Monday, October 23, 2006


Today I rode up the gondola with a guy in sixties named Hans. He lives half an hour away in Mayrhofen and has spent his whole life here in the Zillertal valley. He learned to ski as a small boy in these mountains. His family owns a farm in a village he pointed out on the other side of the mountain, but now Hans works in the mountaintop lodge on Hintertux Glacier, serving tourists. I might've thought he'd be bitter about having to make his living from tourism after his ancestors made theirs from working the land, but he saw things differently. Before tourism and modern farm machinery came to Tirol, he said, people had to work too hard just to survive. In the early 1900s, he said, lots of people in Zillertal left Austria for more prosperous places; his uncle emigrated to Chicago, where he opened a schnapps distillery that counted "all the important people" among its clientele. The uncle married an American woman but died childless, so Hans no longer has relatives in America.

I asked Hans if the glacier used to be bigger than it is now. "Oh yes," he said. When he was a child — before the Gletscherbahn, when you could only get up to the glacier on horseback — they used to have to struggle to keep the glacier from tearing down the Spannagelhaus. Now, that building is separated from the glacial ice by several hundred meters of rocks and dirt.

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