Insights behind the scenes in the natural ice palace Tyrol

Insights behind the scenes in the natural ice palace Tyrol

Insider knowledge: glacier cave • explorer Roman Erler • Hintertux Glacier

from AGE ™ Travel Magazine
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Subterranean Glacier Lake in the Hintertux Glacier - Nature Ice Palace Tyrol Austria

How was the Natural Ice Palace discovered? Why is heavy snow grooming equipment necessary for the entrance? Which world records adorn the glacier cave? And why is there an underground glacial lake?
AGE™ was at Natursport Tirol im Natural Ice Palace at the Hintertux Glacier in Austria as a guest and was able to learn many exciting details personally from Roman Erler, the discoverer of the glacier cave.

Chat with explorer Roman Erler

During the ride together in the gondola, we experience Roman Erler's deep enthusiasm for his homeland. The Zillertal native discovered the glacier cave, which is now known as the Natural Ice Palace, by accident in 2007. In the meantime, he himself sounds like a walking encyclopedia of glaciology. One explanation follows the next, one story chasing the other. Factual and clear. No need to apply because the facts are fantastic enough.

At the mountain station of the Hintertux Glacier, at 3250 meters above sea level is the final stop. Austria's year-round ski area is located here. However, we have to postpone the popular panoramic view until later. It's storming today and visibility is zero. But the natural ice palace is also a perfect destination during a storm. As long as the stable gondolas of the Zillertaler Gletscherbahn are in operation, adventure awaits.

With no wind, at a constant zero degrees Celsius and up to 35 meters below the ski slope, the natural ice palace offers a glimpse of a fantastic ice landscape. Stairs and ladders lead visitors through icy corridors and halls with different levels, meter-long icicles and an underground glacial lake.

View into the Jubilee Hall - Natur-Eispalast Hintertux Tirol Austria

Holidays in Tyrol - visit to the glacier cave - nature ice palace Tux Tyrol Austria

Alps • Austria • Tyrol • Zillertal 3000 ski area • Hintertux Glacier • Nature Ice Palace • Insights behind the scenes • Diashow

From heavy snow groomers and avalanche search probes
But today we first seek refuge in the small, heated container at Natursport Tirol. While we wait for the natural ice palace to open its doors for us, we look forward to exciting stories. Insights behind the scenes and first hand.
Mr. Erler is in contact with his employees via radio. "We have to clear the way first," he informs us. Today the boys are up to their chests in fresh snow and are making their way to the entrance. With a smile he adds: "That's just a pinch of snow". With fresh snow and storms, snowdrifts ten meters high can quickly form and bury the entrance. Access to the Natural Ice Palace is often shoveled free again with heavy snow groomers. Sometimes the entrance hall has to be searched for with an avalanche probe, and every now and then a blast is even necessary to break through the snow masses.
Preserving the Ice Cave is more involved than we thought. "Glacier cave", corrects Mr. Erler. What is somehow the same for the layman is an important difference for the expert. An ice cave is a rock cave in which there is permanent ice. A glacial cave is a cave in glacial ice.

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A fantastic coincidence: The discovery of the natural ice palace
Roman Erler discovered the Natur-Eis-Palast in 2007 by accident. This can be read in numerous articles and also on the website of "Natursport Tirol", Roman Erler's family business. But how should one imagine this coincidence? Did he go for a walk and then suddenly stood in front of the entrance? No, it wasn't that easy after all. As the old saying goes, luck favors the brave. And that's how it was here, because without an extra portion of attention, knowledge and commitment, the natural ice palace would never have been discovered.
"Slope no. 5 in the Hintertux Glacier ski area was the steepest slope with no known crevasses," recalls Mr. Erler. Actually, that's illogical. Because of the glacial movement, there should have been crevasses there. Then, in August 2007, he suddenly noticed a 10 cm gap in the ice wall that had never been seen before. Others rushed by without heeding it, but his interest was piqued. "I've found quite a few things by accident," laughs Roman Erler.
The people of Zillertal are very familiar with glaciers. As a mountain rescuer, he has also had to rescue people from a crevasse. So he returned with his gear and climbed to this newly visible crevice. In the light of his flashlight, the inconspicuous gap opened up surprisingly generously. How big was the cavity behind it? The discoverer then opened the crevasse with a compressed air device for clamping crevices.
At first it was also about whether winter sports above the glacier cave are still safe. Normally you pull people out of a crevasse. It was not initially planned to lead people into this glacial cave.

