The trailblazers | © Edith Danzer
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The trailblazers

Enablers of great hiking fun

The hiking trail supervisors in Saalbach Hinterglemm make it possible for visitors to make the most out of their hiking adventure. Every summer, they maintain countless kilometres of hiking trails and craft easy-to-use crossings, steps, bridges and banks to ensure safety across all hiking paths. Saalbach Stories joined the “trailblazers” of the Home of Lässig for a day to see what exactly they are up to when engaging in their work and their maintenance efforts.

“Pick, shovel, rake, brush, paint, string trimmer… Everything’s packed. Get in, and let’s go!”, Hans Eder announces at seven in the morning in the trailblazer’s workshop in Hinterglemm. Every day at this time, the five men split into two groups and make their way to the 400-kilometre-long hiking trail network of Saalbach Hinterglemm. One of the two groups has a steep climb ahead of them, for they must construct a new wooden crossing underneath the Tristkogel mountain. The crossing allows hikers to comfortably cross the electric pasture fences. “We can use the car and get pretty far up, but then we still have to carry up the timber and tools on our backs for more than an hour. And today, it’s going to be really hot…,” the group’s trailblazers say as they apologise for their abrupt departure.

Water — the hiking trail’s nemesis

Together with Hans Eder, who also traverses the area with visitors every week as a government-certified hiking guide, and his team, I embark on our journey to the Reiterkogel mountain. Here, there are several hiking paths that need to be marked anew and viewpoint benches that need to be freed from overgrowing grass. While Steff Kendler puts on his protective clothing for the string trimmer and begins to carefully mow the tall grass around the benches, his colleague Herbert Kendler mounts the brand-new hiking signs. “These signposts are internationally standardised and are even visible in the fog. By the end of the hiking season, we will have installed them across the whole area,” the trailblazer explains. They will be working across the whole area and refurbish trails from April to November. “The heaviest damages are the result of run-off water, when the drainages are blocked. This is why the pick is with us at all times — using it, we can clean out the drainage ditches and free the trails form washed up gravel. Most of our work is carried out in April, when the general refurbishment of every hiking trail is necessary as soon as the snow has melted away. By the time the hiking season starts, all trails — especially the really busy ones around the lifts — are safe and accessible again, which allows us to focus more on maintenance work as well as on more desolate trails.  

On the trail, no matter the weather

The maintenance work also includes the marking of the trails. I’m suddenly handed a bucket with red paint and a brush to help out and off I go with Fred Bachman. He’s one of the longest-serving hiking trail supervisors in the Glemmtal valley. We apply a quick white-red brushstroke to some of the more prominent stones, which helps hikers stay on the right track. I find the brushing process quite fun, but across 400 kilometres of hiking trails, the job quickly gets quite tiring. The random nature of the weather can be just as tiring, as Fred tells me while looking up at the cloudless sky. “It has already happened before that a storm destroyed overnight exactly those paths we had just fixed the day before. By the way, we work on the trails no matter the weather — there’s no time for weather shifts here. Only when it gets really, really bad, then we relocate to the workshop. There, we prepare wooden stakes for stairs. We build these wooden steps to provide sure footing, especially over steep paths, such as across the Bürgl region or on the Amsel hill.

 

Meanwhile, the clock has struck noon and we’re getting our snack boxes out of our backpacks. We take a break on the mountain pasture with some bacon, cheese, bread and butter, and recharge our batteries. Despite all the physical work, I see only happy faces around me. I ask whether they all like their workplace and everyone nods, saying, “We’re out in the wild! The work is so varied, and every day is a new challenge. When the weather is as perfect as it is today, then the job is, of course, a real treat, but it’s also very fulfilling when it’s raining or snowing. We get to see deer, chamois, eagles or marmots on a daily basis. We’re almost used to all the sights, and yet, it is always a wonderful experience to be out and about on the Glemmtal valley’s hiking trails.”

Never finished

With 400 kilometres of hiking trails, the work is never exactly “finished”. For as soon as the two groups arrive at the end of the trail network, they have to start refurbishing the trails all over again from the start. Often times, they will receive a call in the middle of the job informing them that urgent work needs to be done — such as, for example, a tree that’s blocking the path after a storm. Then, a team quickly rushes to fix the damage. Usually, their work remains hidden in plain sight, but when they meet hikers they are happy to chat about their work. “Of course, we get many questions about the hiking area and we’re happy to offer information. Many of us are actually hiking guides ourselves and so we know the mountains like the back of our hand. We really go all in when it comes to our work, because, after all, we also want to hike on perfect trails ourselves,” they say, as it slowly gets time for me to head back to the valley. This day, however, the trailblazers will be busy with their picks and rakes until at least 5 pm again, in order to ensure the highest safety and comfort standards on every hiking trail.

 

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