Saturday, 24 February 2018

Ramsau, Austria Cross-Country Skiing Route

Click here for route map  
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
The various trails range from flat and easy, to wild and steep, with an even mix of classic- and skating-style prepared tracks. I love it there. For an overview, click this link: Ramsau Cross-Country.

Flaming kaiserschmarrn being served up in the hut
Over the course of a week, I revisited almost all the trails again, loving about every minute. Some head up to ancient alpine huts, where the hosts provide hungry skiers with hearty food and jagatee (typical Austrian, a mix of hot tea and rum). Others head up and over some pretty big hills. The one I'm documenting in this post is a fairly easy one: circling the plateau, near the village, with its sprinkling of farms and chalets dotting the hillsides.

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
You can do most trails in either direction. It's great to do it twice, once each way. It's like two totally different trails when the hills are reversed. I did this one going counter-clockwise, heading east, then crossing the road to head west along the north side, then re-crossing the road to head back east into town again.

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
After 1.5 kilometers, you'll cross the main street, next to the Billa supermarket. They put carpeting on the salted, snow-free street so you can walk across with your skis on, but I like to take care of mine, so I take them off first.

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
Soon we'll be at the turnaround point, where we cross a road and then head back westwards. But it's not so apparent where to cross the road. If you follow the trail all the way to the eastern turn-around point at a parking lot, you've gone too far. You'll need to go back about a hundred meters to the crossing, where there is a bus stop.

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
Now just keep heading uphill along this really beautiful section, with old barns and sheds scattered out in the fields, and the slopes rising up to the rocky cliffs of the Dachstein.

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
After seven kilometers, you approach the village again. The trail crosses right through the middle of a little, beginners' ski slope and its T-bar lift, "Kalis Klang Lift". This is where the little kids learn alpine skiing, and its fun to see the groups skiing down the hill together. I like to have some extra fun here and ski down on my cross-country skis, a pretty wild ride on these long, rattly skis (and maybe repeat this a few times).
The lift in a quiet moment
A bit further west and we come to a second lift, the Bergkristallift, with its own kids' classes.

There are some more beautiful fields after that, then the trail curves down towards the main road.
Farm shed near the Bergkristallift
The trail follows the road for a while here, passing another lift, the Zauberlift. This is the 10-km mark. Cross more side streets, and then go through an underpass to get to the south side of the main road again.

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!
First, you'll go by Ramsau Beach, a pond with little campground at the base of the Rittisbergbahn, the lift to the top of the main alpine ski run in town. Here, it's also fun to see all the downhill skiers flying down and braking at the last second to get back in line again.

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!

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