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Light, shadow and snowshoes

Light, shadow and snowshoes

Light, shadow and snowshoes

Christoph Oberhauser spends about 300 days a year outside. As an outdoor educator, experiencing nature with other people is his vocation. He feels most comfortable outdoors. Conveying this feeling of freedom to others during snowshoe hikes is his calling.

Beneath the Hittisberg mountain in Hittisau, the giant boulders of the Rappenfluh become a mysterious place when night falls. The combination of forest, giant stones and caves is tailor made for adventure tours. As the sun fades on the horizon, outdoor guide Christoph Oberhauser invites his guests to enjoy a torchlit snowshoe hike.

Shortly after four o’clock in the afternoon, when many have already retired to their hotel room or the sofa at home after a fun day of skiing, the adventure beneath the Hittisberg mountain is just beginning. Here the fun is free from traffic jams, ski passes and the hustle and bustle. As the last rays of evening sun set, the powder snow glistens and sparkles. The cold makes your breath freeze and joyful excitement hangs in the air. The equipment is easy to put on. All you really need is snowshoes, gaiters and poles. And we’re off. After just a few metres, Christoph leads the tour into the powder snow. “People have this image in their mind of walking with tennis rackets on their feet,” says Christoph. But those days are long gone. After all, a lot has changed in the world of snowshoe hiking in Austria since the 1990s. Trudging through deep powder snow is now quite easy, even fun!

The trail winds its way in wide switchbacks up the ridge. Shiva, Christoph’s giant white dog hunts through the powder snow. On the horizon, the colours of the sunset become almost kitschy. At the entrance to the forest, a woman reads aloud from the legend “The Venetian,” which is written on a signboard along the side of the path. The mood begins to shift. If I were alone, I’d feel a bit uneasy. But in a group, there’s a palpable feeling of excitement.

The time has come to light the torches. My heart beats a tad faster as we enter the forest, but the tension subsides after just a few metres. The crackling of the fire, and the sheltered feeling within the forest seem almost cosy. As we make our way past trees and boulders, the silence is quite pleasant. The torches bathe everything in a mystical light. Every now and then, a rustling or cracking can be heard, but amongst the group I feel perfectly safe. In comparison to touring skis, it’s amazing how agile I feel wearing snowshoes. Steep sections, stones and riverbeds are all no problem whatsoever. Later, we take shelter beneath a boulder as big as a house. In no time at all, a fire crackles and cups of steaming orange punch and doughnuts are passed around. Despite the winter cold, everyone is comfortably warm. The punch heats us from the inside, whilst the fire warms our bodies from the outside. Warmed up and refreshed, we make our way back down the trail.

I’m so glad to have Christoph and Shiva at my side. After all, they know this forest so well, and will lead us out safely. Soon, the sky above our heads becomes visible once more. A multitude of stars are twinkling at us. Now, the only thing separating us from the first houses in the village is a an untracked slope of powder snow. Glancing around, I’m not the only one with a mischievous grin on my face. Quickly, we remove our hoods and the first group member storms off towards civilisation. The others follow in short order. As we push through the snow, the idyllic silence comes to an end. This is replaced by shouting and laughing until the first farmhouse is reached. The winner of the race is, of course, Shiva. While taking off our equipment, we talk through the experience as a group. Did we enjoy ourselves? The shine in our eyes and the joy in our faces tell the story. I can now understand why Christoph Oberhauser believes that the Bregenzerwald is the most beautiful place in the world. And snowshoeing the most rewarding way to explore it.

Author: Christina Düringer
Travel Magazine Issue: Winter 2022-23