The fresh powder sticks to my snowshoes, how can it be so dry and yet so adhesive? All I can hear is the shush, shush, shush of my shoes in the deep snow.
Our small group is pushing steadily uphill from the Berghotel Arthurhaus, through the dark trees and breaking through onto a wide plateau. We are always overlooked by the magnificent crown of the Hochkönig mountain range.
Snow sports holidays take place in a very delicate environment and although we love the natural exhilaration of whizzing through the mountains with boards strapped to our feet, there is no doubt that mountain resorts can be damaging to the very environment they celebrate.
Chairlifts, artificial snowmaking, toxic ski wax, transporting food and energy use – it all impacts on the mountains.
Austria leads the world in creating eco-friendly ski resorts but at the Arthurhaus in Austria’s Hochkönig region, they have been living in harmony with the environment for a long time.
In this tiny mountain playground where artificial snow-making is shunned it feels like I am in someone’s backyard – a glorious, snow-covered, mountainous backyard – one with a personal and natural feeling. Warm, family hospitality has been offered here since 1866.
The Arthurhaus pistes are perfect for family skiing, including a wide nursery slope and fun tree-lined runs. It is known as a great place to learn snowshoeing and ski touring techniques in the backcountry.
Our snowshoeing guide Silvia lives here in the village of Muhlbach, just down in the valley. She speaks proudly of its 5,000 years of history from prehistoric times when copper miners lived near the Arthurhaus. She comes from a mining family and qualified as a chemist so is able to knowledgeably talk about the rock with a copper heart she produces from a pocket. She also has a cache of chocolate in there.
The Arthurhaus ski area may be small but from Muhlbach you are quickly connected to the wider Hochkönig ski area – with 150km of pistes and state-of-the-art facilities. And the Hochkönig is just one part of the vast Ski Amade region in Austria.
But back to the Arthurhaus. On Thursdays they host a cheese fondue evening in a converted cow barn that is now a cheese-making operation. People come from miles around to savour the tasty treats. It is booked up weeks in advance.
We are talking about cheese fondue made using milk from cows that graze here on the mountainside at Arthurhaus – at an altitude of 500 – 1,300m above sea level. They eat fresh herbs and mountain grass in the summer and are fed home-grown mountain hay in winter.
Short transportation routes, sustainable economy and organic quality: no wonder it tastes great!
Thanks to the geography of Salzburger Land, agriculture and livestock farming here are commonly structured on quite a small scale but you don’t get much more in touch with nature than this in a ski resort.
We do want our kids to be able to enjoy skiing in the snowy mountains in the future after all.