19 Aug. 2016 · Summer Activities

Behind the Scenes at the Kleinwalsertal/Oberstdorf Mountain Lifts

Every local person in Kleinwalsertal has seen the familiar green signs on the sides of many buildings bearing the words in white Bergbahn inklusive (lifts included).

Every local person in Kleinwalsertal has seen the familiar green signs on the sides of many buildings bearing the words in white Bergbahn inklusive (lifts included).
It is true to say that this is one of the deciding factors for many visitors when they choose to spend this wonderful time of the year in Kleinwalsertal and when they decide on which accommodation they are going to stay in. It is obviously very convenient to be able to simply walk straight to the turnstile without having to queue at the lift ticket office, to register your guest card, walk straight through without having to think about it and to simply hop onto the lift ready to start your mountain adventures.
However, how many of us ever stop to think about what really goes on behind the scenes and what needs to be done to ensure that the summer visitors are able to make use of the Bergbahn inklusive facility? I asked myself this question and I also put this and a barrage of other questions to Jörn Homburg the Marketing Manager of the lifts at Oberstdorf  / Kleinwalsertal during an on-the-spot interview. I wanted to find out absolutely everything that is involved in running the lifts during the summer and the winter seasons.
I am now going to reveal what he said to me during the interview.

Kanzelwandbahn in Riezlern | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Fotograf: Antje Pabst

6 Good Reasons Why You Should Put Your Trust in the Mountain Lifts in Oberstdorf / Kleinwalsertal:

1.    The Nebelhorn, the mountain with the best views.
2.    Fellhorn and Kanzelwand, where the Zwei-Länder hiking regions join together in the most fantastic way.
3.    The Söllereck | Quite simply the best mountain there is for families.
4.    The Walmendingerhorn which is known as the Mountain of the Senses due to the enchanting views that can be seen here.
5.    The Heuberg which is loved by hikers, mountain bikers, adults and children alike because trails in the medium-difficult range are very easy to reach. And last but not least ...
6.    The Ifen which draws many a visitor into its orbit due to its craggy beauty.

Four impressive mountain lift facilities can be found in the Kleinwalsertal area and each of them is distinctive and unique.
However, one thing that connects them all is what has to be achieved in front and behind the scenes in order to assist visitors and to ensure they enjoy a memorable day in the mountains.
Even before the first guests climb on the lifts, a visual inspection and brake test are carried out as part of the daily test run by a specially trained technician. The lifts are only given the all clear to operate every morning when everything has been fully checked. The employees who run the lifts are transported up the mountainside first before all the holidaymakers. During the summer, the lifts are available to eager hikers and mountaineers from between 8.30 am and 9.00 am after they have been cleaned and spruced up.

Kanzelwandbahn aus Gondel Sicht  | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Fotograf: Antje Pabst

Are the Mountain Lifts Really the Safest Mode of Transport in the World?

‘Why, of course they are!’ affirms Jörn Homburg with confidence. He refers to the Walmendingerhorn lift by way of example which is now able to celebrate 50 years of operation without one accident that has caused personal injury. He is also able to give this assurance because, in addition to the daily inspections, major maintenance work is carried out twice a year during which every single screw, cog and wire are rigorously checked and specialist TÜV technicians have to give their blessing before the new season can start. The lifts are also safe because mechanisms have been installed which can achieve three times the level of what is actually expected of them so they act as a kind of safety buffer. Heavy duty emergency power generators ensure that the lifts continue working during power failures so that the guests can always be brought safely down to ground level. 

They are also safe because in the event of an incident, a team of well-trained, qualified and well-rehearsed personnel are capable of rescuing guests from a lift that may become stuck. So, please climb aboard valued guest and feel totally reassured that even though you may still feel a little hesitant the first time, you will arrive safely at your destination. Lean back, relax and enjoy the spectacular views throughout your journey.
When you arrive at the top, you can treat yourself to something tasty in one of the restaurants operated by the Oberstdorf  / Kleinwalsertal Mountain Lift Company and then enjoy a relaxing day in the mountains.

