Obertauern: The Skiing Capital of Salzburg
A non-skier myself, the first time I got to Obertauern was when I went the wrong way driving to the Lungau area and getting lost somewhere in the alpine south of Salzburg. That was in summer, and the town I found looked bleak, sad and mostly empty. Obertauern comes to live in winter, when it turns into one of Austria′s most popular skiing towns.
The slopes of Obertauern span altitudes between 1,630 and 2,500 metres and due to this, the skiing season lasts an impressive 160 days - usually from late November to the beginning of May. There is a total of 100 kilometres of slopes available at all degrees of difficulty: 56 kilometres for beginners, 35 kilometres for advanced skiers and approximately 4 kilometres of "black slopes" for borderline suicidal skiing professionals. 26 ski lifts and cable cars allow the transportation of some 40,000 skiers and snowboarders per hour.
Obertauern is famous for the "Tauernrunde", a circular arrangement of ski lifts that enable visitors to ski all around the village in a counter-clockwise direction. There are bridges over major roads and the semi-cater like shape of the mountains around Obertauern provide some impressive vistas. Speaking of all the things Obertauern is - here is something it is not: A municipality. In terms of administration, the village is divided between the two communities of Tweng and Untertauern and therefore, also between the two counties of Pongau and Lungau.
With all the fuzz about skiing, visitors often ignore that Obertauern has a long history. The first settlers in the area were Celts that arrived here some 2,400 years ago. The Celtic settlers stayed until the Romans arrived and mingled with them in a mostly peaceful process.
Obertauern's long history before the Advent of Skiing
By approximately 100 BC, Celtic culture around today′s Obertauern was almost completely absorbed by the Romans. At approximately 50 AD, the Romans built a road that connected Italy with Iuvavum, today′s Salzburg. This road ran near Obertauern and made the town an important "en-route" place with inns and shelters for traders and their carriages.
After 500 AD, Bavarian settlers flocked into the Alps and Roman Empire ceased. The road fell into disrepair and only with the independence of the diocese of Salzburg from Bavaria in the 13th century, the Lungau re-gained some significance in trade. A document from 1517 refers to Obertauern as a place with two inns - apparently the guesthouses of Schaidberg and Wisenegg. Both places are still in business. During the 16th century, the old Roman road was re-vived and soon trade in the Lungau rose back to its former glory.
With the Baroque boom period of Salzburg, it got a regular post station and in 1764, a regular post carriage connection connected nearby Untertauern with Salzburg. Throughout the 19th century, trade and agriculture were the main industries - although neither of them generated any great value for Obertauern. Things were to change just after 1900, when skiing was introduced to the area. In the years after WWI, skiers had to hike to Obertauern, which was more popular as a destination for summer holidays with hiking and car races.
New Roads towards Skiing: Obertauern Today
In 1929, a new pass route over a mountain that had segregated Obertauern from major roads was opened - by then, Obertauern had already earned itself quite a reputation among skiers and the tourism rocketed away in the following years. This was only interrupted for a few years during WWII. In 1948, the first ski lift was opened. The skiing infrastructure was constantly developed in the following decades and Obertauern lost its remote, rural flair.
Since approximately 1960, Obertauern is internationally well-known and nationally legendary as a skiing destination. In 1965, the British pop band "The Beatles" took parts of a music video for "Help" on the slopes around Obertauern. Flood-light illumination for slopes and tobogganing routes as well as some legendary après-ski bars and various night-clubs make Obertauern an attractive destination for a wide range of visitors - from families with children to younger party-crowds. A special feature of Obertauern is "skite skiing", for which skiers are attached to a huge grafton that pulls them over the slopes.
The large number of hotels in Obertauern might allow you to get a particularly good deal for a summer vacation - hiking is still great in this area. Nearby attractions include St. Michael in the Lungau, Bad Hofgastein and Radstadt; slightly further away are Schladming and the Styrian Murtal Valley with Oberzeiring, Oberwölz and Murau.
Back to: "Salzburg Sightseeing Guide"