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The eastern edge of the Alps, the Balkans of the Alps

A tribute to the Alpeno beach

by Helmut Gassler • 03/19/2011
The Tauern highway marks the eastern end of the Alps. At least that's what many freeriders from Germany, Switzerland or even Scandinavia think. Only the very daring venture a few kilometers further east from there to satisfy their addiction on the slopes of salt mines. But beyond that, the wide, wild east really begins. Some even believe that the mountain ranges of this largely unknown region already belong to the Balkans. But what does it really look like beyond this ominous "border"? As a native of this area (which long ago formed the heartland of a country called Kakania, a fact that the region still can't quite hide today), I would like to contribute a little to the clarification of this ski-geographical no man's land and pay tribute to its characteristics from a freeriding perspective in the form of a small photo reportage.

Vienna - the freeride metropolis on the eastern edge of the Alps?

The Tauern highway marks the eastern end of the Alps. At least that's what many freeriders from Germany, Switzerland or even Scandinavia think. Only the very daring venture a few kilometers further east from there to satisfy their addiction on the slopes of salt mines. But beyond that, the wide, wild east really begins. Some even believe that the mountain ranges of this largely unknown region already belong to the Balkans. But what does it really look like beyond this ominous "border"? As a native of this area (which long ago formed the heartland of a country called Kakania, a fact that the region still can't quite hide today), I would like to contribute a little to the clarification of this ski-geographical no man's land and pay tribute to its characteristics from a freeriding perspective in the form of a small photo report.

More from the eastern edge of the Alps at: viennaskiing.com - Skiing at the Eastern End of the Alps.

Of course, Vienna is anything but the hub of the Austrian freeride world, but if you close your eyes tightly and think hard about snow, it can sometimes happen that - as if by magic - a transformation takes place and the city of millions turns into a vibrant freeride metropolis:

Hilly landscape around Vienna with a tree line at approx. 1500 meters.

Let's start our dream on the beach: the first peaks of the Alps rise up directly from the banks of the Danube to the left. However, there are still no interesting freeride destinations here. The original classic ski destinations in this area ("Norwegerwiese" etc.) have fallen victim to increased mobility (who takes the city streetcar to go freeriding nowadays - except perhaps in Innsbruck?), improved skiing skills and increased demands on the terrain, as well as climate change (or were our ancestors simply much more patient waiting for the snow?).

After a journey time of around an hour, things start to get interesting. At first glance, the mountains offer little of interest: due to the low altitude, very few of the peaks rise above the tree line (which here is around 1500m) and, in addition, large-scale ecclesiastical and aristocratic estates ensured that hunting was favored over agriculture, so that the proportion of meadows and alpine pastures within the forest is very low.

Freeriding here therefore requires a certain amount of intuition to find the forest bumps and, above all, ditches that are still reasonably enjoyable to ski, as well as a minimum degree of masochism in the form of accepting combat skiing through dense bushes and forest.

So what does the Alpeno-Strand freerider find in terms of destinations?

Let's start with the Stuhleck (1782 m) on the Styrian side of the Semmering (985 m), one of the first peaks in Austria to be climbed on skis by the MĂĽrzzuschlagen hotelier Toni Schruf and friends in February 1892. On its northern flank, an unspectacular, often overcrowded ski area stretches from Spital am Semmering (780m) right up to the summit. Masses of ski tourers also populate the mountain and enjoy the southern descent to Rettenegg, which has a culinary highlight: Trout at the local inn. The particularly rewarding terrain for freeriders, who are generally shy of people, is mostly in the forest.

Niederalpl

If the Stuhleck is too crowded, you should continue to MĂĽrzzuschlag and turn off into the upper MĂĽrztal. You will soon reach an area that seems even more backwoods even in this already sleepy region. After a few kilometers of driving through dark valleys and small villages, you reach the Niederalpl (1220m), a pass on the north side of the Hohe Veitsch (1980m). Here you will find a small ski area that is particularly popular even in high season. A chairlift and three drag lifts open up a small ski circus between 1100 and 1500m. Immediately after fresh snowfall (which is often plentiful in this area thanks to the north and north-west weather conditions), there are some shorter deep snow options right next to the pistes to warm up.

There are also some fine, albeit short, runs that can be reached with only short ascents (without skins if necessary). The descents lead through forests and often offer good powder thanks to the northern location.

For ascent-oriented freeriders, the northern slopes of the Sohlenkogel (1474 m) just south of the pass are interesting. Directly from the parking lot at the pass, there is - almost always - a groomed ascent and via beautiful, steep forest slopes you then reach the very flat lower drag lift along the pass road. Particularly keen skiers can of course continue the ascent up to the summit area of the Kleiner Wildkamm (1757m) and ski one of the numerous steep northern gullies, including some alpine terrain.

The much frequented Schallerrinnen in the Brunnalm ski area.

Brunnalm/Veitsch

The sunny south side of the Hohe Veitsch (1981 m) also has a lot to offer. The lifts of the small Brunnalm ski area (1200-1400 m) significantly shorten the ascent to the welcoming Graf-Meran-Haus (1836 m) and the summit. From there, in addition to the standard descent via the Schallerrinnen, there are also some much steeper gullies, which are common here for these limestone sticks: Hundsschopfrinne, Hundsschopfloch, Breitriegel or Predigtstuhlrinne etc. But be careful, the comparatively low altitude should not disguise the fact that this is steep alpine terrain interspersed with rocks and the associated dangers! (Frequented) standard descents on the south side, however, are the Schallerrinnen.

Lahnsattel/ Göller

Somewhat further north is the Lahnsattel (1015 m) and the idyllically secluded village of the same name, which has gained sad local/regional fame due to several avalanche disasters.

From the Lahnsattel, you can reach one of Lower Austria's prime ski mountains (which certainly has an alpine feel), namely the Göller (1766m). You can reach it either with skins directly from the Lahnsattel or - shorter, but logistically more difficult due to the different starting and finishing points - from the mountain station of the Gscheid lift (approx. 1380 m) on its north-west side. The Göller - like all the "big" ski mountains in the area - offers several rewarding descents in different directions. For example, the Andre-Graben with the well-known Hühnerkralle variant and the Lahngraben (whose starting point - the ridge between Terzer Göller and the actual summit - is easily accessible from the Göllerlift on the Gscheid) lead to the north. The most popular descent to the south is the Eisgrube, a wide, steep, obstacle-free slope that leads down into a narrowing trench (Lahngraben) to the Lahnsattel. The name says it all about the potential avalanche danger of this terrain. Safest in firn! (thanks to the southern exposure, firn conditions are sometimes already good in mid-winter).

If the avalanche conditions on the Göller are too tricky, you can still take the leisurely short tour to the ridge of the Wildalpe from the same starting point, which can be climbed or skied with surprisingly little forest (thanks to wide slopes and beautiful alpine meadows).

Photo gallery

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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