Up and up
Together with his team, Martin Rothballer, operations manager of the Tiroler Zugspitzbahn, is responsible for ensuring supplies to the Wiener-Neustädter Hut in Ehrwald. But what actually goes on behind the scenes?
It’s early morning in Ehrwald, the sun’s rays are emerging behind the mountain peaks, and the birds are singing their songs. All of a sudden there is a soft whirring sound. What is it? It’s the cable cars of the Tiroler Zugspitzbahn, of course. One is slowly gliding up the mountain – straight to the Wiener-Neustädter Hut. The cable car isn’t carrying a merry band of hikers, though – and Martin Rothballer knows exactly why.
‘I’ve been operations manager for the Tiroler Zugspitzbahn for more than 20 years,’ he says. The mechanical engineer is thus responsible for technical and personnel management of the cable car. ‘As part of this, I ensure full compliance with safety regulations and maintenance requirements.’ But ensuring supplies to the Wiener-Neustädter Hut is also one of his duties. ‘The hut is located on the edge of the Austrian Zugspitze snow cirque and is only open in the summer,’ he says. ‘The Tiroler Zugspitzbahn has been supplying the hut since 1990, when the cable car was built on this section. The cables just run over the site of the Wiener-Neustädter Hut – so it was an obvious choice for transporting whatever’s needed there.’
But how do supplies get to the Wiener-Neustädter Hut exactly? ‘Hut manager Guido Schweigl contacts us when he’s ordered a delivery of food to the Ehrwald Valley. Once the delivery arrives here, we get the cargo basket ready at the lower terminal and pack everything in. The cargo basket is hooked onto a steel cable, which runs into the cable car through a hole in its floor. There, the cable is wound up on a winch operated by two of our employees,’ he says. ‘This winch then pulls the basket, which is often just covered with foil, until it’s directly underneath the cable car – and after only ten minutes it arrives above the Wiener-Neustädter Hut.’ The delivery is then lowered and received into Guido Schweigl’s hands.
The entire operation, which takes about 45 minutes with loading and unloading, is usually carried out early or in the evening. ‘After all, we don’t want to interfere with public operation of the Tiroler Zugspitzbahn,’ says Martin. ‘That’s why we supply the Wiener-Neustädter Hut outside normal opening hours.’
Since hot food and drinks are offered at the Wiener-Neustädter Hut, supplies of these items are a priority for Martin Rothballer and his team. ‘We can attach up to 1,000 kilograms on the Tiroler Zugspitzbahn with the cable winch,’ he says. ‘Heavier deliveries are taken by helicopter.’ This is the case, for example, when major repairs are due at the Wiener-Neustädter Hut.
Another thing the Tiroler Zugspitzbahn doesn’t carry is water. ‘There’s a spring up there to supply the hut with fresh water,’ says Martin. Consequently, food is the main item transported up the mountain, as well as, on occasion, wood briquettes to heat the Wiener-Neustädter Hut.
Waste shouldn’t be forgotten, either. ‘We take care of empties and other waste,’ says Martin. None of this is a problem – provided the weather is right. ‘When visibility is poor, such as due to fog or wind, it can be difficult to deliver to the hut,’ he says. Fortunately, Guido Schweigl always makes sure some emergency provisions are available in the hut. ‘And if the bread does run out, we don’t even have to use the winch: we pack the food in a small backpack and lower the whole thing down to the ground on a rope from the cable car,’ says Martin.
There’s no question that this method of supplying the Wiener-Neustädter Hut works: ‘I’ve stopped off at the hut myself,’ says Martin with a smile. ‘I can recommend a visit to anyone.’ And beyond this, there are many more beautiful huts in the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena to discover.