Walmendingerhorn Sunrise | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen

Daily Operation with (Nearly) No Restrictions

There is only one restriction: Even though rain and snow do not affect the lifts, the biggest enemy is definitely the wind. It can therefore occasionally be the case that you are standing in the valley station and you are told that the lifts are not running (‘Nichts geht mehr’). There are strictly defined wind speeds for each lift, depending on its type and size, which stipulate when it should stop operating due to safety reasons. The following applies in this case: the smaller the lift, the more it will react to the effects of the wind and storms. Gondolas with large cabins operated by a driver are permitted to operate the longest, however, certain restrictions apply to this too.

Gondolas with large cabins also only have the privilege of operating at night. Your gondola driver will transport you safely across the evening skies and back down to the valley after a special event on the Walmendingerhorn, such as a murder mystery evening, or after a sunset serenade on the Fellhorn.
A great deal of work is involved in the summer and even more work is involved in the winter. In addition to the normal operating requirements and running the restaurants at the summits, the pistes also have to be groomed which involves taking into account the different snow conditions on the pistes.
It is also necessary to assess the avalanche status on a daily basis. If necessary, avalanches or slab avalanches have to be blown up using explosive charges which are dropped from helicopters or from the lifts, or they are detonated remotely using the Gasex avalanche control system. This is all carried out to ensure that guests visiting the valley during the winter can enjoy the pistes as much as possible and as safely as possible.
Apart from ensuring that safety is the number one priority, the second guiding principle followed by the Kleinwalsertaler / Oberstdorfer Mountain Lift Company is to ensure that environmental considerations are also a prime concern throughout the year. During the winter, the pistes only start to be groomed once there are a minimum number of skiers in order to protect the meadows lying beneath the snow and now during the summer, special measures are taken during construction projects that are compatible with the surrounding natural environment. I will take a picture of this and naturally report on this subject when I visit the next site inspection at 2.00 pm on 19/08/2016 at the valley station for the new Ifen lift. However, that is another story.

Heuberg chairlift in Hirschegg | © Oberstdorf Kleinwalsertal mountain railways | Photographer: Christian Seitz

New Things to Look Forward to Next Winter. Things You Shouldn’t Miss:

  1. More snow on the Ifen thanks to the new snow-making facility which has just been built and which offers greater snow reliability.
  2. More skiing fun and adventure due to shorter waiting times on the Ifen thanks to the new 6-seater chair lift with heated seats and weather protection hood.
  3. Greater comfort on the Fellhorn thanks to the heated leather seats on the new 6-seater chair lift.
  4. More culinary delights in the new summit restaurant on the Nebelhorn which doesn’t just open up new horizons in a culinary sense.
  5. More thrills on the Nebelhorn with the new north face viewing platform around the summit which is das Höchste (the highest ever)!

Altogether around 30 million euros has been spent this summer to provide unsurpassable enjoyment in every respect.

Dear guests and readers of the blog! Next summer when you walk through the turnstile and make your way comfortably up the mountain of your choice on a lift or cable car thanks to the Bergbahn inklusive symbol on your guest card, please take a moment to think about what goes on behind the scenes. A thank you to the friendly lady who provided you with some information at the kiosk, a nice smile, a friendly Grüss Gott or a cheerful Servus when you get on or off the lift do not cost anything, however, they help to make the lift employees feel valued.
The people you see are only a small fraction of the many employees (approx. 250 in the summer and around 420 in the winter) who are a close and dedicated community which only has one goal in mind: to enable us all to have a fun and carefree day in the mountains.
A huge thank you to all the employees on the ground and who work in front and behind the scenes for all their tireless commitment. I would also like to heartily thank Jörn Homburg for taking the time to give me a pleasant, informative and insightful interview.
With all this in mind, I am going to make my way up the mountain on the safest form of transport in the world: the mountain lifts. I will see you there!

Pistenraupe im Einsatz | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Fotograf: Dominik Berchtold

This article might also interest you:

Heroes of the night

The working day starts at 4.00 a.m. for the snow cat drivers on the Ifen.