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Winter nights in the Alps

Posted: 2011-03-24 21:52:14, Categories: Travel, Austria, Hiking, 493 words (permalink)

Bad Kissinger Hü at night. Most of the mountain huts in the Alps close their doors and send their staff home for the winter, approximately from mid October until mid April. However, many have a winter room which is either unlocked or accessible using an alpine club key. The winter rooms are wonderful places to cook a simple but enjoyable dinner, to look at the stars, to sleep and to wake up to the morning sun with spectacular views.

This winter we visited three different huts, for four nights in total. Twice there were nobody else, once we shared the room with a group of three others, and once on a weekend with particularly good weather there were about 20 hikers and the warden staying in the same hut. However, in that case the whole hut was open so there was enough space for everybody.

The photo of this blog entry is of Bad Kissinger Hütte, which is located in the Tannheimer valley, Austria, about 80 km south of our home in Memmingen. That's one of the easiest huts to reach with about 700 meters of altitude to climb along an easy path. It's also located on the south slope, which means less deep snow, particularly when the winter is already turning towards spring. For us it took around 2,5 hours to climb up including a couple of short breaks, and we did not have snowshoes or skis.

In contrast to the summer when the huts have full restaurant facilities, the winter rooms operate on a self service basis. Mattresses and blankets are usually provided so one could go just with a thin travel bedsheet, but we always carry our sleeping bags to be sure of staying warm. We've also taken a camping cooker which generally has been unnecessary: all the winter rooms we've been to this far had a cooking possibility with either wood or gas. In Bad Kissinger Hütte we did use our own kettle though, as there were two pans but no pots. Nowadays the winter rooms also commonly have an electric light powered by a battery, which is recharged by a solar panel during the day.

The cost of an overnight stay is usually 5-10 euros for alpine club members and 10-20 euros for non-members, depending on the place. Payment works on a basis of trust: people are expected to write their names in the visitor book and make a bank transfer afterwards to the account of the organization which takes care of the hut.

One piece of equipment which we found out to be a nice addition on the winter hikes is a snow glider, a piece of plastic just big enough to sit on, with a handle in the front. When coming back, we can often have fun by gliding down on the snow instead of walking during part of the way. The gliders are lightweight to carry so even if the slope is too icy, bumpy or otherwise unsuitable for using them, it doesn't matter very much.

3 comments

Comment from: Julian [Visitor]
Nice Picture and article Arto. Keep enjoying spring.
2011-03-28 @ 09:44
Comment from: maz [Visitor]  
Great article. I am an exchange student studying this semester in Berlin. I want to take a trip to Berchtesgaden for a weekend hike during the winter. I see the pictures of this place and it amazes me every time. I would like to stay in huts the two nights I am there. I want to know what the possibilities are like. Is it worth it for me to join the alp club? Can I go with minimalist gear or do I need to hit the outdoors store? I see the huts are closed using http://www.dav-huettensuche.de but I would love to take advantage of the winter stay option. I am looking to be there during december.
2012-11-22 @ 23:05
Comment from: ajt [Member]  
I don’t know the Berchtesgaden area particularly well, but here’s some general advice: The amount of equipment you need depends a lot on the weather conditions. Sometimes in December there’s very little snow (especially if you’re not aiming to climb very high), and it is possible to go with normal hiking boots without snowshoes, skis or other special equipment. Warm enough clothes for temperatures below zero are necessary, as well as a good map, a compass and ability to use them. In addition to weather forecasts it’s a good idea to take a look at webcams to get an idea of the snow conditions. When there’s more snow, then it’s usually necessary to have snowshoes or skis. However, even more important is to get informed about safety. Avalanches are common in winter and especially steep slopes with a lot of snow are dangerous. You should either have someone in the group who has winter hiking experience or get detailed advice which routes are safe to go. A few of the huts in the Berchtesgadener area are open and staffed also during the winter season. These are of course the easiest possibility, because you can call the personnel, ask for advice about routes and be sure to have a place to sleep and everything you need up on the mountain. For huts which are closed, look for the following words: “Winterraum vorhanden". That means that there is a winter room. “Schlüssel für Winterraum: offen” means that the room is open and no key is needed. “Schlüssel für Winterraum: AV-Schloß” means that the room is locked and you need a key to open the door. Normally the same key is valid for all German and Austrian huts. Alpine club members can borrow the key in exchange for a money deposit. I’m not sure if it’s possible to get the key without being a member. When using a winter room, you’ll need to bring your own food. Normally there’s always a possibility to cook either with gas or wood, and a couple of pots, pans, plates and cups provided. I have stayed about 10-15 times in different winter rooms. One time there were no pots (but still a pan) and one time very little firewood, otherwise the facilities have been at least adequate. If you want to be 100% sure, you can of course take your own cooker. Both when staying in a staffed mountain hut or when staying in a winter room, you should take your own travel bed sheet ("Hüttenschlafsack” in German) with you. For a winter room stay, a sleeping bag may be more comfortable. There is usually always an oven to heat up the room in the evening, but during the night after the fire is out the temperature drops down quite a bit. All of the winter rooms I’ve been in have had blankets, but if many people come there’s a small risk that there are too few blankets to keep everyone warm. Alpine Club members have a discounted price when staying in mountain huts. Generally members pay about 7-10 euros per night per person and non-members about double. Winter room prices are usually 5-10 euros per night per person, with sometimes a separate fee for firewood or gas. Payment is in cash into a locked box (good to take some small banknotes with you) or by bank transfer. I would recommend you to visit the German Alpine Club Berlin office (http://www.dav-berlin.de/) to take a look - you can then make the decision yourselves if it’s worthwhile to join or not.
2012-11-24 @ 20:59

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