From a poor mountain farming village to a popular holiday region: Saalbach-Hinterglemm and its incredible history.
It is not very often in the history of a town that a piece of sports equipment plays a major role in the spectacular transformation of a poor farming village into an international tourism destination. This is exactly what happened to Saalbach-Hinterglemm starting in 1898.
Back then, the community was one of the poorest regions in the province. The remarkable economic upswing in the Province of Salzburg passed right by the Glemm Valley – such was the fate of a forgotten side valley. The residents of the Glemm Valley got through the difficult times with diligence, hard work, humility and great optimism. Their motto was, "Our work is team work".
It was in this year that a former farmhand from the Reiterbauern Farm in Vorderglemm, Josef Wallner (originally from Saalbach), who had moved to the town of Mürzzuschlag years before, returned to Saalbach and brought the first skis with him. He wanted to settle down in his hometown but the township could not accommodate his large family. Wallner went back to Mürzzuschlag but left his skis at the Thurnerbauer Farm with his brother-in-law, Bachmann.
It was pure luck that these skis landed in the hands of Saalbach’s head teacher, Peter Höll. He immediately knew the impact this piece of sports equipment could have. He was familiar with Fritjof Nansen’s book "The First Crossing of Greenland" and had certainly experienced that in Styria – namely in Mürzzuschlag – skiing was already very popular. He had more skis made and let the brave pupils try them out. So was the start of skiing in Saalbach. The pupils were excited while the older generation took no notice of this strange new activity...
Teacher Ludwig Ramsauer came to Saalbach, excitedly took the head teacher’s idea to teach the children how to ski and proved to be a sports-loving teacher. Saalbach should be grateful for these two teachers, the original ski pioneers. Ramsauer’s sister, Klara, was certainly the first female skier in the Glemm Valley.
Saalbach-Hinterglemm was discovered as a ski region. Three adventurous skiers came from Kitzbühel via the Spielberg Mountain and fell in love with this ski region.
A military unit arrived on skis and stayed at the Gasthaus Neuhaus inn, whose owner was one of the only inn owners who recognised the importance of the first ski guests. This owner was thrilled by how friendly the first winter guests were and the soldiers enjoyed the hospitality. But the conditions for building the tourism industry in the township were still missing. The residents of the Glemm Valley had other worries – they were struggling and trying to make ends meet.
The township committee declined the teachers’ strongly suggested inclusion of Saalbach in the "Illustrated Travel Album Munich". Their reason? "Because the residents of Saalbach-Hinterglemm are already so poor, we have no interest in acquiring new people".
Ludwig Ramsauer was transferred to Bramberg and teacher Herrmann Hueter, an enthusiastic skier from Tyrol, was sent to replace him. From the beginning, he campaigned for the advancement of skiing. The pupils were excited, but Hermann Hueter had to work hard to convince the parents who, of course, had to buy the skis for their children. Step by step, he succeeded. Both Höll and Hueter even convinced a handful of home owners to set up a few rooms for tourists.
1909 – 10
Hueter received 6 pairs of skis from the Bilger ski workshop of the 14th brigade in Salzburg for poor children. Saalbach-Hinterglemm became an increasingly important winter sports region and the residents became more interested in skiing as well. The teachers continuously tried to convince the people that "besides many practical advantages, especially the inexpensiveness, skiing has plenty of other advantages that will surely reduce the popularity of Sunday activities such as playing cards and heading to the pub".
They also tried to teach the children skiing instead of having sports lessons in school, but many of them did not have skis. The teachers tried everything to remedy this aversion to skiing and they were successful!
11 March 1913 is a day for Saalbach’s history books. The first pupil ski race with 17 local children was held. This competition thrilled the children, parents and spectators. An even bigger success: thanks to the teacher’s effort, ski lessons were finally officially recognised as part of gym classes.
Head teacher Ludwig Ramsauer, who returned back to Saalbach in 1912, and teacher Hermann Hueter founded the "Saalbach Winter Sports Association" (WSV) with 44 members.
This association immediately started its duties. Its work was essential to the development of Saalbach-Hinterglemm into a tourism destination. One of the building phase’s most distinctive characters was carpenter Josef Bauer. He was one of the area’s first pioneers of skiing and the children of the time had plenty to thank him for.
1918 – 1938
Tourism started to take hold. Right after the First World War (1914-1918), the food situation in Saalbach-Hinterglemm was catastrophic and the entire population was hungry. Tourism slowed and was even banned during the summer months. The owner of the Neuhaus inn had to send her guests home.
