Kathrin lures visitors underground – that’s her job! Laughing she opens the door to the depths of the dam and leads the group through. The wide gate leads 20 metres downwards, deep into the tunnel of the Schlegeis reservoir. It’s damp and freezing cold, but Kathrin seems very comfortable at temperatures of 5-8 degrees. She’s wearing a light t-shirt, a gilet, trekking trousers and trainers. In fact, she looks ready to summit a mountain with beautiful alpine views around her. But, today Kathrin isn’t climbing mountains, instead she’s descending underground: that’s her job as a friendly and knowledgeable dam guide. “I always just say I’m a tour guide”, she laughs. Kathrin attended tourism college in Innsbruck for three years before she moved to Mayrhofen. She’s currently employed by VERBUND, one of Europe’s largest energy producers. “I love working with people. I’ve built my life around it”, she says. Not only her attitude is enviable, but also her place of work: in the midst of amazing mountain scenery, the reservoir is reached by a 15km long toll road from Ginzling near Mayrhofen. The narrow road is only open from the middle of May until the 26th October and the toll is €12 a day. A guided tour of the dam costs €5.50 for adults and €3 for children over 6 years old.
The Schlegeis is one of five reservoirs in the Ziller Valley which produce electricity from water. The vast amounts of water flow through kilometres of hydraulic power galleries to the nearest power station where electricity is harvested and stored. The turbines are not constantly in operation, just for a third of the year. Depending on demand, sometimes for 5 minutes a day, sometimes an hour. “The rest of the time they are idle” Kathrin explains. In total the Schlegeis stores around 126 million cubic metres of water. Exactly how much depends on rainfall and the time of year. After six years of construction, the reservoir was completed in 1971. A year later, the first electricity was produced in Mayrhofen.
“The water surges against the crown of the dam putting varying pressure on the wall. For that reason, a double curved arched gravity dam was constructed”, Kathrin explains the convex structure. “The water pressure is more evenly distributed and this gives the wall greater stability.” The dam is 725 metres wide and 131 metres high. “Almost one million cubic metres of concrete were used to build the wall. If you were to put that on a freight train, it would be 360km long.” Amazing!
Town Council Outing to the Schlegeis
So, who has Kathrin guided around the depths of the Schlegeis? “Tourists, but also locals who want to better understand their local area”, she says. “I do tours for individuals or groups. Once I guided 70 people; a whole town council on an excursion. That was a real challenge, you have to be flexible and split up the group. But anything is possible!” What Kathrin is an expert at: finding the way! Her own way, her way in dealing with visitors – and also the way back up to the open air. That’s what makes her such an excellent and likeable tour guide.