“Since my childhood, the Katrin is my local mountain. Even as I boy, I would climb barefooted to the summit with my friends. At the top, we would clamber up the Emperor Franz Josef Cross. At that time, the end of the 1930s, we were out and about barefooted the entire summer. We were only allowed to wear our shoes to church,” Rudolf Brugnara remembers. The wiry man’s eyes twinkle and he laughs. Throughout his story, it is absolutely clear: the relationship to “his” Katrin is intimate.
Rudolf Brugnara sits with Johannes Aldrian, managing director of the Katrin cable car, in Aldrian’s office. They’ve planned a cable car trip together up the mountain. However, the anticipated departure has been delayed – a strong summer storm has caused a short disruption in operation. “A good opportunity to discuss a few of the important milestones in the 60-year history of the cable car,” Aldrian suggests. The 36 year-old is very much interested in the roots of his venture. Both men look over a plan from 1959, which depicts the mountain station. Brugnara can still vividly remember: “In 1955, the founding of a stock corporation decisively set the course of actualising the long-cherished dream of a cable car up the Katrin. With individual stock valuing 1000 Schilling, any one could participate in the project.” Many people from Bad Ischl, including those who weren’t necessarily wealthy, took advantage of this opportunity. Old records provide evidence of this fact: “Thanks to the little man for his sacrifice, sired by love of homeland and belief in the future.” Brugnara explains, “Things really got started with the cable car in 1957. The mayor at the time, Franz Müllegger, sent out a bulletin looking for 80 strong men to pull a load cable for the material cableway up the mountain – 107 men responded. On 28th December, in the snow and cold and using only their own muscular strength, these men pulled the load cable two kilometres up the mountain.” The material cableway was an important aide during the construction of the cable car. On 18th April 1959, the cable car made its maiden voyage and an almost two months later, on 13th June 1959, it officially opened.
Outside it begins to clear up, and the storm dies away. The men make their way to the station for their ascent. In the waiting hall, they make a short stop. “Look here, this is how we closed our first cable car cabins from the outside after both riders had climbed in.” Brugnara explains to his younger companion with a smile. They sit together in an exhibited gondola from the first generation of the Katrin cable car and amusingly determine: “It wasn’t really so comfortable back then.” Despite this fact, the two-seater cable car superbly served its purpose from 1959 to 1976. That year, when the Vienna Reichsbrücke collapsed and Niki Lauda crashed on the Nürburgring, also proved fateful for the Katrin cable car. After closing down at the end of January, future operation was hanging by a thread. Following intensive negotiations with the state of Upper Austria and federal authorities, Ischl was successful in securing the needed budget for the renovation of the cable car and pay-out of shareholders. The Katrin cable car was taken over by the town council, renovated and put back into service with 46 four-seater gondolas shortly before Christmas 1978. From 1977 to 1992, Brugnara served on the cable car board and in looking back over the 1970s, emphasises: “In the critical phase of 1976, the staff was exceptionally loyal to the enterprise. This was a crucial deciding factor for a quick relaunch.”
“Before we begin our ascent, I want to show you something, Rudi,” Aldrian says and points the way to the gondola station, where several themed gondolas are parked. One gondola catches the eye – brilliantly shining in gold. “This cabin has been plated in real gold leaf by the Ischl restauranteur Johan + Maria for our 60-year anniversary,” explains Aldrian. The sight of the golden cable car cabin elicits a mischievous grin from Brugnara. The pair continues on to start their ascent. At a comfortable pace, their gondola moves upward, always at the height of the treetops. In this way, passengers consistently feel safe and as if they are close to the ground.
“Down there is where he started – Karl Schranz. All the way down, headlong, the entire Schlossriesen slope section to the valley station. His run was the main topic of conversation for days in Bad Ischl. No one could imagine how it was even possible – on an absolutely icy, unprepared slope.” Rudolf Brugnara’s excitement over this extraordinary event in 1962 is still apparent today. At that time, the Austrian championship in slalom and giant slalom took place on the Katrin. Skiing idol Karl Schranz created a small sensation with his downhill run through the Schlossriesen along the edge of the race. Other skiing giants like Pepi Stiegler, Gerhard Nenning, Hugo Nindl, Traudl Hecher, Christl Haas, Erika Netzer or Edith Zimmermann stood alongside him at the start and battled it out for medals. Ski operations on the Katrin have been a thing of the past since 2010. While a ski run from the summit is reserved for touring enthusiasts, fans of winter can make daily trips by cable car up the mountain – for strolls, winter hiking or simply to enjoy the views far above the fog line in the valley below.
After a 14-minute ride, the cable car gondola with its two passengers stops at the mountain station. Once there, Brugnara and Aldrian take a look at the heart of the facility: the drive system. “Even the Emperor would have been happy with this ‘royal wave’,” Aldrian jokes and points to the vertical metal shaft connecting the drive plate with the main motor. He adds: “From a technical perspective, our cable car is in excellent condition. This is due to the fact that our predecessors were especially farsighted regarding investments. In my opinion, they were true pioneers in every sense of the word. At that time, it was an absolute pioneering achievement that they even dared to construct this cable car. Today we can continue quality work because those people created the foundation for it. They were brave enough to embrace daring projects. That is the spirit that we must adopt today. It's about doing something that is still new territory. This is the lesson that we can learn from the pioneers of the Katrin cable car.” While many cable cars in Austria create one staged experience after another, Aldrian and his team dare to do the opposite and forego flashy productions. Aldrian places more emphasis on the core values of the Katrin – above all the natural landscape and views. With these advantages, which were already appreciated by the cable car pioneers of the past, the Katrin cable car today offers guests honest and pure summer freshness.
Brugnara and Aldrian board the gondola once again for the descent down the mountain. The young managing director provides his predecessor with a glimpse into his philosophy: “You know, Rudi, I have a special place in my heart for the locals. I think it’s crucial for many local people to be out and about on the Katrin. This has a positive effect on our guests. The interaction with people from the region makes the mountain experience a truly authentic encounter for them. This is the reason we called the Katrin a beloved mountain – it is the local mountain of Ischl that is well-loved by the people.” Brugnara adds, “The best sign that this is true is a small statement that I constantly hear. When the people of Ischl talk about the Katrin cable car, they don’t say ‘the’ Katrin cable car but ‘our’ Katrin cable car. I like this. As you know, I’ve always watched the cable car venture like a hawk. It makes me happy, that since 2013, business has sharply increased, and I admire all that you’ve achieved. Perhaps you have more opportunities today than we had back then. But – your engagement, your ideas and all that you’ve accomplished – all of this is what I really value. I sincerely congratulate you on the fantastic development of our Katrin cable car!” That said, the gondola begins its downward descent toward Bad Ischl.