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The deepest glacier research shaft in the world
Roman Erler not only discovered and opened up the natural ice palace, he also drove the deepest glacier research shaft in the world to date into the Hintertux Glacier. Personally and over several years. Roman Erler pre-drilled every millimeter. "With a 12mm 80cm masonry drill," he says, his eyes shining. "And that was a good thing." Once, while pre-drilling, he suddenly dropped with the drill bit. He had drilled a cavity with water and compressed air. It hissed and then a meter-high fountain of ice water shot towards it.
After that the shaft was under water. It took a while before it was pumped empty again, but it worked. Previously unknown and water-filled corridors branching off from the shaft were also drained. Untouched and an exciting place for research. The reward is new insights into the structure and dynamics of the glacier. Today the research shaft reaches down to the ground. It is 52 meters deep and starts about 20 meters below the surface. The shaft is around 3 meters wide in the upper areas and around one meter in diameter at the bottom. Tourists can also take a look inside during a guided tour of the Natural Ice Palace.
A sporting feat: In December 2019, the Austrian Christian Redl set a new world record in freediving in this shaft. In ice water at minus 0,6 °C and at an altitude of 3200 meters, he dived 23 meters deep with just one breath.

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Alps • Austria • Tyrol • Zillertal 3000 ski area • Hintertux Glacier • Nature Ice Palace • Insights behind the scenes • Diashow

A glacier cave with unique conditions

Many things can be done in the Natural Ice Palace that would be dangerous or simply impossible elsewhere. But why is that? Most glaciers are so-called temperate glaciers. They slide over a film of water at their base and thus move steadily forward. The Hintertux Glacier, on the other hand, is a cold glacier. It only moves in the upper areas and very slowly. He's frozen to the ground.

The fact that the Hintertux Glacier is a cold glacier leads to special conditions and opens up special opportunities: For example, tourist visits to a crevasse at a depth of 20 to 30 meters or boat trips on a glacial lake in the middle of the glacier.

An underground glacial lake
The glacial lake in the Natural Ice Palace is around 50 meters long and up to 22 meters deep. Many administrative procedures were necessary before the boat trip for tourists was approved. The lake is in the middle of the glacier, around 30 meters below the ski slope, surrounded by ice. "Perhaps you can imagine what was going on there," says Roman Erler, and the enthusiasm for his project is written all over his face.
The water is crystal clear. Depending on the incidence of light, it looks dark or turquoise blue. A tunnel of ice stretches above it. Reflection and reality combine almost seamlessly. Beautiful. Unique. Fascinating. But are you sure? We want to know more and ask: "Does the height of the lake change due to rain or meltwater?" "Could it then be dangerous?" Mr. Erler can reassure us. There is an overflow.
But how did this unusual lake come about? We have already learned that the Hintertux Glacier is a cold glacier. This means that its ice temperature at the bottom of the glacier is so well below zero degrees Celsius that there is no longer any liquid water there. The glacier floor of this type of glacier is therefore watertight. Liquid water collects in crevices above this area. This is how this glacial lake was formed.
However, when it was discovered, the canal was completely under water. Roman Erler's team broke away part of the ice and created an overflow. This has regulated the water level. Now visitors can marvel at the glacial lake in a rubber dinghy or while doing stand-up paddling. As an exception, permits for scuba diving are also issued, says Roman Erler. Last week, divers from the fire department were in the glacial lake.

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World records in ice swimming
While scuba diving remains an exception, ice swimmers are almost the rule in the Natural Ice Palace. "It's hard to believe how many ice swimmers there are," muses Mr. Erler. He now knows the best of the best.
In 2021, Josef Köberl swam 1,5 kilometers in 38 minutes in the glacial lake of the Natur-Eis-Palast. Shortly before the desired ice mile (around 1609 meters), however, Josef Köberl had to break off to avoid life-threatening hypothermia. Still, an outstanding achievement. In December 2022, he was then surpassed by the Polish ice swimmer Krzysztof Gajewski, who set a new and extraordinary world record in ice swimming in the Natur-Eis-Palast: The Pole reached the ice mile after 32 minutes and then swam even further. In total, he swam for 43 minutes in the Hintertux Glacier and covered a distance of 2 kilometers.

