C Xander Mathies Loipenteam Mittelberg © Dietmar Denger / Vorarlberg Tourismus
The sky is dotted with countless stars, the air is clear and bitterly cold. The branches on the trees are blanketed in layers of ice and they make little sounds as they move in the wind. It’s dark in Kleinwalsertal. But the snow glistens in the light from the snow groomer’s headlamps. The vehicle winds its way slowly through the forest and across the meadows. It’s surprisingly quiet for its size and so Xander sometimes catches sight of foxes and deer at night. “It’s almost a bit cheesy but those are the best moments,” he says.
Alexander Mathies, known to everyone as Xander, is a trail groomer in Kleinwalsertal and is responsible for keeping the Steinbockloipe (Ibex Trail) in good order. “I get up a little after four when it has snowed in the night to groom the trail,” he says. “I’m usually finished by 8.30.” Xander is a self-employed carpenter and has been doing this job for eight years now. There are also other things to do besides grooming the track: “We plan the route with the municipality in the summer. We put up all the signs and provide the hoteliers with information material.” After his shift on the trail, Xander returns to his workshop: “I do the trail grooming on the side with my team.”
I get up a little after four when it has snowed in the night to groom the trail.
The municipality was looking for people to help – and Xander applied because he enjoys cross-country skiing himself
His team is currently made up of his younger brother Andi, 15-year-old junior machinist Adrian, and Roman, the mechanic. Xander could not have imagined that he’d be grooming cross-country ski trails one day. But then the municipality was looking for people to take care of the cross-country ski trail. “Two friends and I decided to apply on a whim,” he says. “One of them just loved driving snow groomers, the other two enjoyed cross-country skiing.” They got the job. “No-one else applied anyway,” Xander says and laughs.
Love of nature: Xander enjoys driving through the winter landscape in the early mornings
The Steinbockloipe is one of three trails in the valley. It takes you from Mittelberg and Bödmen to Baad
His two friends have in the meantime turned to other things but Xander has discovered his passion for the snow groomer. He’s out in it every day to make sure that everything is ok. “An outsider might think that it’s a monotonous job simply driving along the trail for four hours. But it’s always different for me,” he says. The Steinbockloipe is one of three trails in Kleinwalsertal. It takes you from Mittelberg to Baad at the end of the valley. The trail for classic cross-country skiers is 15 kilometres long in total and the stretch for skaters is five kilometres. “The nice thing about my trail is that it goes right past the hotels and inns,” says Xander, “so you can start anywhere and stop off where you like for refreshments.
How do you make a trail? “Well, it’s a bit of an art,” says Xander, “it’s important to create nice turns on the downhill slopes.”
He prefers to see for himself whether he’s done a good job.
All ready on the cross-country trail in Mittelberg