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Skiing trip to Styria: the huts worth stopping at

Culinary highlights can be found in many Styrian huts: regional ingredients bring the taste of the land to the plate, the glass and the palate.

At some point, it suddenly joins you on the chairlift. Or squeezes into the gondola at the middle station. Even when carving down the slopes, it remains a constant companion. It follows you like a shadow on the next lift ride, the descent after that. The ski day is approaching its halfway point - and it's getting more and more intrusive: hunger.

A stop at one of the numerous huts nestled like oases in the snowy deserts of the Styrian ski resorts provides a remedy. They belong to the mountains like the summit cross and edelweiss, and helmets and bindings to a day's skiing. The huts not only spoil you with either sunny panoramic terraces or cosy parlours, but in many cases have also established themselves as culinary hotspots in the chilly winter landscape.

Fine cuisine on the mountain

Richard Rauch is not least to blame for this. The headquarters of the highly acclaimed and award-winning chef is located just 326 meters above sea level in Trautmannsdorf near Bad Gleichenberg in the south-eastern Styrian thermal spa and volcano region.

He also leaves his creative mark at 2000 metres above sea level, on the ski mountains of the Schladming-Dachstein region. Together with the hut keepers, he creates the "Almkulinarik" initiative, a dish that matches the respective business is added to the menu as an additional offer during the season. "The basic idea is to revive traditions, sensational products and craftsmanship, to reflect on a great culinary history, to refine products and to give producers more respect," says Richard Rauch, describing the plan behind the project.

Special attention is paid to produce from the region, most of which is even produced by the companies themselves. The aim is to "combine authentic local dishes and produce with the creativity of a top chef, thus uniting the best of both worlds", says Mathias Schattleitner, Managing Director of the Schladming-Dachstein region, explaining the thrust of the initiative. More and more skiers are using the service as a compass through the ski area and putting together a route that takes in as many of the dozen or so huts as possible.

Culinary Compass

You will most likely also pass the "Krummholzhütte", within easy reach of the transmitter on the Hauser Kaibling, which is visible from afar. The winding main building was recently extended by an open annex with generous window fronts and offers a well-stocked wine list to complement the varied menu. In front of the sun terrace, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to downhill options: World Cup or FIS slope or over to the Höfi-Express, where two more rewarding gastronomic stops await along the enjoyable valley runs.

One is the traditional "Knapplhütte" and the other is the young "Bergschlössl", which the family that runs the Höflehner wellness hotel has transformed into a lounge-like chill-out area with large glass surfaces. A tip is the grilled chicken, served with the best views of the Hauser Kaibling, Hochwildstelle and Dachstein peaks from the roof terrace.

The highest peak in Styria is also in full view one ski mountain further west. At the "Schafalm", three or four turns below the top station of the Planai gondola lift, all you need is one of the coveted spots on the sun terrace. Heinz and Reinhard Schütter have turned the hut, which was built 20 years ago from wood taken from the surrounding stables, into a gastronomic and social fixture for visitors to the World Cup mountain. Downhill runs to the night slalom slope of the Planai, a thousand metres further down, start here. Or a few meters further up, in front of the "Schladminger Hut", which is actually a mountain inn. Located directly opposite the top station of the gondola lift, the terrace of the "Schladminger" is more likely to have the (afternoon) sun than the Dachstein in view - and at best a recommended Kaiserschmarren "according to grandma's recipe" in front of you on your plate. What remains is the question of the next destination.

One possible answer is the "Mitterhausalm" with Morning sun on the piste and more directly afternoon sun at the chairlift. Or you can commute in the direction of Hochwurzen, fortify yourself at the "Hoo-Ruck Alm" - which, like a culinary general store, offers a colourful range from freshly grilled chicken to wood-fired pizza and spare ribs to Ennstal bratwurst and chocolate mousse - and continue towards Reiteralm.

More turns

The wide pistes at the westernmost point of the four-mountain ski area are not only a popular training area for the international World Cup elite from Mikaela Shiffrin, but also the preferred testing ground for Marcel Hirscher's ski brand start-up.

The width and incline of the slopes are designed for carving. Right in the middle is the "Eiskarhütte" with a spacious terrace and an additional "Hütterl" in the restaurant. This is where the Mitterwallners started their family business over 50 years ago with just three tables.

On the other side of the Niedere Tauern, in Lachtal, the highest ski resort in Styria, family-run businesses also dominate the gastronomic scene. On one side of the ski area, in the "Kleinlachtal hut" at 1733 meters above sea level at the foot of the Hoher Zinken, Anita and Sepp Schmidhofer spoil you with roast pork and bacon lentils, among other things; on the other side, in the direction of Schönberg, Eva and Richard Petz at the "Grossa Almstadl" on a regional selection of delicacies from Almburger to bowls to cheese dumplings with Murtal mountain cheese. A hot tip; the warm Buchteln!

A speciality of the "Eagle", one ski mountain away is the view. The panorama restaurant at 2000 metres above sea level on the Kreischberg is not called that for nothing. The architecturally striking cube sits enthroned like an eagle's nest next to the mountain station of the "Sixpack" chairlift and impresses with its light and far-reaching window front, and a menu that fits into any trendy urban district.

If you prefer the slopes to paillards or a fun park with table football instead of pumpkin cream soup with ginger, you can simply carve past the "drive-thru" window in the basement and enjoy a quick snack.

A similarly exposed location characterises the "Hochsitz" on the Riesneralm. At the very top and with a terrace that juts out far above the edge of the terrain, it is the culinary and topographical pinnacle of the manageably large but varied ski area on the outskirts of Donnersbachwald. With three lifts, a total of 32 kilometres of slopes and a separate "children's ski area" in the valley, there is much to entertain visitors, thanks to an ingenious use of the terrain.

The latter is the first such offer in Austria. However, the real unique selling point is the ski area's energy supply. The electricity and water for snow production come from the resort's own hydroelectric power plant. "We are the only ski resort in Europe where the snowmaking system is directly connected to the hydroelectric power plant," says Managing Director Erwin Petz at the top of the "Hochsitz", with burrata with pumpkin seed marinade and wild herb crème fraiche from Steirerkren. The location at 1820 metres guarantees far-reaching views of the following Trautenfelser Seesaibling or Thai curry with Styrian chicken.

At 60 metres higher is the Kriemandl", on the Tauplitzalm; the location owes its title as the highest ski hut in Styria. When you step out of the rustic log cabin into the open air, the entire ski area is at your feet. Mitterstein, Lawinenstein or over to the Schneiderkogel? A matter of taste. Speaking of taste, at the valley station of the Schneiderkogelbahn, the "Genussgasthof Hierzegger" restaurant ensures clear conditions with cheese dumplings, Ennstal Steirerkas and Ausseerland char: there's no room for hunger on the chairlift.

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Klaus Höfler
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