Despite hardship, head teacher Hermann Hueter and senior forester Fritz Hochleitner re-founded the WSV Saalbach. Enthusiastic and full of energy, Fritz Hochleitner was named the first chairman.
The tourism ban was lifted thanks to the WSV. Hueter wrote the first advertisements to his acquaintances, schools and offices. Pupils addressed the envelopes and at the time, there were still no brochures. All initiatives for tourism went out from the officials of the WSV.
The town’s leaders had to fight tooth and nail and with plenty of convincing arguments for these initiatives. The town’s constant expenses – especially social expenses – were not proportional to its meagre income. There was just no funding for tourism. This of course delayed the development of this area as a centre of tourism, but could not stop it.
The WSV convinced the community to become a member of the tourism union of Salzburg. The deciding factor in this decision was that the WSV could prove that it had already spent 1 million Krone for advertising and marketing purposes. This was a wonderful initiative of the association.
There were, however, big differences between the municipality and the WSV. The town leaders had to take care of the residents. All villages had a large budget deficit that year and no infrastructure for tourism. The roads to Hinterglemm were closed to vehicles. The residents of Saalbach wanted to keep their main street but that meant they also had to fund it themselves.
But the WSV officials didn’t give up – there was still a spirit of optimism. They could tell that tradesmen, numerous farmers and their wives, as well as home owners were enterprising and ready to take a risk. Guest rooms were set up in homes and more and more people were realising the importance of tourism to this region.
In the winter of 1924-25, there were a total of 800 overnight stays in Saalbach-Hinterglemm – a very high number compared to the population of 1013 people. The chairman of the WSV was already having problems finding room for all the guests. A simple dormitory was set up. The street to Hinterglemm was still closed to lorries and cars without special permission. The German-Austrian Alpine Club built the Akademikerhütte, an additional dormitory with 80 beds. The town’s leaders were thrilled with an income of 438.37 Schilling from tourism. This boom, however, meant more and better accommodation was needed. Because of the toilets and tubs which were built in single homes in Saalbach, the water consumption went up and the Saalbach Water Co-Operative was founded.
The town and the WSV had the Maishofen railway station at the entrance of the Glemm Valley re-named the Maishofen-Saalbach railway station, an important step in the right direction. Saalbach now appeared in the Austrian Federal Railways timetable. The WSV distributed 10,000 copies of Saalbach brochures.
The requests for permits piled up. Varying opinions were debated in the town hall since the WSV wanted more lenient regulations for the permit requests. Efforts had to be made to explain and streamline the process.
The "Dorfstrasse" road from Unterwirt to the town square was expanded, the "Kuchlgaschtl" street which ran in front of the Kaufhaus Berger department store disappeared.
The township and the WSV worked more closely together. Zell am See-Saalbach post office traffic was allowed for the winter season and for the summer season shortly after. Businesspeople Josef and Maria Berger opened the Sporthotel Penhab, the first modern hotel with central heating – a major step for Saalbach which was becoming a famous ski area.
1930 – 32
A telephone line was built to Hinterglemm with a public call station at the Auwirt and a private connection at the Akademikerhütte. In summer, 3000 overnight stays were counted and during the winter months, the number of overnight stays hit 30,000. The street to Hinterglemm was still unavailable for automobile traffic due to low load capacity of the bridges and inadequate conditions of the streets. Despite these issues, the "Frohe Heimat" inn was built in Hinterglemm.
The depression hit Saalbach-Hinterglemm and the number of unemployed rose dramatically. Hitler’s sanction which made German tourists pay 1000 marks when entering Austria had catastrophic economic implications. German guests stayed out of Austria and, despite numerous advertising campaigns, these losses could not be compensated for.
Political unrest in Austria drove tourists away from the holiday region.
The Glemmerstrasse road became such an important issue that provincial governor Dr Franz Rehrl personally took care of the development and ploughing in winter. Finally, the road to Hinterglemm was open to automobile traffic – a great success for the town!
This year saw 40,000 overnight stays in 400 guest beds and 1200 beds in makeshift shelters – a huge success.
1939 – 1945
After the start of World War II and annexation of Austria, thousands of children from war-torn Germany and Austria were brought to Saalbach-Hinterglemm.
In addition to problems brought on by the lack of workforce (since all men were required to go to war), hunger and poverty ruled, so much so that the farms could no longer be properly cultivated. Women, children and the few old farmers remaining in Austria were forced to cultivate the meagre farms. Many men from the Glemm Valley died in battle or simply never came back from imprisonment.
On 17 September, a group of venturesome men founded the "Schiliftgesellschaft Saalbach" (the "Saalbach Ski Lift Association") and began building the first cable car on the Kohlmais Mountain – a huge step for the area’s tourism industry.
