Length 14.4 km (9 miles), terrain: mostly flat but some small hills, gain 170 meters
The winter has been bearing down, icing over the streets, making it tough to run. So, like every winter, just for fun, here comes another cross-country skiing route. If you can't beat 'em, then join 'em, I say! Cross-country is like hill-running, but it also provides a great workout for your arms. It's the best workout you can get, and is easy on your knees.
We went back to Ramsau in Austria's Steiermark region this month after an absence of some years. Once back there, viewing the massive wall of the Dachstein, I couldn't believe that I had let so much time pass since the last visit. Ramsau is an absolute cross-country paradise, with more than 200 kilometers of prepared ski trails spread out over a quiet and scenic plateau partway up the side of the Dachstein. And at 1100 meters altitude, the snow often lingers long through the winter.
|The Halseralm mountain hut is a favorite destination for skiers|
|Flaming kaiserschmarrn being served up in the hut|
The Sonnenloipe (The sun-trail, "Loipe" is German for ski-trail)
This 14.4-kilometer-long trail loops east-west through the main valley. It parallels the flat Standardloipe for the whole way along the south side of the village, but follows the sunny slopes along the north side where there are some interesting ups and downs. But overall, it's fairly harmless.
Ready to start? Then lets carry those skis to the nordic ski center on the south side of the village, with its ski-jump, which has hosted the nordic skiing world championships. Lots of trails come together here, and a few local ski schools train new skiers here constantly all winter. Cross-country has been experiencing a boom in recent years, fueled by the revolution created by skating style, making the sport both faster and more elegant.
|Nordic ski classes at the Ramsau ski center|
The trails are all clearly marked with signs, and there are plenty of people underway right here (this section right in town is the busiest trail around). You can use the classic tracks or the wide, flat skating trail next to it. So now you just head out below the ski-jump to head eastwards.
|The Dachstein in evening light|
On the other side, soon one trail turns off to the right, the fun Leitenloipe, but we'll continue along the slightly downhill Sonnenloipe/Standardloipe, heading eastwards. After the 2-kilometer mark, there aren't so many people underway, and you have more chance to relax and enjoy the scenery: the mighty Dachstein lit up by the sunshine off to the left, and the rolling farmland, deep in snow to the right.
|Farmhouse along the Sonnenloipe|
Cross the road to the north side. Right next to the road, the trail begins again, heading uphill. It immediately crosses a little side street, Gebäckerweg, and continues uphill at the 4-km mark.
You'll soon have a bit of downhill through some quiet fields, and cross a stream at the 5-km mark.
The Sonnenloipe crosses a lot of little side streets along this northern section, but otherwise the trail is more adventurous, natural and fun.
|Crossing a stream|
|The lift in a quiet moment|
There are some more beautiful fields after that, then the trail curves down towards the main road.
|Farm shed near the Bergkristallift|
Now head straight to the edge of the woods along the big hill straight ahead, the Rittisberg. There you turn left and head eastwards all the way back to the ski center again.
|The author resting up along a trail: it's pretty hard work!|
The ski trail heads right through the ski-lift area.
Away from the lift, life is quiet again, going along the woods, then coming back out into the open fields at a few houses. Just keep heading east.
After 12 kilometers, you'll come to a spot where several other trails branch off to the right and head south, at a big sign with the trail maps. Keep going east as the trail goes through an underpass under Vorbergstraße, then heads downhill all the way to the ski center.
So what do you think? That's one great way to enjoy the winter!