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Top 9: Alternative Austrian sports

Push your boundaries in summer by descending wild rivers, scrambling up a mountain or paragliding high above it all

Top 9: Alternative Austrian sports
Rock climbing in Zillertal. Image: Zillertal Tourismus_Andre Schoenherr

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1 Via ferrata

These fixed-rope routes — sometimes several miles long — are a safe way to experience spectacular, vertiginous climbs that would otherwise be way beyond a novice’s technical ability. Ditch the gear for in situ, well-maintained ropes, cables and ladders. The various via ferrata are graded according to difficulty.
Where? Zillertal, Tirol. The nine routes here cover every grade, and will take around one to two hours to complete, or longer if you want more time to admire the panoramic views.

2 Canyoning

The misleadingly named sport of canyoning is actually all about bumping across rapids, abseiling waterfalls and plunging from pool to pool — in short, doing anything it takes to descend a wild river. You’ll need an extra-tough wetsuit, plenty of safety equipment and towels.
Where? Warth-Schroecken, in Vorarlberg, has a list of canyoning routes, and beginners particularly enjoy the beauties of ‘Merlin’s World’. 

3 Stand up paddleboarding

One advantage this relatively gentle watersport has over kayaking is the view — looking down from on high through crystal-clear water. The other is a physical one: the kayak position isn’t ideal if you have a vulnerable lower back. It’s good exercise for your core muscles, too, and yoga on stand up paddleboards is increasingly popular among the superfit. 
Where? Millstätter See, Carinthia. This mountain-cupped lake is one of Austria’s loveliest; a pastoral, tourist-oriented setting, with ultra-clean water that heats up very nicely in summer. You won’t mind falling off your board here.

4 Kayaking

There are plenty of opportunities to hop in a kayak and glide across Alpine waters, but the mountain-fringed Zeller lake is the ideal spot for this — fed by mountain streams, the water is so clean you can drink it. Rapids can also be found along sections of the Salzach and Saalach rivers nearby if you’re after a faster ride.
Where? Zell am See-Kaprun, Land Salzburg. The balmy Zeller lake is also great for more genteel activities, like yoga and sailing, for those who prefer to stay dry. Nearby Kaprun offers panoramic views and glacier hiking opportunities from Peakworld 3000, Kitzsteinhorn’s summit station.

5 Mountain carting

What could be more fun than hurtling down a mountainside on a tough, stable, three-wheeler go-cart? This relatively new sport is very much a family adventure. The carts usually follow adapted winter sledging trails, and are clearly separated from the hiking trails. Carts have good brakes, there are strategically placed safety fences and crash helmets are obligatory. 
Where? Innsbruck, Tirol. If you thought the Tirolean capital was all about shopping and museums, then think again: the Muttereralmpark, just south of the city, has all manner of downhill action, adapting Innsbruck’s winter ski slopes for summer use.

6 Wakeboarding

You may associate this trendy hybrid of water skiing and surfing more with the sea than the land, but Area 47, in Ötztal, has a mountain-surrounded, state-of-the-art wakeboarding lake, complete with jumps. The lake’s eco-friendly, cable-based towing system means no noisy powerboats — just whooping. 
Where? Area 47, Ötztal, Tirol — Austria’s biggest outdoor centre. Practically every adventure sport is here, both in the surrounding mountains and in the five-acre water park and climbing centre. And there’s a beach bar too.

7 Paragliding

Ever spotted florescent eyebrows in the sky? This is your chance to dangle from one. First-timers should opt for tandem paragliding, doubling up with an experienced pilot. If you fall for the adrenalin rush and eagle’s perspective, then the next step is lessons on your own.
Where? Wildschönau, Tirol. The paragliding school at Niederau, in the Wildschönau Valley, is one of the largest in Austria, with the Markbachjoch Mountain the big attraction. In summer, the Markbachjoch cable-car transports paragliders free of charge to the take-off point.

8 High ropes

Tree-to-tree rope-climbing experiences can suit all ages and abilities. The centre at Gröbming, in central Austria, has 18 graded rope routes snaking 6,500ft through a pine forest. A popular combo is with the new zip-line at Stoderzinken (one of Europe’s longest at almost a mile). 
Where? Gröbming Adventure Park, Styria. You can buy combination tickets with the zip-line.

9 Rock climbing

There are climbing hotspots all over the Austrian Alps, with graded routes and guides on hand.
Where? St. Anton, Tirol. The Schnann Gorge has 40 easily accessible routes. Higher up is a climbing area around the Darmstädter Hut and the majestic 10,300ft Kuchenspitz Peak. St. Anton also has an indoor climbing centre, arl.rock, where beginners can improve their technique before heading out to try the real thing.

Published in the Austria 2017 guide, distributed with the April 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)