“I always dreamt of experiencing a moment like that with Eelke. I never thought I could feel as happy as I felt in that moment. I never thought that was possible,” says Dineke, Eelke’s mother who joined her daughter on her trip to Tirol’s Kaunertal Valley. Eelke, a journalist writing for the Dutch Support Magazine, is a paraplegic using an electric wheelchair that weighs 120 kilograms. She followed an invitation of the Tirol Tourist Board to join this “Wheelchair Accessible Adventure Trip to Tirol’s Kaunertal Valley”. Just like Tim and Christian, who are wheelchair users, too. Me and Harald (a wheelchair user) accompany the trip as persons in charge. Catherine is not mobility impaired but investigates the topic.
Going to the mountains is beautiful, but is it wheelchair accessible? This was the burning question we had when we visited Kaunertal, a valley wedged in a picturesque glacial canyon at the base of dramatic Three-Thousanders and glistening white glaciers. Almost any outdoor adventure is at your fingertips here, with rugged and steep terrain in abundance. Sounds like being notoriously difficult to navigate in a wheelchair. Well, somehow, Kaunertal has managed to keep its nature intact without impacting on access; which makes it a truly wheelchair accessible place. In addition, access is made so much easier when everyone you meet is happy to help; and that certainly is true for the people of Tirol’s Kaunertal Valley! There’s Karin and Charly Hafele, who refurbished their Four Star WeisseespitzeHotel to be wheelchair accessible years, well, decades ago. There’s Reggi and Andreas who have adapted their apartments at Haus Renatefor wheelchair access. Then there is the staff at the Kaunertal Glacier Mountain Railways who make every effort to ensure the glacier is accessible to all visitors—they are more than happy to assist. Moreover, the local Tourist Information Office is constantly striving to make the visits of wheelchair users more enjoyable by making facilities as accessible as possible.
Many of Kaunertal Valley’s most popular outdoor attractions are accessible to those who are mobility impaired. This, in fact, means more than providing wheelchair accessible restrooms. There are many different ways people of all abilities can enjoy Kaunertal Valley’s outdoor recreation and breathtaking beauty. Their mission is to stimulate the development of access for disabled persons to natural outdoor environments. Here, nothing holds wheelchair users back from enjoying the great outdoors! And that keeps repetitive guests coming year after year. “Wheelchair users usually come up against structural barriers when visiting the outdoors thus they are often confined to urban spaces. Too often, limited mobility means missing out on nature,” says Harald Hörmann, a passionate adaptive athlete from Innsbruck. He was amazed himself about the many opportunities for getting close to nature in Kaunertal Valley. Seeing abundant wildflowers that offer a rich tapestry of brilliant colour. Picking up stones. Spotting mushrooms and blueberries up close and personal. Inhaling the smell of wet moss. Touching tree trunks and soaking in the views from the top. Feeling the cold wind in your hair. Here, on an elevation of 3,100 meters above sea level, one can hear the rhythm of wilderness. For this concert, no one is left out of the theater.
Valuable Information & Links:
- Kaunertal Tourism Site: A comprehensive travel guide for people who travel with extra mobility needs (accessible lodging, activities, transport and equipment hire: www.kaunertal.com
- Tirol Tourist Board Website: Valuable resources to help travellers with disabilities start planning a Tirol vacation: www.tyrol.com
- Praschberger Website: Tirol-based manufacturer of adaptive sports equipment, including sit-skis, hand bikes, specialized adapted powered mountain bikes and sleds. The expert in adaptive equipment, making sports accessible to people with disabilities: www.praschberger.com
Accessible Accommodation Options in Kaunertal Valley:
- Hotel Weisseespitze in Feichten: Four Star Hotel with 30 accessible guest rooms and an ample spa with special features such as a swimming pool with mobile loading ramp and a wheelchair accessible sauna, and a bar that is lowered for wheelchair access. There are rentals of SwissTrac power unit devices for wheelchairs and there is step-free access, ramps and elevators throughout the place. The friendly staff is trained in assisting those with access needs. Perfect!
- Haus Renate in Feichten: The spacious apartments are adapted for wheelchair access; there’s a small spa on premises and wheelchair users are welcomed with warmth and dedication!
Attractions/Natural Outdoor Environments:
- Kaunertal Glacier Road: Soaring to an elevation of 2,750 meters, this cliff-hugging highway is as impressive for its engineering as for its stunning vistas. It winds up to the world of “eternal ice”, entering a world of rare Alpine beauty at Weißseeferner Glacier.
- The crowning highlight awaits you on the glacier: Capture 360 degree views of three countries, Italy, Switzerland and Austria, as the Karlesjochbahn Chair Liftwhisks you to your Alpine adventure, a spectacular, wheelchair-accessible viewing platform at 3,108 meters. The on-mountain restaurant is fully wheelchair accessible.
- In the winter, the Kaunertal Glacier is one of Tirol’s leading ski resorts for people with a disability or special need, providing state of the art, accessible ski lifts, personalized service and wonderful adaptive skiing and riding opportunities.
- Kaunergrat Nature Park and Accessible Trails through Piller Moor: Wheelchair accessible boardwalks were constructed in parts of the Piller Moor to provide access for disabled persons to this amazing natural outdoor environment.
- Kaunergrat Nature Park Visitor’s Center: Museum & Restaurant are fully wheelchair accessible. Special SwissTrac power unit devices for exploring the boardwalk trails of Piller Moor are available for rental.
- High above the tiny village of Feichten, the dramatic “Adlerblick” (literally, “Eagle View”) Viewing Platform is accessible by electric wheelchair or SwissTrac, the powerful ‘tractor’ for wheelchairs. Drive your car along the forest road to the car park (parking space is limited). The platform cantilevers over hundred meters of sheer drop and is a heart-stopping opportunity to enjoy 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains.
- Kaltenbrunn Pilgrimage Church: The picturesque setting of the church is peaceful and unspoilt. The adjoining Inn is wheelchair accessible.