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    Kayaking and Canoeing in Winter

    Winter paddling? But kayaking and canoeing are summer sports, aren’t they? That’s right, but even if the icy temperatures may be off-putting: those who have gained experience in summer are sure to be enchanted by these sports in the cold season too.

    The Non-Essentials

    Non-Essential Information About Winter Paddling, but It Can’t Hurt to Know

    First of all: canoes and kayaks are versatile and have been helping mankind to cross bodies of water for centuries. They originated in Central America and Greenland. In Austria, you can winter paddle on rivers and lakes, and it is recommended for those who have already gained some experience in summer. If you’re in the mood for action and adrenaline, you can race down the rapids. For an idyllic alternative, head to the lake. No matter which option you choose, beginners should always be accompanied by an experienced guide!

    Kayaking in winter at Lake Weissensee
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    Three Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Try Winter Paddling

    Well Equipped: What You Need for Your Winter Paddling Tour

    • You haven’t been put off yet? Fantastic! Then you’re nearly set for your winter adventure. We spoke to someone who knows all about winter paddling to answer your questions: Corinna Kuhnle is a professional athlete for the Austrian Armed Forces and takes part in major international canoe slalom competitions. She made it to the finals of the Olympic Games and has won gold at the World Cup and European Championships multiple times, so there could be no better person to give advice on winter paddling.

    • As a beginner you will be out and about with an experienced teacher from a kayak or canoe school. “Many clubs lend their equipment to members at affordable rates, so it’s worth asking around before buying it all yourself”, Corinna recommends. Talk to your guide about which items you need to bring along and what you can borrow on site. “He or she will also advise which boat is right for you and the given conditions”, the canoe expert explains.

    • The best time for winter paddling is when the lake is calm and not (yet) frozen. In winter you should always consider the wind conditions. Your body, hands, and face will repeatedly come into contact with the water and that can become uncomfortable.

      Here you will find out what you need to get the most out of your paddling adventure.

    • You can leave your hat on: The body loses a lot of heat through the head when it’s cold. A warm hood/hat will keep you warm.

      Cold hands put a stop to the fun: Waterproof gloves made of nylon or neoprene are best. If you tend to get cold particularly quickly then choose a fleece-lined model.

      It’s all about the right shoes: In the best case, the wrong shoes are impractical; in the worst they can lead to frostbite. So be sure to wear neoprene or aqua shoes.

    • Think layers: The first layer, which is closest to the body, should consist of light, breathable material. This is followed by a warming layer, such as thermal underwear or a fleece. The outer layer must be waterproof. A drysuit could also be an option, but your guide can advise which is best for you and the circumstances.

      Safety first: Kayaking in winter remains an adventure. Always wear a life jacket and helmet just in case.

      Teatime: A thermos with a hot drink will warm you from inside. And be sure to pack a snack to keep you going.

    Austria – Land of Lakes

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    Cool Tours in Austria

    Pssst! Now we have some real insider tips for you. Even if you should be able to winter paddle on all of Austria’s freely accessible public lakes, not all of them have their own kayak or canoe school. What’s more, not all schools offer these sports in winter. Don’t let that spoil the fun! Experienced winter paddlers, who may even have the necessary equipment, don’t rely on the schools, and as a beginner it’s always worth asking them to take you out. Who knows, you might just find yourself crossing a remote mountain lake – a truly magical experience.

    Three Unique Winter Paddling Tours

    •                     Winter landscape Lake Neusiedl / Neusiedler See
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      Between Snow and Reeds

      Enjoy the wintry setting on an idyllic canoe trip through the Lake Neusiedl reed belt.
      Guided canoe tours on Lake Neusiedl
    •                     Natur Eis Palast
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      In the Ice Cave

      Inside the crevasse of the Hintertux Glacier you glide past glistening ice stalactites and frozen waterfalls.
      Paddle experience in “Nature’s Ice Palace”
    •                     Wild Water Adventure
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      Action and Adrenaline in Tirol

      Into the winter tides! The Kitzalp canoe school offers courses on the Saalach river in the cold season too.
      Experience river rapids

    “What’s special is the silence in the middle of the lake. It feels like you’re all alone with nature and the elements.”

    Canoeist Corinna Kuhnle at a competition
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    Corinna Kuhnle

    Author: Melanie Wachter

    Elly from Great Britain embarks on a winter kayak adventure whilst on holiday in Austria. She tells us about her personal challenge.

