Getting to the Dachstein glacier only takes a few minutes, thanks to the panoramic cable car. Get on one of the gondolas at Türlwand station and watch as the green grass of the valley recedes behind you. You’ll get a sense of the Dachstein’s imposing size once the cable car gets closer to its steep, grey rockface. Just before you reach the Hunerkogel at 8850 ft, the glacier’s permanent ice blanket starts to cover the mountain. If you’re not afraid of a little cold air, enjoy the ride on top of the gondola’s roof in a secure balcony.
The wind whistles on the Skywalk, a free-standing observation platform near the end point of the cable car. You don’t get to see the world from this perspective very often. Out against the horizon, you can spot some magnificent mountain peaks: the Großglockner - at 12460 ft Austria’s highest mountain– the Hochkönig (9648 ft) and the Großvenediger (12027 ft). Look through the glass window at your feet to see the 820 ft drop down the mountain face. Linger a while and take in the sheer vastness of the landscape before moving on to the next attraction.
Love is in the air. At least that’s what the love padlocks on the iron railings of the suspension bridge suggest. But those butterflies in your stomach are probably due to the the 1312 ft drop underneath the metal lattice bridge that crosses the abyss to the Hoher Dachstein. The construction is completely sturdy, but that doesn’t take away from the feeling of being suspended in mid-air on an alpine glacier. When you are surrounded by nothing but dramatic views, the Dachstein feels like the top of the world.
Sometimes a small line forms before you can make the descent down the glass staircase that juts out from the rockface. Waiting time aside, it might take some convincing to get yourself on the see-through platform, but spectacular views reward your courage. The stairway leads into empty air, so when you step to its glass-encased end it seems like there is nothing holding you. Underfoot are just the jagged edges of the Dachstein ridge. If you were one of those children who wanted to know what clouds felt like: now is your chance.
In the Ice Palace, deep inside the glacier, the history and landmarks of the region have been immortalized in ornate ice sculptures. The silence in the freezing caves is broken only by the occasional drip-drop of melting ice and hushed “ah”s from the other visitors. The atmosphere is magical. A sea of light with slowly changing colors bathes the sculptures, making them glow in bright greens and rich blues. The “mountain crystal,” a larger-than-life crystal carving is especially impressive.
After exploring the Dachstein glacier you will need a moment to re-energize. Take the cable car back down the mountain, and find the restaurant a few steps from the station in the valley. At Gasthaus Türlwand you can tuck into a platter of Styrian cheese, yeast dumplings, and a hearty bowl of Ramsauer stockpot. Alternatively, you might prefer the Dachstein toast - as a tribute to this magnificent mountain.