“Berg Heil” in Heiligenblut — a rare step back in time

20th March 2013, by Rob Rees

Heiligenblut is a great place to do one-day ski touring

Heiligenblut is a great place to do one-day ski touring "tasters"

My greatest love is scouring the Alps for those unspoilt ski resorts and discovering somewhere that’s not mass-marketed or overcrowded and where only locals venture. Resorts that are not about pounding the pistes all day long but about having time to reconnect with the mountains and appreciate their raw beauty once again. Heiligenblut is one such place and one of the most picturesque and authentic resorts I have been lucky enough to visit. Isolated and high in Austria’s Hohe Tauern National Park, it has an almost mystical feel to it. It is in Carinthia’s most northern corner and in a well-hidden part of the Eastern Alps.

Barely an hour after picking our hire car up at Klagenfurt airport, we’re leaving the motorway at Möllbrücke near the lakes of Spittal, to take a deserted winding road up past the small ski areas of Mallnitz and Mölltal, as the afternoon light begins to fade. The valley narrows, villages pass, the road twists and steepens and the anticipation grows. After another hour’s driving, we arrive to the sight of a 500-year-old Gothic church, set in a dead end valley and circled by towering summits. We have reached the so-called “Top of Austria” with the village of Heiligenblut nestled at the foot of the Grossglockner, the highest mountain in Austria at 3,798m.

To ski in the shadow of the Grossglockner, surrounded by 40 other peaks over 3000m, is a unique experience, even for the most seasoned and curious skier, like me. By Austrian standards, Heiligenblut is a modest sized resort but it packs a mighty clean punch and I love its pure, untainted spirit. It is perfect for intermediates and far away from the hurly burly of the French super resorts or the big resorts in the Tirol. With 12 lifts, 55km of runs and 1,601m of vertical descent, Heiligenblut has more than 20 pistes, backed by an efficient lift system and minimal queuing, even in the half-term week when we visited.
Heiligenblut’s skiing is spread across three peaks, the Hochtor, the Schareck and the Gjaidtroghohe, up to a height of 2,902m. On Viehbuehel, you ski right alongside the snowbound Hochalpinstrasse, the winding summer tourist road which only opens at the beginning of May. From the top of the Schareck gondola combining the Fallbichlabfahrt and Kasereck skiroutes with the ‘Talabfahrt’ from the Rossbach mid station, there’s an exhilirating run of nearly nine kilometres back to Heiligenblut. There are many other great variants off the Schareck either to Rossbach or down into village. There are four skiroutes and 25 km² of freeride terrain above the treeline. It is also a good area to try out skitouring, with the extensive White Spirit beginner’s programmes in and around the local valleys (see www.tauernalpin-touren.at).

Due to its high altitude, the resort is good for late season skiing although it can also get cold. We skied in -15c in mid February but there are plenty of warm gondolas and 10 huts offering hearty Carinthian fayre and welcome refuge. The Spatz’lalm is particularly cosy — blankets make its sun terrace comfortable too — and the Schareck has unrivalled views of the Grossglockner. The Rossbachklause by the gondola midstation offers jugs of warming Jaegertee, before the last valley run. The resort does however possess the weirdest cable car I have ever travelled in; the Fliessalm Tunnelbahn gondola has 12 linked cabins shuttling through a narrow tunnel to connect the Schareck side of the resort to the separated Hochfleiss. It gets very shady after lunch in the Fleisstal and exceptionally cold by the lift station if queues do build up for the return shuttle, which is the only way off this corner of the mountain. Don’t leave it too late.

Heiligenblut is a beguiling place, originally making its fortune from gold-mining. The gold rush is documented in the excellent Gold Museum in nearby Grosskircheim, situated in the basement of the Putzenhof, the preserved manor house of a rich miner from the 1500s. If you get the chance, try their trademark hotstone barbecue, where you sit by a large open fire and cook three types of meat on a hot marble slab.

It is also something of an Austrian mountaineers’ mecca — a magnet for serious climbers, just like Chamonix or Zermatt. And for an all year round mountain resort, accommodation options are very good with six four-star hotels and 13 three-star pensions.

Heiligenblut will never be a party town but it is certainly an atmospheric and enchanting place. See it as more of a precious opportunity for regeneration of mind, body and soul, far away from the Madding Crowd, coupled with some decent skiing and plenty of new winter sport opportunities.


Resort website: gross-glockner.at
The nearest airport is Klagenfurt, a two-hour drive, with the nearest train station at Mallnitz, 60km away.
Six-day adult lift pass from €173
Buy a TopSkiPass Kaernten (topskipass.at) if you want access to some of the other nearby Carinthian resorts.
Hire car: sixt.at

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