Mountain Huts Up Close: The Stüdl Hut at the Foot of the Großglockner
Running a mountain hut is hard work, with long hours and little sleep. The rewards, however, include not satisfied customers, breathtaking panoramas – and a mention in the local newspaper. You see, every time the running of a mountain hut changes hands you can be sure to find a story in the paper about the new "Pächter" as they are known, including their backstory and reasons for taking on this taxing but rewarding job. It was just over a year ago that Matteo and Vroni Bachmann took charge of affairs at the Stüdl Hut. Located at the foot of Austria's largest mountain, the Großglockner, the hut is one of the most well-known and well-loved alpine refuges in Tirol.
Matteo Bachmann in front of the Stüdl Hut at the foot of the Großglockner mountain. Photo: private
The couple come from near Lienz, the largest town in East Tirol. Matteo completed an apprenticeship in a sports shop; Vroni trained as a chef and waitress. Matteo spent his childhood out and about in the mountains; Vroni often travelled with her family, originally from Croatia, to the seaside. The two, aged 27 and 28 respectively, met on a night out in Lienz. When asked what it was that first attracted her to Matteo, Vroni doesn't hesitate for a moment: "Everything! We complement each other really well. He is loud and energetic, I am quieter and calmer. He never backs down, I always do. Over the years we've grown together. I couldn't imagine life without him." Matteo's answer is a little shorter but no less heartfelt: "We are made for each other."
After seasons working in Vorarlberg and North Tirol they decided in their early twenties to take on the challenge of running an hut. Their first was the Hannoverhaus on the Ankogel mountain in Carinthia, in the heart of the Hohe Tauern Mountains. So was being a "Hüttenwirt", as those who run huts are known in German, something Matteo always wanted to do? "No! It certainly wasn't something I dreamt of when I was a child. If you had suggested it to me six years ago I would have laughed, but now this is my fifth year in the mountains – and it is a life I have come to love."
When Matteo heard that the German Alpine Association was looking for a new person to take on the famous Stüdl Hut, the couple quickly decided to get in touch. "The Stüdl Hut was a place I had always loved: the amazing landscape, the location, the design of the hut itself. As a child I remember coming up to the hut. When we started out running other huts I knew that if one day this became available I would definitely apply."
The eye-catching Stüdl Hut has been designed to resist the elements in the mountains. It combines high-tech and traditional materials.
In March 2018, as the winter climbing season on the Großglockner was getting underway, Matteo and Vroni took charge of this unique refuge at 2,800 metres above sea level. Just a few months later, in June, they got married – right at the start of the summer season. And, last but certainly not least, in May 2019 the young couple became parents to Marta or, as Vroni calls her, "our little miracle". Their daughter was born just one day after Matteo had battened down the hatches at the hut for a few weeks of well-deserved rest between the winter and summer seasons.
Baby Marta lives with Vroni down in the valley while Matteo spends the season up at the hut. Photo: private
On 14 June, Matteo opened up the hut again for the busy summer season – alone. "It is a bit of a strange feeling to be here with Marta while Matteo is up at the hut," admits Vroni. "I have stayed at home in Lienz to look after her while Matteo takes care of things at the hut. Of course I would love to be with him, but you can't take a baby up to 2,800 metres above sea level." Matteo also had mixed feelings as he said goodbye to wife and daughter. "It's not a nice feeling to leave the family behind. Vroni and I have been together for almost eleven years now, and for the last seven years we have spent 365 days a year together. Now all of a sudden I am without her and also can't see my baby daughter. But I'm certainly not the only one in this position, so I am sure we can make it work."
Once up at the hut Matteo has little time to miss his wife and daughter. The hard work begins, in fact, before the season starts: recruiting staff, clearing the snow around the hut (three metres on the terrace in June, Matteo tells us), filling the water tanks, carrying out repairs, cleaning the hut, taking delivery of 2.5 tonnes of food – the list of tasks is almost endless. "Last year," Matteo remembers, "we made 15,000 dumplings and served 5,500 bowls of goulash soup – and that was just in summer. On an average day we use 12 kilos of bread – baked by hand, of course."
The team at the Stüdl Hut can be found hard at work in the kitchen every day preparing healthy and hearty food for hungry climbers.
So what makes running a hut in the mountains so special? Matteo reflects for a moment and then explains that, though it may sound like a paradox, it is precisely those things that make it such a hard, challenging job that also make it so enjoyable. "You have a bit of everything," he says. "You have to be good at lots of different things, able to work hard and generally willing to deal with all and any kinds of problems big and small when they arise. I suppose I am an engineer, doctor and psychologist all rolled into one. You have more than 100 people around you every day – and everyone always wants or needs something. The job also means spending 24 hours a day with your team. It can be challenging, but mostly it runs really smoothly."
The decor, like the food, is local – the wood used at the hut was sourced from forests in the region.
Oesterreich Austria, Tirol Tyrol, Osttirol, Nationalpark Hohe Tauern, Glocknergruppe, Grossglockner, Stuedl Huette; Berghuette; alpine chalet cottage, mountain hut 08/2016
During the couple's first season at the hut in 2018, however, there was a moment when it all got too much. The result was a social media post that received lots of attention in Austria – not only in mountaineering circles. "This is what our hut looks like twice a day," wrote Matteo on Facebook underneath a photo showing plastic bottles, leftover food and other detritis strewn across the floor. "Every day we have to pick up around 300 litres of rubbish left behind by certain pigs," he added, concluding that hikers and climbers who do not know how to respect the environment should avoid the area and his hut in future. Looking back, Matteo regrets his choice of words: "It was a really stressful day and I guess I underestimated the effect of what I wrote. It didn't take long for newspapers and even a radio station to call me up – it then that I knew I had made a mistake." He may regret his choice of language, but he still stands by the message he was trying to send: "There is a problem with climbers who do not respect the unwritten rule that you should take your rubbish with you back down into the valley. I think more and more people are realising that something has to happen."
Majestic views in an extreme environment. After a tough day of climbing there is no better way to relax than with a hearty meal on the terrace.
From the Stüdl Hut at the foot of the mighty Großglockner to the Berliner Hut in the Zillertal Alps and the Pfeis Hut in the Karwendel Mountains, the landscape of Tirol is home to countless mountain refuges. In this eight-part summer series we tell the story of Tirol's mountain huts and the people who run them.