IMST - It's seven o’clock in the morning, and what’s left of the night’s thunder clouds sit perched wispy white above the rocks. Despite the cool temperature, Andreas Riml sits wearing a T-shirt on the terrace of his hut, drinking coffee and looking out over the breadth of the alpine valley that opens out toward Imst in the Austrian state of Tyrol.
Riml may have been managing this mountain hut called the Muttekopfhütte for 14 years, but he wouldn’t miss his morning coffee-mountain panorama ritual for anything. He still insists on making breakfast for guests himself. Doing so, he says, is a daily reminder that he's "one of the luckiest people on earth."
The hut profile being what it is, one might imagine its manager would be a dynamic artist, or at least a mountain climber. But before coming here Riml was a self-employed carpenter who realized one day when he was about 40 that he’d been happiest in life when he’d been hired to work on projects in the mountains.
When he saw the hut manager job advertised, he applied — along with 15 others — "and I got lucky." But even luckier was the Imst-Oberland section of the Austrian Alpine Association that hired him. They chose a carpenter who grew up on a mountain farm and guest facility run by his parents. What they got was a strategist.
Before Riml’s tenure, the prevailing attitude was that the hut was what it was, and guests would accept it that way. There’s no question that the Muttekopfhütte location is fantastic — along the E5 path (an EU long-distance mountain hiking trail) in the Lechtal Alps, also a mountain climber’s paradise — so for that reason alone climbers and hikers end up here, particularly during the high season and on weekends.
But Riml didn’t want guests to just "end up here," and decided to make the hut an attractive destination in its own right. He had at least one advantage in that it’s only a half-hour walking distance from a lift. But he was limited by the fact that there was no way to build on to the existing hut to increase the number of rooms and beds. And a dramatic hike in prices was also out of the question because of the owner association’s statutes.
His only remaining option was to dramatically alter occupancy — in other words, filling the hut outside of holidays and weekends when it was booked up anyway. He focused on off-season week days and developed a program that included not only climbing but also yoga, yodeling, ceramics, even "interactive family hikes." He started plugging the venue as a great place to get married. His fifth annual Nepal Festival is happening this year.
Good food is a permanent draw at Muttekopfhütte, where Riml employs two professional cooks and offers Austrian Alpine Association members a dorm-plus-dinner rate of 33 euros per adult per night. A mattress in a shared room costs members 8 euros a night, and a room costs 11 euros (non-members pay double).
Riml has positioned the hut as a venue with something for everyone. He says he relies less on market research for his ideas and decisions than common sense. "If you like something, there’s a good chance others will too."
He discovered that one of the things people liked best about taking courses at the hut was getting to know the others outside of course sessions — "up here, people can't just run off somewhere else." At the same time, he’s aware that fostering an "island" situation at the hut is no way forward, and so he's joined forces with lift and train operators, tourism authorities and tour operators to give hut guests maximum options to discover the area and its activities.
At dinner at the hut, where guests include a seasoned mountain guide, area farmers and botany enthusiasts, a young Nepalese serves. Over a bottle of Neusiedler See red wine, Riml quietly relishes the fact that he has succeeded in expanding without creating the impression that he’s spreading himself or the hut’s vocation too thin. He’s also celebrating the opening of a new terrace built for yoga practitioners.
Sometimes he says he does wonder about what he’s unleashed — "guests who come here without a clue as to what a mountain hut is, dressed to the nines, who think they can wheel their suitcase over from the lift station and are amazed to find themselves sharing rooms with others." But he's not judging, just summing up and analyzing.
His plans now include trial testing opening the hut for a few days during the winter (it usually closes mid-October), introducing courses about avalanches, and opening a sauna for his guests.