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The Glacier.

Skins in the game

Numerous ski tourers seek closeness to nature and a deep feeling of happiness. Sure, taking the cable car would be much faster and more comfortable; however, that's not what ski tourers aim for. They want to experience nature with each step and earn their ride down using their own strength. While doing so, it's okay to slow down and let the eyes wander, as Verena Dreiseitl puts it. She started her ski touring journey on the marked routes of the Kitzsteinhorn some years ago.

Slowing down for the premiere

The health manager and nutritionist from Thumersbach lives in Lower Austria and vividly remembers her first ski tour five years ago: "While fall was still colorful down in the valley, we already had perfect conditions for skiing on the Kitzsteinhorn. I'm a good skier; however, I had always preferred taking the cable car to the summit, until the day a friend of mine took me with her on the "Schneekoenigin" (Ice Queen) ski touring route, which is perfect for beginners."

The Ice Queen starts at the Langwiedboden 1,976m above sea level. The Info Point shows how the route runs as well as alpine hazards. Verena Dreiseitl remembers: "On the marked ascent alongside the slope, I slowly gained trust in my climbing skins. I focused on efficiently dragging my skis and automatically got into a steady rhythm. That gave me time to let by gaze wander over the superb winter panorama. While the valley was still lying in a thick blanket of fog, the sun was already warming our noses. I experienced my surroundings in a much more intense way than I previously had when ascending the mountain in a cable car and was surprised by this new, slower side of the Kitzsteinhorn. Smelling the scent of sun-kissed rocks, hearing the sound of crunching snow underneath the skis in the silence of the ascent, seeing the hawk hovering high above us before swooping down into the untouched nature of the Hohe Tauern National Park. That's when I experienced a feeling of peace and relaxation. While I associate skiing with speed and thrill, the slow ascent using my own muscle strength gave me previously unknown pleasure."

Another aspect that makes the ascent pleasant is that one does not have to bother about alpine hazards on the secured track. "An ascent on the edge of the slope is perfect for novices at ski touring. I was completely inexperienced, so that helped me in ascending at my own pace while concentrating on technique and also chatting with my friend. I remember numerous ski tourers passing by at race speed with a friendly hello. That motivated me and I quickly conquered the Ice Queen's 474 vertical meters with pure muscle strength. Being a nutritionist, I place great importance on seasonal and local food. I was, therefore, super happy about my hard-earned "Groestl", a delicious bacon, onion and potato fry-up, in the Gletschermuehle restaurant. The ride down the wide slopes was the highlight of my first ski tour. Since then, the Ice Queen and I have been reunited for several more times. An off-piste ski tour to the Tristkogel mountain is on my bucket list, which I want to tick off by participating in the Ski Touring Thursday, accompanied by a mountain guide."

While I associate skiing with speed and thrill, the slow ascent using my own muscle strength gave me previously unknown pleasure.

Verena Dreiseitl

Acceleration 'unplugged'

Besides mellow-minded ski tourers who gain first experience in ski touring on Kitzsteinhorn's two routes, there are also racers who step on the gas when ascending and use the ski touring routes as their preferred fall training place. One of Austria's top athletes in ski mountaineering is Sarah Dreier from Neukirchen. The teacher gave up teaching to pursue a professional career in ski mountaineering. Thinking back to her beginnings makes Sarah laugh: "I started with Alpine skiing and loved it. I was 12 when I went on my first ski tour and started to take part in races with 15." Her career really took off when she first stood on the victory podium at 18 years old.

Today, the racer for the Austrian Ski Association OESV national team ranks among world's top athletes in the 'vertical' discipline. Sarah explains: "The vertical race is purely about ascending. First competitions take place in November. You want to make sure to have already covered some vertical meters, which is why you will find me training on the Kitzsteinhorn as soon as the first snow has fallen. For me, training starts already in the valley, since I will reach the snow line by hiking, with my skis and shoes on my backpack. The hike provides a unique fall atmosphere; when you emerge from the fog and see the color spectacle of broadleaves radiating Indian summer vibes. When there's sufficient snow, I will put on my skis by the Alpincenter and hike up the 899 vertical meters of the 'Eisbrecher' (Ice Breaker) route. After skiing back down to the Alpincenter, I enjoy stopping by at the ski tourers' meeting place Skyline Bar."

For the successful native of Pinzgau, training and enjoyment go hand in hand: "Despite my training plan, I always enjoy the ascents. To me, they evoke an intense 'unplugged' feeling. The route is secured, so I can unwind and enjoy the silence. We ski mountaineers always feel welcome on the Kitzsteinhorn. Whenever my training schedule allows it, I won't miss the legendary spinach dumplings in the Gletschermuehle restaurant while enjoying the view of the threethousanders, before taking the cable car back down to the valley."

Maiskogel Route

The Maiskogel also features a ski touring route, which starts at the MK Maiskogelbahn parking space and leads up to the Almbahn top station on 1,733m. The 970 vertical meters are mainly off-piste and give lovely views of the Salzachtal and Zell valleys. Secured slopes lead back down to the valley between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., on Wednesdays until 8 p.m.