Rafting in the Mostviertel may be a thrill, but to Rudi Scheiblechner, it’s business as usual
Braving the elements armed only with a paddle, every year countless people take the plunge down the playful and turbulent waters of the roaring Salza river in an inflatable raft. “They come back often,” said river guide Rudi Scheiblechner – rafting can be habit-forming. Along with his wife Irmtraud, the family man runs the Hotel Mandl-Scheiblechner in Göstling an der Ybbs, where he and his son Hannes ensure their guests are well cared for. A modest man with a face marked by his downstream adventures, he often chuckled when reliving his memories.
The rafting expert hails from neighboring Palfau, home of a well-known rafting camp which started in 1979. He caught the whitewater bug at the tender age of 12 – the first time he took on the Salza in a kayak, paddling for his life. “They just grabbed me and tossed me in. I was lucky I didn’t capsize.”
Force of Nature
The rafting craze took hold in Austria during the early 1980s, crossing the great pond from America. Palfau already offered whitewater tours then and Scheiblechner, who was operating on the Ybbs with his own boats, belonged to the first batch of freshly-minted rafting guides in the country. Once he received a concession for both the Salza and Enns rivers, he aquired two eight-man inflatable rafts with all the necessary equipment.
“The Salza has the ideal water level,” Scheiblechner explained, “with the exception of a few floods, it is always traversable.” His years of experience in these waters have internalized vital safety measures and the trickiest rapids, granting his guests a carefree and spectacular experience through the torrents.
“It shouldn’t be dangerous,” Scheiblechner emphasizes. The professional rafting guides often venture forth together to test the limits of the river on special outings too dangerous for casual visitors.
Half smiling, Scheiblechner recounts a planned tour after a flood that got cancelled due to unacceptable risk. Ready to go with equipment in hand, he and four colleagues stood on the banks of the Enns: “What do we do? Let’s go ourselves, just us guides.” Despite the raging rapids, the group set out, and at first it was “smooth, we went full throttle… that’s close to the limit… nah, let’s go… and then we went in. Wham! We immediately got caught in a hole.” They capsized. “You always think you’re stronger, but the water bested us.” The raft, which drifted downriver, got caught on a rock by a throw-bag. But the immense forces at work eventually tore it away and “the boat was lost.” Now, Scheiblechner can take it in stride – but he also admits that “these experiences are very valuable to us.” They renew your respect for the force of nature.
Scheiblechner applies these experiences and respect when he’s guiding a group down the Salza. “Our route doesn’t pass a single house. It’s just you, the gorge and nature’s beauty.” He often demonstrates that they’re rafting on drinking water, taking a big gulp straight from the source.
Preparations are made on the riverbank, where the guides go over the various commands, do’s and don’ts with the group. “I don’t know these people,” so he usually places two burly men in the front, unless someone explicitly requests the pole position. An experienced guide on an eight-man raft can decide mid-journey how rough the ride will be: “Do I approach a torrent head on, at an angle or perpendicularly?” This can greatly vary how wet and bumpy the ride will get. Experienced groups or regulars can also opt for three-person minirafts, which can be more turbulent. The key is working together and keeping an eye on each other. It’s no coincidence that rafting is held in high regard as a teambuilding exercise by corporate clients. “When the boss and his subordinates are in the same boat, it becomes strictly first-name basis,” and after just a few hours, groups operate in unison and largely independently. A long day on the water is then crowned with a barbeque behind the hotel, a high point particularly beloved by regulars.
Scheiblechner has welcomed guests from around the world, from a group of Royal Air Force pilots who chose rafting as part of a stag party to a Moroccan princess who brought her bodyguards with her. He counts a few Habsburgs among the Austrian families that return every year, he said with a smile.
But even if some groups and guides prefer white-knuckle action, Rudi Scheiblechner’s favorite tours are the ones with family. “I have five siblings and our mother used to join us as well. Those are the nicest memories.”
Hotel – Restaurant – Rafting Mandl und Scheiblechner
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Tips for Rafting Rookies
Here are some tips from whitewater veterans on what to bring, wear and expect in the rapids.
Start out slow
Rapids range from class 1 to 6. Class 1 rapids have a slow current, small waves and no stones or obstacles in the water. Class 6 rapids have large, frequent waves and will make you fall out and lose your shorts. Work you way up.
Wear proper wet gear
Expect to get soaked. Your rear end won’t be stationary so pack a pair of shorts to act as a barrier between your bathing-suited butt and the raft. Some suggest wearing synthetic materials because cotton pulls heat away. Also, sneakers or water shoes, no flip-flops.
Leave jewelry, baubles and your wallet in the car. Basically, if it got lost or wet and would ruin your day, don’t bring it.
Save your skull
While not all rafting clubs require it, helmets are not a bad idea. The right protective equipment and adhering to raft rules minimize the risk factors.
Protect your skin
You may be chilled by wind and water, but don’t forget sunblock. The tops of your thighs and neck will thank me later.
No matter how tough you are, keep your lifejacket on at all times. Once you splash into the river, a lifejacket both serves as a floatation device and makes it easier for a guide to pull you back onboard.
Your bag should include a change of clothes, a towel and some water.