ice cold

Ice flower on the window, © Niederösterreich Werbung

Busted: Our favourite winter myths!

True or false? We examine 7 wintry legends.

Can you swim in a cold air lake, or pick ice flowers in Lower Austria in the winter? Do spirits such as Dirndlschnaps (cherry schnapps) really have a warming effect, and is the winter really “dry” for winemakers? On this page, we will get to the bottom of the most common myths about the cold season, and reveal which of them hold water, and which ones you can confidently give the “cold shoulder” to. Keep reading for our fact check.

What awaits the reader:

MYTH 1: Work dries up for winemakers in the winter months!

MYTH 2: The only flowers that bloom in winter are ice flowers on windows!

MYTH 3: As soon as it gets cold enough in winter, it isn’t long before the first snowflakes appear!

MYTH 4: In Lower Austria, we keep warm in the winter with snow and alcohol!

MYTH 5: All snow is the same!

MYTH 6: A Lower Austrian is considered a pioneer of modern skiing!

MYTH 7: The coldest spot in Central Europe is in Lower Austria!

MYTH 1: Work dries up for winemakers in the winter months. (false)

A winter in paradise – oh, how sweet the life of a winemaker is! After the harvest, we quickly make lots of wine in the cellar, and then put our feet up until the grapes start to grow again in the spring. Every now and then, we’ll serve up a few lovely glasses of wine from the best barrel in the cellar. Hang on, something isn’t quite right... This is all a lie! When the cold season arrives in Austria's largest wine-growing region, the vines begin to reduce their juice in the wood, and fall into golden slumbers, like Sleeping Beauty. The hibernation period begins. But if you take a closer look, there is a lot going on between the Wachau Valley in the west and Carnuntum in the east. At the start of the year, vintners and winegrowers begin to harvest the “legacy” of the vineyards from the past year. Vine-by-vine and shoot-by-shoot, the grapes are cut off and picked. It is laborious manual work. The “eyes” (buds on the heads of the vines), which would rob the vine of energy through excessive sprouting, are also removed. With gentle pruning, particular care is taken not to damage the vine too much. This will make it more stable, so as to prevent the ingress of fungi to the greatest extent possible, and not to interrupt the flow of sap. This power-intensive and forward-looking task is one of the most important in a vineyard in the winter, as the aim is to regulate and strengthen the yield of the vines in advance. This means that healthy grapes for high-quality wines can be harvested again the following autumn.

MYTH 2: The only flowers that bloom in winter are ice flowers on windows! (false)

Jack Frost has the garden firmly under control in winter. He makes filigree ice sculptures in the meadows, shrubs and bushes. With a bit of luck, a thick layer of snow has covered everything in white. Only in the spring, when the sun’s rays are strong enough again, will the plant life below the snow be revealed again. But... what’s this, peeping out from under this snowy blanket? They are hard to see, but a handful of small white flower heads have been brave enough to emerge, despite the icy temperatures.How lovely! The first snowdrops have arrived! Even though it’s the end of January, these winter flowers – along with other plants such as Farrer's viburnum, winterlings, and witch hazel – thrive solely in the coldest season of the year.  Thanks to a kind of “antifreeze” in their veins, they are resistant to snow and ice. The beautiful snow rose (also known as a Christmas rose), with its delicate white-greenish or white-pink flowers, also loves the cold and can even bloom in exposed areas throughout the winter. The brave flowers and shrub blossoms are vital sources of strength for many insects after their hibernation. By the way, snowdrops and snow roses are protected wild species, meaning that they should not be picked.

MYTH 3: As soon as it gets cold enough in winter, it isn’t long before the first snowflakes appear! (partly true)

“It's been so cold for so long. When will the snow finally fall?” We’ve all asked ourselves this question at some point. As with rain, this depends on the amount of condensed humidity. which is responsible for the formation of clouds. For ice crystals to form and turn into snow, the temperature must indeed be around freezing in the layers of air below the clouds – otherwise the moisture will turn into raindrops instead of ice crystals. So if enough moisture in the air mixes with cold temperatures, snow crystals form, which hook onto each other during their gentle fall to the earth – at a speed of 4 km/h – and land as snowflakes. If the temperatures stay in the minus range for a long time, less water evaporates on the earth's surface. This makes the sky bright blue and very clear. But even though the temperature is freezing cold, there is little chance of any fun in the snow anytime soon, because there are very few clouds in the sky.