    “You go kayaking in winter? Here?”, I heard myself ask, my mind jumping to images of shivering fingers around paddle bars and teeth chattering under frosty helmets. “Sure! Why not?” came the reply. I was sat snug on a chairlift during my winter holiday to Austria, chatting with my ski instructor about how she liked to spend her days off in her picturesque home province of Tirol.

    Kayaking in Winter?
    “You don’t get cold?” As a girl growing up in Yorkshire, I’d had the chance to go kayaking a fair few times. Our conversation was bringing back memories of sunny afternoons spent on the River Ouse during Girlguiding camps, and of school trips to Semerwater, where alongside my classmates I’d learned about different paddle strokes and how to roll safely. Decades later during summer holidays to the Lake District, I’d raced down to the shores of Lake Windermere and Ullswater, eager to spend a few hours out on the water. But even in England, I’d always seen kayaking as a strictly summertime sport.

    The Cold as a New Challenge

    “No, not really”, she answered cheerfully as we lifted the lift’s safety bar, getting ready to disembark. “You wear your gear – your drysuit, your gloves and layers – so you stay pretty warm. You should try it! Cold weather doesn’t stop you from having fun; it just helps you find new adventures.” I shifted from my seat, my skis touching down on the snow. As I felt that familiar start-of-the-slopes thrill, I couldn’t help but think she had a point.

    A Winter Kayak Trip

    “So, you’ve been kayaking before?”, my guide for the day enquired. Inspired by my chairlift chat, I’d arranged to go kayaking on Lake Achensee. “Yes, but never in Austria – and definitely never in winter!”, I replied.

    Smiling, my guide told me I was in for a treat. I checked the zip on my drysuit, my hands sheathed in neoprene gloves, and buckled my helmet. As I was led through the safety procedures by my friendly coach, my fears of freezing water and unnavigable ice started to melt away, a sense of pure excitement and curiosity taking their place.

    The View of the Lake Took My Breath Away

    The view of the lake took my breath away. It was an oasis of calm. Our kayaks’ bows set off gentle ripples as we started on our journey, reaching out towards the edges of lake where the mountain panorama was reflected in the still, clear water. The only sounds I could hear were distant birdsong and the gentle splash of our paddles as we propelled ourselves forward. I was completely without distractions out on the lake, free from the urge to quickly check my emails or cast an eye over my Instagram feed. The water’s tranquillity was inviting me to break from the intrusions of everyday life and enjoy a moment to myself in nature’s calm. I wholeheartedly accepted the offer.

    Lake Achensee in Tirol

    At over 9km long, the Achensee is Tirol’s largest lake, and I was ready to explore it. We set off from the little ski village of Achenkirch on the northern shore, where snow kiters glided across the frozen surface, reminiscent of the kiteboarders one might expect in summer. Glancing back, I could still see their colourful kites dancing against the clear blue sky, and it occurred to me that cold weather kayaking wasn’t the only way in which people enjoyed a summertime sport during winter.

    We kept a good pace, heading in the direction Maurach on the southern bank, and after a while my guide pointed out Pertisau on the land to our right. I peered across the lake’s glassy surface, a soft mist hovering above the water, and enjoyed the sight of the charming alpine village. Its quaint wooden buildings lay sleeping under a blanket of snow, near to which groups of winter hikers could be seen making tracks on lakeshore trails.

    Unforgettable Experience

    I spent plenty of time absorbing the views of the mountains and meadows from my unique vantage point, before turning my full attention back to the lake. Small glistening blocks of ice floated beside us as graceful as swans, and I took great pleasure in my paddle breaking through thinner frozen patches with a satisfying crack. When it came time to head back, my fabricated fears of treacherous bergs felt like distant memories, and I couldn’t help but feel proud of myself. I’d taken the plunge, said yes to a new challenge, and had been rewarded with an experience that I’d never forget.

    More Summer Sports in Winter

    That evening, I re-joined my holiday group in a cosy mountain hut for dinner. My friends bombarded me with questions – were you freezing? Did you have to submerge? Was the ice hard to break through? – while our ski instructor beamed at me from across the table. Hers was the question I answered first: “Did you have a good time?”

    “Absolutely”, I confirmed. “I can’t wait to do it again. River kayaking on the Lech in winter is next on my list.”

    “Sure, that’s a great choice for skiing and kayaking both. You can go ice climbing there in winter too, on the frozen waterfalls.”

    “Yes, I’ve heard of that!”, our group’s most avid rock climber, a friend seated to my left, interjected. “I’d love to give it a go.”

    I smiled. Something told me that my winter holiday adventures with supposed summer sports had only just begun . . .

    Author: Eleanor Moody

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