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Winter idyll

Winter idyll

Winter idyll

The Kojental valley with its gorgeous upland moor is located on a high plateau between Hittisau, Riefensberg and Oberstaufen. Here, the Steurer family has created a diverse winter resort at the foot of the Hochhäderich mountain.

The moor spreads forth like a soft carpet. Located on a plateau very close to the German border at 1,300 metres above sea level, it features mountain pines, sundew and forest hyacinths covered by a thick blanket of snow. At the heart of all this is the Almhotel Hochhäderich, which seems to have landed here in its own world, far from the rest of humanity. Take a deep breath. On this romantic playground of nature, which crosses man-made borders, you can truly let off steam. Head out on foot, on skis or cross-country skis, with prams, on horseback, sledges and horse-drawn sleighs, barefoot and on snowshoes, with and without hiking poles, sporty or leisurely. No matter your preference, all roads lead to the Almhotel. Just witnessing the labours of the Steurer family, who have built almost everything here with tremendous energy and foresight, is impressive.

Back in 1932, Johann Steurer was the first of five children to be born in a small farm in Hittisau-Bolgenach on the outskirts of Riefensberg. As a young boy, he walked 8 km per day when elementary school was open. During the cold winters of the war, school doors remained closed for weeks because there was not enough coal for heat. No matter, Johann didn’t find school to be particularly interesting anyway, though he did have an aptitude for arithmetic. When his father went to war, his mother managed both the farm and the household. Johann dug gravel out of a pit to make some meagre money. After years of hard work, the family was able to afford its first truck. In 1950, Johann and his father founded the Steurer company. The brothers helped and the gravel plant grew into a thriving business. When Konrad, the brother, had a fatal accident in the pit right in front of his house, Johann continued the company on his own. His brother Gerold also stepped in to provide active support. In summertime, all five employees had their hands more than full with work, though in wintertime it became difficult to live from snow clearing work alone. As a result, Johann looked around for alternatives until he stumbled upon an idea: The six-kilometre-long road that extended from the gravel plant over Hennenmoos up to Hochhäderich led to the north side, where the snow was much deeper and more extensive than elsewhere. Because skiing was just beginning to boom, he decided to build a practice lift near the Hennenmoos Alp in January 1972. Shortly afterwards, his twin children Isolde and Doris were born. In autumn, yet another Commission official arrived from Bregenz with a typewriter in his luggage. Why? Because of Johann’s intention to build his first surface lift. The following year, he constructed the second. Winter sports allowed Johann to employ his workers from the gravel plant all year round. And the skiers? They arrived in droves and formed long queues around the lift station. The guests needed a place to park, wanted to eat and were in need of refreshments. Unfortunately, there was only one kiosk and the Hennenmoosalpe had become too small to serve all the hungry skiers. Never short of good ideas, Johann next asked all the Alpine pasture owners if they would like to build an inn. No one was prepared to do so and as a result, Johann bought a plot of land from an Alpine pasture owner and took his biggest step: In 1978 he built two more lifts, a new road, a sewage treatment plant, electricity and water pipes as well as a self-service restaurant for 300 guests with a large wooden terrace, three staff rooms, four guest rooms and three mattress dormitories. All this cost a lot of money, especially since neither the municipalities of Hittisau nor Riefensberg were prepared to back Johann Steurer. “The mountain air has gone to his head,” seemed to be the general consensus. Undeterred, he found a bank to finance his project.

Johann’s two daughters graduated from the hotel management school in Innsbruck. Doris became a yoga teacher and the first female operations manager for cable cars in Austria after many years of work at the company. As for Isolde, she soon became an integral part of the company. While bathing in the Subersach river, she would later meet her husband Norbert, who happened to be an electrical engineer. But he could do much more: he ploughed the road (when it snowed at three o’clock in the morning), he groomed the slopes, looked after the sewage treatment plant, managed all the technology and electronics on site (the woodchip heating, the water treatment plant, the emergency power supply), prepared the cross-country ski tracks and even saved guests if they got injured. Isolde and Norbert became an unbeatable team, equipped with mobile phones and an ear for every request. In the years that followed, Isolde and Norbert had three children and continued to invest in the facility. Today, the Almhotel Hochhäderich is an environmentally friendly and child-friendly four-star complex with several buildings, an indoor swimming pool, a sauna area, approx. one hundred beds, exclusive suites, an underground car park and a children’s world. Steurer employs all lift workers and they also own the snow cannons as well as the access road. None of this is particularly important to guests, who actually come here because they feel safe and free. You don’t need a ski area with thousands of kilometres of slopes when you have hosts who are truly committed. There is a cross-country ski trail at the doorstep, which is surely one of the province’s most beautiful. The hotel also offers yoga, swimming, hiking and sledging. Guests can treat themselves to a massage, a wine tasting or let the winter sun warm their skin in a deckchair. Children are looked after at the ski school. Here they cannot get lost because all slopes end at the Almhotel. Afterwards, little ones busy themselves go-carting, tinkering, romping and they can even help themselves at the children’s buffet in the evening. At night the stars sparkle, there is no traffic and one can even hear snow crunching beneath each step and the ringing of the horse-drawn sleigh bells or the rustling of a black grouse that briefly leaves its snow cave in search of food. The stream mumbles, the wind blows through the treetops, a drop of water drips from an icicle. The Hochhäderich really is well and truly idyllic in wintertime.

Author: Irmgard Kramer
Edition: Winter Travel Magazine 2018-19