The WSV Saalbach was re-founded on 1 April. They succeeded in getting Oskar Külken, a well-known advertising expert, on their side. The promotional film "Schidorf Saalbach" ("The Skiing Village of Saalbach") was created and wowed audiences in many cinemas around Austria and proved to be an enormous advertising success. Oskar Külken published the first Saalbach-Hinterglemm "Ski Guide" and this ski village was becoming a well-known skiing paradise.
The first chair lift was built, followed by a children’s ski lift on the Turmwiese hillside, another lift on the Bernkogel Mountain and a second children’s lift in Wallehen.
Finally, the WSV separated the tourism and sports duties into two separate branches. The WSV kept track of tourism and the newly-founded "Ski and Sports Club Saalbach" (SC) was in charge of sports. The WSV was also responsible for Hinterglemm. This proved to be a very wise and long-sighted decision.
While the WSV was very successful in continuing professional advertisement for Saalbach and therefore achieved great success for the future, the Ski and Sports Club dedicated itself to skiing, setting up championships in the village and taking over provincial championships as well. They also organised yearly "Saalbach Snow Crystal" downhill races and the Three-Slope Downhill Races. The youngest skiers were especially encouraged. The international skiing world took notice of the wonderful organisational skills in Saalbach-Hinterglemm.
The entire town received electricity, streets were being re-built and repaired and the infrastructure in the entire town was being updated step by step in order to accommodate more tourists.
In 1950, the Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper said: "The skiing village of Saalbach is already a well-known name among domestic skiers. Saalbach is probably the most recognisable winter sports area in our country which, like a lamp and a moth, attracts its regular guests year after year with the same intensity as before. This year’s development has proven the unity between Saalbach and Hinterglemm and that everyone is willing to work together towards the same goal."
Oskar Külken wrote an article for the Salzburger Nachrichten praising these efforts with the title "The Awakening of the Citizens of Hinterglemm". He welcomed the activation of a branch of the WSV in Hinterglemm.
The cooperative team work between the town, its citizens, the ski lift association, the winter sports association and the Saalbach-Hinterglemm ski club was the secret to the success of this amazing development phase from 1945 to 1959. The economic upswing in Austria and Western Europe helped a great deal. Along with the city of Salzburg, Bad Gastein and Hofgastein, Saalbach-Hinterglemm was one of the four largest tourism centres in the province.
1950 – 51
The "Zwölferkogel Association" was formed in Hinterglemm and a button lift was built. In the following years, more lifts were built and existing lifts were modernised and extended. The commemorative publication "An 50er feiern" ("Celebrating the 50s") is available at the Hinterglemm Cable Car LLC office (located on the first floor of the Zwölferkogel Valley Station).
Planning and construction began on the Schattberg cable car and Limberg ski lift. Approval was given on 20 December 1960, yet another milestone in Saalbach-Hinterglemm’s ski history. For more than 40 years, this cable car, also known as "the world’s largest single-cable hanging cable car", fulfilled its duties.
1960 – 1980
Intensive development of winter and summer tourism. Things went up! The residents of Saalbach-Hinterglemm enjoyed the prosperity. Unemployment in the valley was practically wiped out.
1990 – 91
The citizens of Saalbach-Hinterglemm undertook everything they could to make sure the area around Saalbach-Hinterglemm was suitable for the strains of international tourism. The highlights were certainly the expensive construction of a bypass tunnel and permanent financial support provided by large-scale sporting events such as the 1991 alpine ski championships. Just as important were the expansion of the fire brigade, mountain rescue service and the Red Cross, organisations that are simply imperative for a centre of tourism.
The ski championships from 22 January-3 February 1991 were a true success. Great weather accompanied the entire event. A last-minute cancellation of the event due to a terror warning regarding the first Gulf war was luckily averted.
Summer tourism in the Glemm Valley, surrounded by the gentle Pinzgau Alps, is encouraged and prospers. More and more hikers and mountain bikers, nature lovers and families discover the natural beauty in Saalbach-Hinterglemm.
Alongside the new outdoor swimming pool, Austria’s largest high ropes course and the breathtaking tree top path, the fascinating Devil’s water park, the valley train and herb garden, mountain bike routes, nature trails for young and old and many other attractions have opened in the "Valley of Games". Five local hiking guides were hired by the town and show summer guests the wonderful pristine nature surrounding Saalbach-Hinterglemm.
Step by step, the people of Hinterglemm have built the Saalbach-Hinterglemm-Leogang holiday region into an incredibly popular mountain sports, skiing and hiking paradise!