MYTH 4: In Lower Austria, we keep warm in the winter with snow and alcohol! (false)

The brown and white rescue dog with a rum barrel on his collar is a symbol of high percentage alpine aid in winter. The hip flask attached to your ski suit is also filled with cherry schnapps, Wachau apricot liqueur or Kriecherl fruit brandy... but why? There is a widespread assumption that a strong sip of hard liquor or mulled wine will warm you up when it's cold. Oh dear. What nonsense. Alcohol expands the blood vessels, causing the body to cool down more quickly. In addition, the actual outside temperature is more difficult to perceive when you are drunk. Moreover, we certainly do not recommend rubbing ice-cold limbs, such as hands, feet or ears, with snow. It is widely believed that the cold snow stimulates the blood circulation through friction and leads to warming. Sadly, that’s not true. In fact, the exact opposite happens. It causes even more damage as friction from the frozen ice crystals can damage tissue, resulting in additional pain. These wildly romantic ideas for winter “survival” activities are definitely not advisable. It’s better to just wrap up warm. This will help you to regulate your body temperature as you frolic in the cold winter air. And don’t forget to have a nice warm mug of cocoa or tea. This will warm you comfortably from the inside, and let you keep a clear head for winter sports.

MYTH 5: All snow is the same! (false)

Snowflakes are difficult to catch, and even more so to hold onto. Children think they are very tasty. Snow is made of 90% air, and only a very small proportion of water droplets, which turn into ice crystals and combine with one another. No two snowflakes are the same. Depending on the temperature and humidity, the snowflakes can fall either as thick and soft snow, or wet and patchy sleet, or small and delicate hailstones. The warmer it is – i.e. the closer the temperature is to 0°C – the sooner the countless flakes hook into each other and puff up into a large flake. Deeper into the sub-zero range, on the other hand, the tiny and beautiful crystal flakes (which are always hexagonal!) can be viewed up close in detail. This is the shape that we picture when we think of snowflakes. When these magical crystal stars cover the mountains and valleys in a white sheet of fresh, powdery snow, snowboarders and skiers can rejoice. For them, it means one thing: they can practise their favourite carving tricks on the slopes. A fantastic experience! When the sun shines shortly afterwards, and the trillions of frozen water molecules glisten as a blanket of snow, we really feel that we are in a winter wonderland.

MYTH 6: A Lower Austrian is considered a pioneer of modern skiing! (true)

Or to be more precise: He invented skiing. It is true that the Scandinavians have crossed snow-covered forests and mountains on skis with their “Telemark” technique for many thousands of years. But in the late 19th century, Mathias Zdarsky from Lower Austria made history with the development of the steel sole binding, which has had a lasting impact on skiing and winter sports. Thanks to Zdarsky's ingenious mind and spirit, he made it possible for tens of thousands of people to ride on two boards. “Bogerlfahren”, or “Wedeln” (weaving) as it is known today, is also derived from the techniques which were popular at the time, which Zdarsky adapted to match the new way of skiing. The innovative binding which strapped the user’s entire foot to the ski, and the “stem-turn technique” – which were both discovered by the man from Lilienfeld – made it possible for skiers to perform turns on the alpine slopes. The world was now ready for the first slalom run in skiing history – down the side of the Muckenkogel in the Mostviertel. In honour of Mathias Zdarsky, a globally unique nostalgia ski race takes place in Lilienfeld every year. Equipped with edgeless wooden skis, leather ski boots and a single pole each, competitors race down an unprepared slope – just as Zdarsky would have done. It is an historic spectacle, which is always watched by several excited spectators.

MYTH 7: The coldest spot in Central Europe is in Lower Austria! (true)

Imagine jumping into a cold air lake in the middle of the summer. How refreshing would that be? You’re probably thinking: “Wait a minute... Did you say ‘cold air lake’?” That’s right. There is a sinkhole above the Lunzer See Lake in the Ybbstal Valley (in the Northern Limestone Alps) at an altitude of 1,270 meters, where it is freezing all year round. In the early 20th century, the lowest temperature ever recorded in Central Europe was measured in the natural dip in the middle of the mountains: minus 52.6°C! Geologists and meteorologists still have to wrap up warm to carry out their scientific investigations in the sinkhole. In winter, the temperatures drop to -40°C; and even while we are boiling in the summer heat, negative temperatures are still recorded in the “Grünloch” (green hole) at night. This exciting meteorological phenomenon occurs when there is no wind, a cloudless sky, a blanket of snow on the floor of the valley, and cold polar air. The flora is also more similar to that of the tundra, as opposed to the fauna and flora found in the alpine pastures and meadows of Lower Austria. Since the elliptical shape of the sinkhole does not “run down” into the valley, there is no turbulence or mixing of the air masses in the cold air lake, and so the icy air remains in the pool. The exact location of the sinkhole is top secret, as excessive visits by onlookers or hikers could have a lasting effect on the filigree ecosystem at the heart of the Ybbstal Alps.