But what draws the athletes to the glacial lake of the Natural Ice Palace? It is located at around 3200 meters inside a glacier and its water temperature is constantly below zero degrees. This is a sporting challenge in a class of its own. Moment. Fresh water below zero degrees Celsius that is still liquid? A spelling mistake? No, you read that right. This is another special feature in the natural ice palace: the water accumulations within the crevasses are supercooled. This means they have a temperature below zero degrees Celsius and are still liquid. This is possible because the water no longer contains any ions. These have been filtered out. The water of the glacial lake is some of the coldest fresh water in the world. Tourists are also allowed to try their hand at ice swimming, but only with a doctor's certificate of impeccable health.

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Curved Ice Pillars
Another exciting phenomenon that visitors to the Natural Ice Palace can experience up close today is how ice reacts to pressure. Ice seems unstable and fragile to us. If you put pressure on an icicle, it'll break, right? On the tour of the Natural Ice Palace you will see that this assumption is wrong.
The Hintertux Glacier is not static. But everything that happens happens in a kind of extreme slow motion. And in this case, the ice does not react to the pressure from above by breaking, but by deforming. Fantastic ice sculptures are the result. Curved ice pillars, deformed icicles and twisted ice artworks from the hands of Master Nature himself. Come in and be amazed is the motto. "We have a research assignment and an educational assignment," says Roman Erler. And you can tell that he takes both very seriously.
More than a kilometer of the subterranean passages of the glacier cave have now been measured and documented. 640 meters of it are accessible to tourists. Since 2017, the so-called Jubilee Hall has also been open to tourists. This is particularly richly decorated with meter-long icicles and ceiling-high ice formations. A dream of ice!
Behind it are two more rooms that are not yet open to the public. They are currently used exclusively for research. When we asked whether the glacier cave had been fully explored in the meantime, Roman Erler answered with a resounding "no". More cavities are known but not yet explored. So many a surprise is still slumbering in the Natural Ice Palace today.

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Alps • Austria • Tyrol • Zillertal 3000 ski area • Hintertux Glacier • Nature Ice Palace • Insights behind the scenes • Diashow

Climate change and glacier age

With so many special features, we hope that the natural ice palace on the Hintertux Glacier will be preserved for all tourists, athletes and researchers for a long time to come. At 3250 meters above sea level, the natural ice palace can be easily reached by mountain railway all year round, because the Hintertux Glacier is Austria's only year-round ski area. But will it stay that way for a long time? And is there a risk that the natural ice palace will have to close in the next few years?

Is global warming an issue?
We are worried, but Roman Erler reacts calmly: "There is no less ice up here than in the Ice Age". The heart-blood glaciologist spontaneously blossoms into a hobby historian and we learn that there are many exciting entries about the Little Ice Age in the village and church chronicles. At that time, the concerns of the residents were quite different. The glaciers advanced. It snowed in the summer. The cattle could not be driven up to the pasture and they died. There were famines.
Since then, the climate trend has changed again. It is currently getting warmer in Tyrol and the first changes are noticeable in the valley. But there is also good news: "In the Zillertal there are two hanging glaciers that are advancing slightly," says Roman Erler. Against the trend, which indicates an overall melting of the glaciers.
Thanks to the altitude of up to 3250 meters, things are currently looking good for the Hintertux Glacier. But isn't there less snow here due to the mild winters? "On the contrary," explains the expert. Mild winters mean more precipitation, so more snow for high-altitude areas. However, hot summers have a negative effect. "The best thing for the glacier would be a mild winter and a mild summer," explains Roman Erler.
In addition to its altitude, the Hintertux Glacier has another advantage over many other glaciers in the Alps. It is a cold glacier and this type of glacier is less sensitive to climate change, than temperate glaciers.The natural ice palace and its small and large wonders will remain with us for quite a while.

