent length of approx. 1800 metres (counter ascent mandatory) it is considered a test of fitness. Its even summit flank of almost 600 metres in altitude ("Lugauerplan"), which looks "steep" from a distance, reveals at first glance why the Lugauer has a reputation as a ski mountain "par excellence".

Today, in good conditions, many of these Gesäuse mountains are also skied during mid winter. First and foremost the steep descent from the Festkogel (2269m) and the (more leisurely) peaks such as Stadelfeldschneid (2092m) and Gsuchmauer (2116m). The highest peak, the Hochtor (2369m), is a very elite destination in winter (or spring) with its extremely steep and dangerous tour over the snow hole (rating: S4, 48°, alpinistic AD, R4).

Conclusion

Johnsbach has earned its reputation as a "real" mountaineering village in winter as well. The choice of tours is large enough for a longer stay and there are also plenty of bad weather tours (e.g. Gscheideggkogel or Spielkogel via the Mödlinger Hütte). The lack of the usual mass (ski) tourism infrastructures also helps to slow things down.

Additional information:

Gesäuse National Park (nationalpark-gesaeuse.at)

The mountaineering village of Johnsbach in the Gesäuse, Styria (bergsteigerdoerfer.org)

oedsteinblick.at | Gasthof Pension in Styria | Rafting

Welcome to the Gasthof Kölblwirt in Johnsbach in the Gesäuse National Park - Gasthof Kölblwirt in Johnsbach in the Gesäuse National Park Upper Styria (koelblwirt.at)

donnerwirt.at

On the next page you will find a small selection of tours -->

Blaseneck

I've been to the Johnsbach Valley several times in recent years for a few days and have always found good to very good conditions - even in "difficult" winters. I can only select a few of the many possible tours here. I'm focussing on tours that are more suited to mid winter and are also feasible in less than ideal conditions.

The Blaseneck (1969m) is a completely unspectacular mountain, you can't actually see the summit from the Johnsbach valley. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is that there is a wind measuring station of the Styrian avalanche warning service on its neighbouring summit. Yes, and then there's something else. If you stay at GH Ödsteinblick (as I usually do here), you can set off practically and conveniently directly from the breakfast table (or from the ski cellar), i.e. "ski in and ski out", whereas for most other tours here in the Johnsbach Valley you usually need a short drive to the starting car park of the respective tour. On the tour to the Blaseneck via the Sebringgraben, on the other hand, it is sufficient to cross the road and then just push to the southern side of the Johnsbach Valley and you are already at the entrance to the Sebringgraben, through which you ascend on a long forest road to the end of the trench. The summit slopes are then climbed from the west via the Kainzenalmhütte and a sparsely wooded ridge. At the summit, a beautiful view of the rocky peaks and walls of the Gesäuse is worthwhile, offering a striking contrast to the view down to the wide Palfen valley with the industrial town of Trieben.

In unfavourable conditions, the descent follows roughly the same route as the ascent. In good snow conditions, the wide, lightly wooded western slopes of the Rotkogel on the north-west ridge of the Blaseneck provide rewarding powder terrain. The direct western flank offers a steeper variation (up to around 35 degrees) if the avalanche situation is favourable. The Bärenkar to the north (entrance up to 40 degrees) also offers a descent variation via the Hinterleitneralm (on the forest road back to the Sebringgraben, with enough snow via beautiful direct options in the forest).

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Leobner

The Leobner (2036m) is probably the most popular ski mountain in the Johnsbach Valley. There are several different downhill options to choose from in various directions. The best way to reach the summit is from the starting point at the car park (approx. 1080m) directly at the end of the valley (behind the Gscheidegger farmstead, chains may be required, but you can also park earlier and save yourself the steeper section of road).The route takes you leisurely via the Grössingeralm the Sautrog (a beautiful, tube-like trench) up to the Leobner Törl (1739m) and then up the eastern ridge to the summit with great views of the Gesäuse mountains and, above all, the striking Lugauer. The ascent route (or the east cirque under the Leobner Mauer), the north flank or the north-west flank into the so-called Ploden can be used for the descent. With the latter, you can also take the Sonnleitenkogel (1908m) with you on a counter ascent and get another beautiful, north-facing slope as a bonus, where you can hope for untouched powder slopes. The further descent along the forest road through the Ploden leads around a wide mountain ridge back to the first part of the original ascent forest road.

Stadelfeldschneid, Gsuchmauer

The Stadelfeldschneid (2092m) and the Gsuchmauer (2116m) are two very rewarding ski summits that are directly part of the Gesäuse mountains and therefore offer "closer" contact with the famous rock bastions. The best ascent is from the south through the so-called "Klamm" (including a small tunnel) and via the Pfarralm through the wide Südkar (also worthwhile as a descent in suitable conditions) to the saddle between the two peaks (approx. 2010m). Ski depot here depending on conditions. Personally, I like the descent to the west over the wide Stadelfeld best. This descent (only in safe conditions and with good visibility!) first offers the wide, flat western slopes of the Stadelfeld for cruising. Then you  - at approx. 1840m - make a sharp turn to the north and ride into a steeper and narrower channel-like hollow (beware that it ends in rocky drop-offs) and then round a corner into steep, west-facing slopes below rock faces. Passing the Lower Koderalm, you then take a pump trap through the forest into the Johnsbachtal valley, which you reach directly at Gasthof Kölbl. Here you can either stop for a bite to eat or push a few hundred metres on the meadows next to the road  back to Gasthof Ödsteinblick (ideally you should have a second car available so that you don't have to walk back to the starting point at the end of the valley).

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This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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