Somebody’s grumbling. I can tell by the tone of voice, even before the words become clear. It’s something to do with having worn shorts. After all it’s August and the temperature in the valley below is creeping up into the nineties. Shorts seemed like a good idea when we set out.
“Never mind,” I say, robustly, as I crunch my way along across the snow. “We’re here to have fun.”
In Your Bucket Because…
- Sledging isn’t only for winter.
- Excellent for those who aren’t winter sports enthusiasts but like to play a little.
- Where else can you sit with a cold drink in blazing sunlight, topping up your tan while occasionally being sprayed with wet snow?
- Good for: Families and children of all ages.
Up here, some 3000m above sea level on Austria’s Kitzsteinhorn, the air temperature is still pretty respectable. That much is obvious from the crowds of people sitting around with chilled drinks, slapping on the sun cream and protecting their eyes from the combination of direct sun and the reflection off the snow. In fact I’d say it’s still hot. But I would say that, because I’m not wearing shorts.
“Right,” I say, determined to have a good time. “Let’s have fun.” And I seize the nearest plastic sledge.
Sledging on the Kitzsteinhorn
So, high summer in Austria and what do you do? Well, if you’re as serious hiker you climb to the very top of the mountain (not for the fainthearted). If you’re a serious winter sports enthusiast you take advantage of the conditions to get in a bit of extra skiing or snowboarding. If you’re low-tech you might indulge in a snowball fight with your nearest and dearest. But if you’re just looking for a bit of fun you do what we’re doing: you go sledging.
The Kitzsteinhorn is the place you go if you’re a winter sports enthusiast who can’t afford to chase the winter between hemispheres. It’s a year-round resort and it doesn’t just offer non-skiers like us a chance to squeal and scream and roll about in the snow: it’s also used by more serious skiers and snowboarders. And the beauty of it is that anyone can join in. No matter how old you are it’s still possible to lose your dignity in the best possible way.
Fun For All Ages
So let’s get on with it. I round up the family and some more plastic trays and we stand on a slush-filled travelator that takes us up a not-very-steep slope to the top of the hill. Around us there are hordes of small children, soaked in snow and gently steaming in the heat, travelling up for the umpteenth time. There are middle-aged parents, just looking for an excuse to do something they haven’t done for years. Last time I came here a group of women in full burkhas were careering down the slope having the time of their lives.
“Really,” grumbles my teen, older than her years. “I feel like I’ve crashed a four year old’s birthday party.” But she stays on the travelator and, once at the top, she doesn’t walk down. True, she hovers at the top a little self-consciously but the fun that everyone else is having is infectious. And I hover at the top too, not because I’m bothered about sledging but because I can’t bring myself to take my eyes off the surrounding range of whipped-cream-and-meringue peaks which fall away behind us.
“Go on,” I urge.
“No, you go on.”
So I do. I sit on my sledge and push off and go careering down the slope. Sliding this way. Sliding that. And as I struggle to keep myself upright and feel myself accelerating ahead of rooster-tails of spraying snow, I hear myself screeching with pure elation. And then within a split second I lose my concentration, my sledge and my dignity to go sprawling face downward into the snow.
When I pick myself up I hear laughter. Oh, of course. It’s my teen, who’s followed me down and is standing, covered with snow, squealing hopelessly as she looks at the pitiful figure I cut. And when we’ve collected ourselves and retrieved our sledges, we don’t even think about it: we head back up for another go. And another and another….
- There are regular buses from Zell am See and Kaprun to the base of the Kitzsteinhorn.
- Getting to the glacier itself involves three separate cable cars and costs around €35 in summer (prices increase in winter). Sledging is free.
- Although the glacier area is well-managed, don’t forget that it’s a mountain environment. There are steep drops in places and you shouldn’t stray outside the managed area unless you’re properly equipped.
- There’s plenty to do once you’ve finished sledging, with viewing platforms (stunning on a clear day) an exhibition and a restaurant.