My Mountain | Gastein, Austria

Freeskier and filmmaker Sandra Lahnsteiner takes us on a tour of her home turf. It’s got epic backcountry, ski touring potential… heck even the water’s famous

How many years have you been skiing? 

SL: I started skiing when I was two years old. My dad was my first ski teacher and until I went to the local ski club, he always was. I never went to ski school. Blue and red gates where my thing in my early youth and teens, and I was pretty good at it until I blew my ACL when I was 15. Coming back from the injury I was not fast enough any more. I kept racing but started focusing on becoming a ski instructor – by age 16 I had completed my first degree.  

While studying sports science at university in Salzburg, I completed my exams to become the highest level of ski instructor (state certified), and I also got my alpine ski racing coaching licence, because my goal was to get back into the alpine racing circuit. But I always loved going off-piste, so freeriding was always going to be in my future, even though I didn’t know that then.

Tell us about your first skiing experience here… 

SL: While studying in Salzburg, my friends and I would go to Sportgastein and ski off-piste. I fell in love with skiing backcountry here. Sportgastein is at the end of the Gastein Valley, on the border of the National Park Hohe Tauern; it’s just beautiful – it’s this high plateau at 1600m and then the gondola takes you up to 2600m and the views are just breathtaking. From the Kreuzkogel you can  ski down in all sorts of directions (local knowledge and a guide are highly recommended…).  

How many days have you skied Gastein over the years? 

SL: This is difficult to answer! Just last season I skied 40+ days in the Gastein valley, between the three resorts of Dorfgastein – Schlossalm/Stubnerkogel and Sportgastein… 

Tell us about your best day ever skiing Gastein… 

SL: This was last season – it was one of the best seasons for sure – lots of snow, not too much wind throughout the whole season, good stability and my friends and I had lots of opportunities to explore new terrain. It was a day out with friends, all good skiers. We all brought skins and our freeriding/touring equipment and we conquered a line around Sportgastein that we’d always had our eyes on for years and it finally all came together and we did it.  

Favourite funny crash story from Gastein? 

SL: Only one?! [Laughs] Trying to do a spray turn for a photographer on this beautiful ridge in Sportgastein, and ending up digging deep into a crusty layer and highsiding myself – it’s still one of my most liked photos on Instagram. Or maybe that backflip I was 100% sure I’d stomp but then ended up scorpioning myself? 

Have you ever been banned or chased by patrol? 

SL: Nope, that’s not been the case at all – I’m too nice [laughs]. I know all of them; I love taking the time to stop and say hi, talk about conditions…  

Which is your favourite Gastein ski lift and why? 

SL: I just love Sportgastein and the gondola that goes up to Kreuzkogel called Goldbergbahn. The terrain under the gondola is awesome. I love that Gastein offers a playful playground and big mountain terrain alike – and with some short or longer hikes I can get myself into pretty challenging terrain. The opportunities are endless – especially when you start to connect it with ski touring. But then, even the opportunities just off the lifts are crazy…   

Tell us something we don’t know about Gastein… 

SL: It’s been famous for its water since the early 19s – we have this rich radon water coming straight out of the mountains… There thermal spas you can visit to swim in the waters.  

What’s good to eat in Gastein? 

SL: You can’t miss out Kasnocken (Austrian dumplings cooked with cheese in a cast iron skillet and topped with caramelised onions) at Otto’s Valeriehaus in Sportgastein. They are the best!  

Favourite après bar in Gastein? 

I’m not a real après-ski person – I know coming from Austria this sounds funny but I mean it! But I love a good coffee after skiing with friends – again Valeriehaus is great when in Sporgastein, or the new Weitmoserin at the bottom of Schlossalm. But there are so many awesome huts in the resorts – I’d go and stop by all of them for a good soup or tea during the ski day.  

Is there anywhere we should avoid? 

SL: Yes, don’t just follow tracks… there are some cliff-out runs in the Sportgastein backcountry and people cannot just follow because those tracks might end up in a non-ski-out place where you need skins and the gear to actually hike up 300-500m verts… 

Photo | Christoph Oberschneider