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Alpine Huts In The Corona Year

2020 was a very mixed season for Alpine club huts Credit: DAV/Christof Ursch

For Alpine Club huts, the autumn months are an important time. However, many tables and beds remained empty this year – especially in the huts in Austria. The reasons not only the persistently bad weather but also, of course, the coronavirus situation. Parts of Austria, including Tyrol, were classified as a risk area by the Robert Koch Institute, leading to travel advice warnings by the Foreign Office.

Hosts from the Alpine Club huts in Austria reported that almost all overnight stays were cancelled and day guests did not come in significant numbers. After a difficult start in spring and a turbulent summer, the season ended unsatisfactorily for many huts. Some of them are closing earlier than originally planned as, even without guests, there are fixed costs to cover. “Since September, we have practically hardly any more operations, more than 95 percent of bookings have been cancelled,” said Raimund Pranger of the Erfurter Hütte in Tyrol.

The cosy ambience of the Alpine huts makes social distancing exceedingly difficult. Credit: DAV/Stefan Wolf

For many huts with many day guests, however, the season has gone well and the initial fears of empty tables and cold kitchens, by and large, did not materialise. Rather, the escape to the mountains resulted in full terraces butrules remained different in Austria and Germany. While in Austria the mask requirement was first lifted and then re-introduced, guests inside German huts were always obliged to wear a face covering resulting in confusion regarding which rules applied where.

In outdoor areas, on the other hand, almost regular service was possible in good weather. But this did not apply to all huts as some of them have not opened at all this summer. Either because the location is not attractive for day trippers or because the hut layout did not lend itself to hygiene protocols. In some cases, the two came together so for them, 2020 was a completely lost season.

In the huts that had opened, the focus shifted outside with guest rooms playing a lesser role this year. The bad weather then became a disaster for some hut tenants. “Bad weather usually also means bad business,” said Tobias Bachmann from the Spitzsteinhaus in the Chiemgau Alps.

In general, this summer has demanded a lot from the landlords. Initially, the delayed start of the season due to the restrictions on starting in March and April. Then the opening with hygiene and social distance rules which could not be easily implemented in the characterful huts. Until now, the low ceiling heights of the huts’ guest rooms, which are often a hundred and more years old, were considered cosy. Now they are considered a risk of infection.

Over the summer, travel restrictions were eased and holidays in Germany and its neighbouring countries were as popular as they had been for a long time. But the rush to the Alps was met with massively reduced accommodation capacities. Some huts had to reduce sleeping occupancy to little more than 25% of the usual. “Our Alpine Club huts have an important protection and supporting function, which we absolutely must maintain,” said Roland Stierle, DAV Vice-President. Yet, if three out of four beds have to remain empty, the future of the huts in the long run is questionable.

Feedback from hut hosts

Hermann Iser, Neue Magdeburger Hütte, Karwendel:

The 150 bookings we would have had in recent times have all been cancelled. After the official travel warning, nothing was going on, it hurt. You also notice that people lack the money, they consume less. This is important for the landlords, who live on the gastronomy. Luckily, we were supported by the section. But German politics is already putting us under a lot of pressure.

Raimund Pranger, Erfurt Hut, Rofan Mountains:

The season has been very exhausting, both physically and psychologically. Not least because of the whole confusion of the rules of governments. Unfortunately, it was not possible to say that guests would be more insightful, patient and relaxed. We are happy that we were able to finish this challenging season without incident.

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