The EU state of Austria is a founding member of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). Austria offers its residents a high standard of living and good job opportunities. The country’s appeal is further enhanced by virtue of its warm and friendly population. Austria is a multicultural country and is home to a considerable international population.It has a strategic location in central Europe and shares borders with Switzerland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Liechtenstein and Italy. Due to its central location, it has an extensive transport network, making it easy to explore the rest of the continent. Austria is often referred to as the ‘Alpine Republic’, and the Alps constitute nearly 65 percent of the country’s territory, while 43 percent of the country is made up of forest. The Alpine regions experience severe winters. In Austria, expats will find a mixed climate due to continental and oceanic influences. The east of the country witnesses cold winters and hot summers, with a low level of precipitation all year round. The west experiences a more moderate climate, with more rain, milder winters and warm summers.
Austria is located in a temperate climatic zone. The country has a number of mountain ranges, hills and plains. There is variation in weather conditions across the country. The northern and eastern lowland regions experience a climate that is influenced by continental conditions with colder winters and warmer summers, while the southeastern regions have summers that are longer and warmer, and almost resemble a Mediterranean climate. The western region of Austria is influenced by the temperate Atlantic climate. Due to the weather diversity, the country has a variety of flora and fauna. The Alpine climate is present in the mountainous parts of Austria. Here winters are colder and the temperature depends mainly on altitude. At high altitudes, the climate is likely to change quickly. January is the coldest month in Austria. Snow cover lasts well up to March in the valleys. At higher altitudes, the snow cover stays throughout the year. For those moving to Austria, here’s how you can plan for the winter.
Put on those layers
When the body comes in direct contact with anything cold, it loses heat through conduction. The chilly wind takes away heat from the body through convection. To insulate against these types of heat loss, wear layers. The base layer should be long undergarments and woolen socks, as this prevents heat loss through conduction. An outer breathable layer will guard against heat loss via convection. This layer should also be windproof and waterproof. The aim is to create a sort of microenvironment around you that will provide insulation from the cold. Light short or long sleeved shirts or t-shirts are ideal for indoors. For going outside, a long sleeved top and fleece or sweater over that works well. You will also need a light wind and waterproof layer to protect against the rain.
Wear a hat
In milder winters, a light fleece and the right hat is all it takes to stay warm. This is perfect for those who don’t like to dress in layers. But make sure that the hat you choose covers the ears and at least part of the back of your neck.
Get the right shoes
The feet are at the front line during the winters and hence it is important to buy the right shoes. Opt for a solid pair of winter boots that are weatherproof. Shoes that can be worn loosely and don’t have to be laced up are ideal to get through airport security if you are thinking about travelling. Also ensure that they are dark colored, so that mud or slush marks don’t show.
Shop for gloves
Another must-have on your winter shopping list are gloves. No longer do you need to buy huge mittens or woolen gloves, as today thin, waterproof, lightweight and warm gloves are widely available. These hardly take up any space in your luggage and since they are breathable, they can be worn in different temperatures. Make sure that the gloves you buy are also quick drying and have a good grip.
Shivering is an indication that your body needs warmth. When the temperature of the skin drops, shivering begins in order to keep the core temperature stable. The contraction and relaxation of muscles during shivering takes up calories and generates heat to compensate for the body’s heat loss through conduction or convection. It is also a signal from the brain to the body that the body needs to head someplace that is warmer. Some people get hypothermia, which is an abnormally low temperature. Mild hypothermia tends to cause shivering, while moderate hypothermia does not. Shivering stops when the muscle contractions can no longer lead to heat production. So, shivering actually stops as the body gets colder, and the core temperature starts falling.
Balance food and water intake
When the body is well fed, it means it is consuming more calories than it is burning. This enables the body to manage the cold better. You need to keep your blood sugar levels up so that an adequate amount of energy is produced, which is necessary to stay warm in cold climates. Staying hydrated is also important, as the body is able to handle the cold much better when food and water levels are stable.
Acclimatize to the cold
It is possible to acclimatize yourself to the cold weather. Those who spend a lot of time outdoors in the cold can lower their set point before they respond to the cold. The set point is the level at which the body tries to maintain its temperature. This reset process is not yet fully explored, but researchers suggest that a kind of body fat, called brown fat, plays an important role. Regular white body fat stores extra calories, while the brown fat utilizes these calories and produces energy in the form of heat. Newborns have a higher degree of brown fat, as do hibernating mammals and those that cannot shiver. Acclimatizing to the cold enables the brown fat to generate heat. Some researchers also maintain that cold exposure can increase the amount of brown fat in the body. Staying physically fit can also enable you to handle the cold better.
