Shiny Happy People – Zell am See, Austria


Dammed If I Do …

Visiting a dam isn’t really my idea of fun, but since it was on the itinerary, there was no getting out of it. So, l figured that perhaps coming up with silly puns about dams might help while away the time. But, like with the rest of Zell am See, I’m in for a pleasant surprise. Not only is the ride to the high alpine reservoirs super scenic, we also get to travel in this massive lift, supposed to be one of the largest in the world. The twin reservoirs of Wasserfallboden and Mooserboden are remarkable to say the least – not just to look at, mind you, although the location and its surroundings are spectacular, too. Visual appeal aside, they’re engineering marvels. About 2,000m above sea level; dam walls 500m long; 160 million cubic metres of water driving the power stations… it’s all a bit other-worldly, one of Austria’s greatest engineering feats, and I’m geeking out.
There are nice walks along marked trails into the surrounding mountains, with the Kräuterlehrpfad, or herb discovery trail, recommended for all budding botanists, but I’m more interested in the workings of the power station, so if s the guided tour of the innards of the beast for me. At the end of it, I’m mighty glad I visited. I’d have been damned if I didn’t.

What Goes Up …
It’s a lazy summer afternoon, and the alpine coaster – luge – is completely deserted. The operator looks barely 18, and bored out of his skull. He does check if I’m strapped in securely before sending me off, though. As the Maisiflitzer slowly climbs 730m, I have ample time to take in the milieu: delicate alpine flowers poking their heads through overgrowth thickets on either side of the track, the soporific lull of the mid-morning sun, the occasional loopy bee. It’s really quiet, except for the clackety-clack of the chain on its sprockets. Even that slows down as the coaster trundles to a halt at the top.
Just as I’m wondering if I’m supposed to do anything, boom! I’m off! Now, 40kmph doesn’t seem a lot, but, when you’re hurtling down a mountain slope, in an open-topped cart, with just a thin strap keeping you in, taking turns at almost 90°, it’s fast enough. Sure, it’s tried and tested and all that, but it’s still plenty scary, for almost all the way down. Given a chance, I’d have gone straight back up for another go.

No, I wasn’t going for a pun this time. That’s actually what the name of the place is. But, come to think of it, the pun would’ve worked just fine. In winter, the slopes of Schmittenhöhe are a skier’s delight, but, come summer, the snow melts and opens up some seriously pretty hiking trails, including the Pinzgauer Spaziergang, which, we’re told, is one of the prettiest in the eastern Alps, and quite an easy walk to boot. Naturally, I’m immediately interested. But then comes the damper… it takes the better part of a day, and time is a luxury we don’t have. We content ourselves with a curtailed version. Just to get a better idea of what I’d missed, I look up the hike, and I’m astounded by the amount of data. There is precise, detailed information available about every hike, including directions, distance, duration, difficulty, elevation and waypoints. They even have downloadable GPX and KML files that sync with Google Maps and GPS devices, available. The real challenge here is managing to get lost.

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