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How to keep safe and avoid problems when hiking in the Austrian Alps

The Austrian mountains offer beautiful scenery and some the best treks in the world, but they can also be a place of danger. Here's what you need to know before adventuring in the high altitudes.

How to keep safe and avoid problems when hiking in the Austrian Alps
Hiking in the Austrian Alps calls for preparation. (Image: Sébastien Goldberg / Unsplash)

Austria offers endless possibilities for hiking and trekking in its beautiful mountains, forests and trails. The Alpine country is a worldwide destination for wanderers, but trekking in its mountains is very demanding, and people should be prepared.

Even born-and-raised Austrians are not immune to the dangers of the mountains, as a recent incident with President Alexander Van der Bellen shows.

READ ALSO: The six most spectacular train trips in Austria

The president, currently running a reelection campaign, suffered a mountaineering accident while trekking in Kaunergrat park, west of Austria.

“Federal President Van der Bellen suffered minor injuries in a mountain accident on Sunday afternoon. He slipped on a mountain hike on the Kaunergrat and was taken to the nearest hospital by Cobra attendants.”, his team posted on social media.

The tweeted message reads: “The Federal President suffered abrasions and a slight concussion and will spend the night in hospital on the advice of the doctors treating him. He will cancel his appointments at the Forum Alpbach on Monday and Tuesday.”

While 78-year-old politician is (fortunately) on the road to recovery from the accident, many are not that lucky. Unfortunately, accidents in the Austrian alps are not a rare occasion, with more than 2,500 happening to trekkers and hikers in 2021.

READ ALSO: Five of the best weekend getaways from Vienna

Last year, 272 people died in the Austrian alps, a number slightly below the long-term average of 286 deaths yearly. However, many believe the decrease is due to bad weather (as most accidents happen in summer) and coronavirus restrictions keeping people at home, according to the Alpenverein.

What are the main recommendations when hiking?

Austria’s Alpine Association has a series of entertaining videos with dozens of tips for those looking to adventure in the Austrian mountains during the summer.

READ ALSO: 15 things to do in Austria in summer 2022

The videos feature a couple, Berti and Gerti, who want to enjoy the spectacular landscapes of the Alps but are followed by the “clumsy grim reaper” (no joke) every step of the way.

The videos are subtitled in English and worth the watch – if only for the sheer Austrianess of watching Death wearing Lederhosen.

The Grim Reaper following hikers in Austrian Alps (©Österreichischer Alpenverein)

You can watch all the videos here.

The ten tips to hiking in the Austrian Alps

According to Alpenverein, there are seven points that every hiker needs to be aware of.

Be in good health

“Mountain walking is an endurance sport. It makes your heart and circulation work, so good health and an honest assessment of your capabilities are required. Avoid having to rush and adopt a pace that keeps all members of your group from getting out of breath.”, it says.

According to the association, heart attacks are the second most frequent main of death (accounting for 40 percent) in mountain hiking. Men older than 40 are the leading risk group, and several factors contribute to this risk growing.

Plan and prepare carefully

“Mountain hiking is not a walk in the park”, the Alpenverein alerts. Careful preparation is essential; hikers need to know the trail and surroundings well, check and prepare for the weather, account for each group member and their particular fitness level (especially if there are elderly or children), and check the current trail conditions beforehand and gather the proper equipment.

READ MORE: How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

The Verein has a handy tip to calculate walking time for a medium-sized group of four to six people: allow one hour for every 300m climbed, one hour for every 500m descendant and one hour for every four kilometres walked.

Walking times for the altitude and horizontal distance are calculated separately. Their smaller value is divided by two and then added to the larger one.

So, for example, if an alpine trail climbs 1,200 metres of altitude (which equals four hours of walking time) and covers a horizontal distance of eight kilometres (two hours). The total uphill walking time would be four hours plus one (the two hours divided by two), or five hours.

Come fully equipped

Ensure you have the right equipment for your undertaking and keep your rucksack light. Rain gear and cold and sun protection should always be in your backpack, as should a first aid kit and mobile phone (European emergency number 112).

You should also bring some food and drink and light. A hiking map, app or GPS will help you find your way.

Hike in appropriate footwear

This item is so essential that the Alpenverein has it listed separately. This is because stable hiking boots protect and take a load off your feet. They are also vital to improve your sure-footednese and avoid falls.

Choose waterproof, lightweight boots with a perfect fit and good grip. If possible, shop where there are experts offering advice and take your time finding the ideal hiking boot for you.

Surefootedness is key

The leading cause of accidents in hiking the alps is falling from slipping or tripping. Be aware of keeping a comfortable pace and mind that fatigue can seriously affect your surefootedness and concentration, especially when descending.

“Steep descents require your body’s centre of gravity over your feet: bend your knees slightly, bring your upper body a little forward and round your upper back a bit. If the descents are long and challenging, take breaks”.

READ ALSO: Why getting rescued in the Austrian Alps could cost you thousands

(Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Stay on marked trails

In pathless terrain, the risk of losing your orientation and falling from heights and rockfalls increases.

Avoid shortcuts and return to where you last knew your position if you lost your way. It is not uncommon for shortcuts or alternative routes to end in rough and challenging terrain.

Make regular breaks

Regular breaks give the body time to relax and allow you to enjoy the landscape, and keep your concentration levels high. Additionally, you should eat and drink to maintain your performance and attention focus.

Hike responsibly with children

Hiking with children adds a massive responsibility to adults, and only one adult can look after one child during a hike. Therefore, prepare beforehand and check if the walk is suitable for children before embarking on it.

READ ALSO: Austrian rescuers save 100 German school children stuck while hiking in Alps

Hike in small groups

Small groups are more flexible and make it possible for the members to help each other out easily. Always stay with your group. The ideal group size for mountain hiking is four to six people, and any hikes with groups of far more than eight people “quickly become chaotic outings”, the association says.

Respect nature and the environment

This should go without saying, but: do not leave any waste behind, refrain from making too much noise, stay on the trails and don’t disturb wild animals or plants.

READ ALSO: ‘Waldeinsamkeit’ in Austria: Five peaceful forest walks near Vienna

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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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