Ice, ice baby: where to skate, dive and climb across Austria's frozen landscapes
Holiday plans might sadly be 'on ice' due to the pandemic, but we can still look ahead, gather inspiration and get excited for future travels. This week, we're taking a look at the experiences on offer across Austria's frozen landscapes in SalzburgerLand, Tirol and Carinthia.
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Lake Weissensee: on the surface
Covering an expanse of 6.5km², Lake Weissensee is Europe's largest continuously frozen lake and prepared natural ice surface. It's therefore no surprise that this destination offers an unparalleled selection of winter activities. From December until March, this huge expanse of ice, which can reach up to 40cm in thickness, becomes host to groups of skaters, winter hikers, and even horse-drawn carriages, in which families and friends stay warm under fluffy blankets as they take in the views of the mountains and snow-topped trees surrounding the lake. Some visitors prefer to skate leisurely on the designated circular routes, which cover an impressive distance of almost 25km, while speed demons try to record new best times on the 400m racetrack. Lessons are on offer from the two local schools for skaters of all abilities - from complete beginner to advanced - and there are Bavarian curling areas and ice hockey rinks for more competitive souls.
Lake Weissensee: the world below
While there's plenty of holiday fun to be had on the surface of Lake Weissensee, fans of more extreme sports will also find adventure below the ice. Thanks to its thick ice sheet, crystal clear water, and nearby specialist school, Lake Weissensee is the perfect destination for ice diving. In this thrilling underwater adventure, divers submerge themselves under the ice and explore the exquisite world beneath, with incredible visibility of up to 30m. The winter sun refracts as it shines through the ice, creating almost ethereal optical phenomena in the lake's freezing water - and when one encounters an area in which the ice above is clear, it's actually possible to watch the ice skaters and winter hikers having fun overhead. Almost everyone can get in on the action: special training is available for first-timers, while the area's awesome ice diving weekends have become popular with experts and enthusiasts. Lessons and guided dives are available at any time, during the week and on weekends when you register in advance.
Ice climbing in Gastein
Just as you can dive below Carinthia's icy surface, you can climb above it in SalzburgerLand. During winter in the Gastein Valley, a veritable playground for ice climbers emerges as winter arrives and the summer's waterfalls and snow melt streams are transformed into towering ice structures. From demanding routes like the 340m Glaspalast to more mellow practice areas such as the Spiegelkabinett, the Gastein Valley offers plenty of variety for all skill levels - and its high-altitude location guarantees great conditions. For visitors wanting to try out ice climbing for the first time, experienced mountaineers excited to experience a unique new terrain, and established ice climbing enthusiasts alike, friendly instructors and expert guides are on hand to accompany guests along their journey.
Werfen's giant ice caves
High up in the Tennengebirge mountains, at a towering altitude of over 1,600m above sea level, holidaymakers in the region of St. Johann in Salzburg will find the world's largest ice cave. Open from May until October, the experience of approaching the cave's mouth before diving in deep to discover its frosty hidden treasures is filled with fascinating contrasts. When approaching the cave on foot or by gondola, one is surrounded by summery alpine vistas, overlooking sun-kissed mountain summits and flowering meadows. Once inside, such sunny surroundings start to feel like a distant memory, as they're replaced by huge ice stalactites and stalagmites glittering in the glow of traditional miners' lamps, accompanied by a temperature drop to around 0°C. The cave tunnels a staggering 42km deep into the mountain, the first of which can be explored with a guided tour. Learn all about the cave's history and unique ecosystem while being shown how to safety traverse the 234m vertical gain.