In a country like Austria, which experiences cold winters, it is helpful to be prepared at all times. Take note of any weather warnings and keep calorie-dense food, water, blankets and dry clothes in your car. Many winter fatalities occur because people are unprepared for bouts of cold weather.
People who take blood pressure medications such as alpha-blockers or direct vasodilators, can be more sensitive to the cold. Certain medical conditions such as hypothyroidism can also lead to increased cold sensitivity. Even age plays a role in the body’s mechanisms to cope with cold temperatures. Children below two years do not yet have the ability to shiver to generate heat. Those over 60 are also less capable of shivering to raise their body temperature.
A warm beverage helps to raise the body’s core temperature, but adding alcohol to it is not advisable. Alcohol tends to cause the body temperature to fall.
Get your car winter-ready
It is advisable to fit your car with winter tyres during the winter months. For cars with summer tyres, it may be necessary to fit snow chains in the driving wheels when road conditions are bad. Chains may be hired at all major border crossings. You can also buy or hire snow chains from the OeAMTC (Austrian Automobile, Motorcycle and Touring Club). As winter approaches in Austria, make sure to check or have a mechanic check your car for adequate antifreeze levels. The battery and ignition systems should be in good condition, and the battery terminals must be cleaned. The brakes must also be checked for wear and fluid levels. Another important consideration is the heater and defroster, which should be working properly.
Winters in Austria can be chilly, especially in Vienna, which is home to a significant expat population. Here, one can expect temperatures to fall well below zero degrees. While the cold weather may be uncomfortable, it is the perfect time to take advantage of Austria’s many spas. Austria has a longstanding tradition of wellness methods such as brine baths and geothermal waters from the Alps. The Alpine pastures are also the source of vine leaves and herbs that are believed to rejuvenate the body. Vienna is the only capital city in the world that has its very own thermal spa, while the thermal spas in Burgenland follow some of the age-old traditions in Austria. In the winter sports region of Carinthia, there are nearly 60 curative spas in Villach and Bad Kleinkirchheim.
Get ready to ski
Austria’s best-known attraction is the mountains, which offer ideal conditions for summer and winter sports. In winter, the ski areas have lifts and mountain huts. Austria’s ski infrastructure is modern and sophisticated, and receives large investments every year. Visiting the ski slopes in winter is ideal, because there is great variety, options and convenience. Some of the best places to ski in December are the Kaunertal Glacier in Tirol, which has a family-friendly ski area in Fendels; the Pitzal Glacier, which is Tirol’s highest glacier with guaranteed snow between September to May; and the Hinterteux Glacier, which is in operation all-year round, and in winter, provides winter sports enthusiasts with snow-sure and well-groomed runs, good food and scenic winter landscapes at altitudes of up to 3.250m.
Hit the Christmas markets
The dawn of the winter season indicates the approaching of Christmas. What better way to prepare for the holidays than shopping at Christmas markets. The Christmas markets in Vienna are an old tradition. The first such market took place in the 13th century when Albrecht I granted Vienna citizens the permission to hold a Krippenmarkt or December Market. Today there are over 20 official markets with a variety of Christmas gifts and treats on offer. Especially noteworthy is the Viennese Christmas Market in front of the City Hall. This interesting backdrop lends a charming air to the market. Inside the City Hall, there is a space dedicated to children, where they can learn to make candles or cookies. Adding further to the Christmas cheer are the international choirs singing carols.
Beat the cold with coffee
Cafés are a part of daily life in Vienna. In the 1900s, a visit to a Viennese café was quite a formal affair with newspapers displayed on special stands, the servers dressed in tailcoats and the ceilings adorned with elaborate chandeliers. Today, cafés are a thriving business and coffee houses are seen as a place to work, eat, rest of socialize. With the advent of winter, a cup of coffee at one of these places has a warming effect. Choose from a kleiner schwarzer or kapuziner, to an einspänner or mélange. Most of the cafés date back to nearly 300 years, and many have retained the old style.
In case of impending winter storms, having an emergency kit is useful. The following supplies are must-haves in your kit.
– Rock salt to melt ice on walkways
– Sand for improving traction
– Snow removal equipment such as snow shovels
– Enough heating fuel in case regular fuel sources are cut off
– A supply of dry, seasoned wood for the stove or fireplace
– Sufficient blankets to keep the family warm
It’s also a good idea to sign up to receive advance weather notifications from the local emergency services, and minimize travel during winter storm days.
Apart from skiing, Austria is also famous for other winter activities such as snowshoe hiking, winter hiking, snowboarding, tobogganing and sledding. Living in Austria, it is hard to resist trying your hand (and legs!) at these. You may want to ensure that you have insurance cover for winter/mountain activities. Some companies even offer insurance against weather conditions before you set off, which covers delays or departures due to avalanches.