C Skifahrer Panorama Pfannenkopf Alpe Rauz Arlberg © Sepp Mallaun / Vorarlberg Tourismus
There’s this one day when everything changes. When the landscape suddenly looks very different to what it did before. When a total regeneration, so to speak, takes place in Vorarlberg. It’s usually not the first snow of winter that makes this day so special. The first snow probably fell earlier, on a dull afternoon at the end of October or sometime at night when nobody noticed.
… it’s most likely to be more tentative, hesitant, dithering…
The first snowfall never lasts and it’s usually not heavy, it’s most likely to be more tentative, hesitant, dithering…as if it wasn’t sufficiently courageous just quite yet. But then that day arrives when everything does change, when the complicated manoeuvring between autumn and winter finally results in a winner. That’s the day when Vorarlberg visibly changes colour: when everything turns white. Everything. The valleys, the roofs, the cars in their parking spaces, the climbing frames on the children’s playgrounds, the roads and the gardens and, of course, the Alps and the mountains. No longer just up at the peaks, no longer just on the high flanks. Everything turns white on this day. Across the whole of Vorarlberg.
A lot changes with the snow. Some people even take on different jobs.
It’s the day that constitutes a turning point for Vorarlberg’s residents: from this day forth, it’s winter. The snow may disappear for a while again, in a week or two, but, from now on, it will usually remain – and will stay in place for the next few months. From now on, the snow needs to be cleared from driveways and pavements; from now on, commuters need to schedule additional time for their trip to work in the mornings; from now on, kids prefer to spend their afternoons after school on the slopes and not on the football pitch. A lot changes with the arrival of winter: the lifts are put into operation, the slopes and cross-country ski trails are groomed and the hotels get ready for the first arrivals. Mountain guides become ski instructors. And those who the other day were still repairing e-bikes are now being asked by their customers to explain bindings on snowboards.
Winter changes the region, in all aspects of life, it changes all everyday routines, that’s what happens in the Alps.
One of many: Vorarlberg has 45 skiing areas. This one is a ski slope in the Silvretta Montafon ski resort
Its effects can already be felt in the morning when wardrobe doors are opened, when routes to work are chosen and, of course, later on at the office when the plans for the coming weekend become the topic of discussion during coffee breaks. When the question is whether to go up to the Walmendingerhorn or take the cross-country ski trail behind the house. Whether to meet with friends for mulled wine at the Christmas market or to set off as a couple on snowshoes at dusk. You could be lucky. And catch sight of deer. Or even a stag. Because that’s what winter does, too: it brings a lot to light.
The tracks in the snow suddenly reveal what else is nearby. The hare that must have zigzagged across the meadow. The squirrel moving between the tree and its hiding place in the garage. And the fox that apparently slinks across the garden behind the house each night, secretly, stealthily, quietly – you can now see that happening, too.
A winter setting: Nature sleeps. Tour in Laterns Gapfohl
Earlier, thick downy flakes floated from the sky
It’s sometimes said that snow’s just snow … but then you’re out and about in Vorarlberg, the Montafon, Kleinwalsertal or the Bregenzerwald on a winter’s day and suddenly you notice: that’s not true – snow isn’t just snow, snow is always new and always different. Earlier, thick flakes floated from the sky, in movements reminiscent of a swinging pendulum, downy flakes piling up on the branches of the fir trees like foam in a bath. That’s when you realise that something has changed up there, the air pressure or the temperature or some other meteorological ingredient and the thick flakes have turned into small white lentils.
Then it fell more densely, more quickly, as if it wanted to show everyone down there what real snow is. And even that’s
The snow is now wet and it sloshes from the sky like millions of tiny facecloths splattering down from the sky. If you’re very quiet, you can even hear it hit the ground. Sometimes it drapes itself like a veil on the local landscape. And sometimes it floats over the slopes like white powder. As if someone had just thrown a huge load down from above and the dust from the impact was still hanging in the air.
The mountains look as if they’ve been covered in a soft duvet
The snow changes Vorarlberg, it reduces the diversity of autumnal nature to an essential minimum. As soon as it has fallen, the mountains no longer look so rugged and angular but rather as if a soft duvet had been thrown over them, as if someone had blanketed the whole wide country up there. Of course, there are those days when an artist wanting to depict winter in Vorarlberg on canvas could get by with two colours – more than radiant white and bright blue wouldn’t be needed. But on other days, the dull and grey ones, when visibility is limited and your own sense of distance and dimensions fades, those are the days when winter creates pictures like landscape paintings by past masters. Views where the fine line between heaven and earth becomes blurred. And you need 117 shades of colour ranging from white to dark grey to do justice to the world.
But, it’s something wonderful, winter, and in Vorarlberg it’s even a bit more wonderful than elsewhere.There are forty-five designated skiing areas in Austria’s westernmost federal state as well as: husky sledge tours (in Brandnertal), winter trekking with llamas (in the Montafon) and even torchlight hikes through an icy gorge (in Kleinwalsertal) – just to name a few things to do. And, of course, more cross-country ski trails and winter hiking routes than you could book winter holidays in your entire life. And where is the village most assured of snow? Also in Vorarlberg. The snowfall in Damüls is the heaviest in all the world. While perhaps more snow does fall in northern Canada or in Greenland, there are no villages there.
Damüls in the evening
Sometimes you ask yourself whether a word spoken out loud is not going to destroy the silent magic of the world
A walk in the snow around Damüls is therefore pretty much the most beautiful thing you could do in Vorarlberg on a winter’s day (if you don’t fancy skiing or snowboarding). More snow piles up around you than you could ever imagine. It grows higher and higher. And then even higher, as if, over the course of winter, it was attempting to make it back up to that brightly scrubbed deep blue sky from whence it recently came.
It’s in those moments that you catch yourself suddenly speaking in hushed tones. And sometimes you ask yourself whether a word spoken out loud is not going to destroy the silent magic of the world. Snow has the wonderful property of being able to dampen. It creates a sense of calm in the world because it makes it easier to grasp by making it smaller. It absorbs the noise and the roaring, it blocks valleys and roads, it drapes itself around the region like a big white cloth and creates its own small worlds. And silence – it creates that anyway. And with silence the realisation that it does not simply mean a lack of noise but rather the amplification of other sounds that suddenly become audible. The crunching of footsteps. The distant ringing of church bells. Your own breathing in and out. The whoosh created when a fir branch gives way and a lorry-load of snow comes down after it, when it whirls up the dust that then makes the whole world disappear in a swirl of white mist.
As if it wasn’t important at all.
As if it wasn’t even there.