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The age of the Hintertux Glacier
Now we know that the Hintertux Glacier will not be a thing of the past for a long time. But since when does it exist? The ice in Hintertux dates from the Little Ice Age and is around 500 to 600 years old. But these are the layers of ice that are now further down towards the valley.
We remember that the upper part of the Hintertux Glacier moves very slowly. The base is frozen. Consequently, the base must be significantly older than the upper-level ice, which eventually advances to lower-lying mountainous regions. "The oldest scientifically dated ice in the Eastern Alps is 5800 years old," Mr. Erler informs us.
But how old is the ice in the Natural Ice Palace? How old are the lowest layers in the 52 meter deep research shaft? They might even be older. Another record? Perhaps. But currently we have to be patient for a corresponding answer. "The dating is still open," explains Roman Erler with certainty. Future results from the researchers remain to be seen. It remains exciting.

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Would you like to experience the wonders of the natural ice palace in Tyrol live?
A visit to the Natural Ice Palace on the Hintertux Glacier is possible all year round.
Here you will find more information about arrival, price, guided tours and additional offers.

Alps • Austria • Tyrol • Zillertal 3000 ski area • Hintertux Glacier • Nature Ice Palace • Insights behind the scenes • Diashow

Enjoy the AGE™ picture gallery: Ice magic in the natural ice palace in Tyrol.

(For a relaxed slide show in full format, simply click on a photo and use the arrow key to move forward)

Austria • Tyrol • Zillertal Alps • Nature Ice Palace Hintertux Glacier • Insights behind the scenes • Diashow

This editorial contribution received external support
Disclosure: AGE™ services were discounted or granted free of charge as part of the report – by: Zillertaler Gletscherbahn; nature sports Tyrol; The press code applies: Research and reporting must not be influenced, hindered or even prevented by accepting gifts, invitations or discounts. Publishers and journalists insist that information be given regardless of accepting a gift or invitation. When journalists report on press trips to which they have been invited, they indicate this funding.
Copyrights and Copyright
Texts and photos are protected by copyright. The copyright of this article in word and image is fully owned by AGE™. Content for print/online media is licensed upon request. Note: The video "The Ice Mile" was integrated from YouTube. Patryk Gerc owns the copyright for the embedded video.
The contents of the article have been carefully researched and are based on personal experiences and a personal conversation with Roman Erler on January 10.01.2023th, XNUMX. However, if information is misleading or incorrect, we assume no liability. If our experience does not match your personal experience, we assume no liability. Furthermore, circumstances can change. AGE™ does not guarantee topicality or completeness.
Source reference for text research

Information on site, interview with Roman Erler (the discoverer of the Natur-Eis-Palast) as well as personal experiences when visiting the Natur-Eis-Palast in January 2023. We would like to thank Mr. Erler for his time and for the exciting and instructive conversation .

Deutscher Wetterdienst (March 12.03.2021, 20.01.2023), not all glaciers are the same. [online] Retrieved on XNUMX/XNUMX/XNUMX, from URL:

Gerc, Patryk (07.12.2022/XNUMX/XNUMX), The Ice Mile. [Video] YouTube. URL:

Natursport Tirol Natureispalast GmbH (n.d.) Homepage of the family business of the Erler family. [online] Retrieved 03.01.2023-XNUMX-XNUMX, from URL:

ProMedia Kommunikation GmbH & Zillertal Tourismus (November 19.11.2019, 02.02.2023), World record in the Zillertal: Freedivers conquer the ice chute on the Hintertux Glacier. [online] Retrieved on XNUMX/XNUMX/XNUMX, from URL:

RegionalMedia Austria AG & Schweiger, Roland (13.07.2021/05.02.20223/XNUMX), Josef Köberl failed in world record attempt. Extreme athlete was in mortal danger. [online] Retrieved on XNUMX-XNUMX-XNUMX, from URL:

Szczyrba, Mariola (02.12.2022/21.02.2023/XNUMX), Extreme performance! Krzysztof Gajewski from Wroclaw has broken the Guinness World Record for the longest swim in a glacier. [online] Retrieved on XNUMX/XNUMX/XNUMX, from URL:

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