A look behind the scenes of the solstice

Countless fires are lit every year at the end of June on the mountain ridges and in the hollows around the Saalfelden basin and the Leoganger Steinberge mountains. The traditional fires in Saalfelden Leogang can be admired at different events. Either enjoy the Solstice Festival at the picturesque Ritzensee in Saalfelden or take the Asitzbahn up in Leogang to see the mountain fires up close.  From there you can admire thousands of solstice fires in a 360° radius.


The centuries-old tradition of the solstice fires

The origins of this ancient tradition date back to the 14th century, and according to Pinzgau folk belief, the solstice fires drives away evil demons that cause disease, livestock or hail damage. As a symbol of the sun, the fire was also supposed to bring growth and fertility to meadows and fields. 


In Saalfelden Leogang these fires are considered particularly beautiful and unique. Members of the Alpine Club, the Mountain Rescue Service, the Fire Brigade and the Friends of Nature set the Leoganger Steinberge and the Steinerne Meer in scene with the many fires every year. From the valley, the glowing outlines of the mountains and the many fire images can easily be spotted. One of the most famous fire images is the Edelweiss in the snow pit of the Steinernes Meer, between Persailhorn, Mitterhorn and Breithorn. Since 1956, the Saalfelden fire brigade has been lighting the 100-metre-wide and 180-metre-long Edelweiss in the snow pit at an altitude of over 2,000 metres, using around 800 torches as a symbol of the mountaineers. Exactly how big the image will be always depends on the current snow conditions. At 10 p.m. sharp, three red flares are fired from the valley as the starting signal for the lighting of the fires, and the mountains light up. But why exactly 10 p.m.? According to Saalfelden's local fire brigade commander, Thomas Schreder, experience shows that at this time of day dusk has already set in and the light conditions are best for burning the torches. If bad weather is approaching, they can also be burnt earlier.

The events on the mountain and at the lake

At the beautiful Ritzensee in Saalfelden, the solstice is celebrated with a solstice festival from 6 p.m. for guests and locals. Countless fires are lit on the mountain ridges around the Saalfelden basin. The giant edelweiss in the middle of the Steinernes Meer snow pit presents a glowing floral greeting. Every year the fire brigade youth at the Ritzensee also light an annual fire. The Solstice Fire is also celebrated at the popular Asitz in Leogang. The Asitz cable car offers a special ride from 5 p.m., allowing you to witness thousands of solstice fires in a 360° radius at 1,870 m above sea level.

Behind the scenes

Reported by Gerhard Weilguny, chairman of the Leogang Alpine Club


Throughout the year, many people in Leogang hand in their leftover candles in the containers provided at the Alpenvereinsheim. Two weeks before the fire-burning date, a team prepares the fire boxes in one day. The wax is melted in a special oven and mixed with sawdust in hot, liquid form in a tub. This mixture is then filled into paper bags, each weighing about 2.5 kg.

In the afternoon of the solstice day, the climbers ascend individually or in small groups each carrying 4 to 8 fires and climbing up to the summits. The ascent over old snow fields is often not without danger. An hour before lighting, they spread out on the exposed ridges of the Leoganger Steinberge and the Steinernen Meer and place the fires in places that are clearly visible from the valley. If the weather allows it, you can always admire the fires at the Passauer Hütte.

The last minutes before lighting the fires is the most emotional moment for every fire starter. Everything is quiet and everyone is introspective during these minutes, enjoying this magical atmosphere. Everything is prepared. Then the command "light". Everyone rushes to their fires as quickly as they can and as the safety of climbing in the darkness allows, and lights them. This can take 5-10 minutes until all lights are burning. The fires leave no lasting trace, as the palm-sized ash surface is washed away during the next rainfall.

The fire starters meet again at the ridge and descend together in the sparse light of their headlamps. Now the greatest caution is called for. When everyone has returned safely back the hut, they party all night long. Some, however, also descend to the valley during the night.

What is the difficulty?

At the Steinernes Meer, the fire team starts quite early (8 a.m.). After the walk to the snow pit, the real work begins, reports Thomas Schreder, local fire brigade commander Saalfelden. You are challenged the whole day and have to be steady on your feet. You are also unprotected against the weather. After lighting the fire, the most difficult part begins. You have to walk the very narrow and difficult path down to the valley in the dark. Eventually, even though you are tired, you still have to stay focused and make sure you get down safely.

What is the most beautiful part?

When everything has been prepared and checked and darkness is slowly setting in, the fire pictures are lit, says Thomas Schreder. At the edelweiss, at the bottom of the snow pit, there is a large stone. All those who helped and climbed with us meet there. They take another look into the snow pit and see the work they have done. The sweating and the effort have paid off! Everyone is happy when the edelweiss shines on the Steinernes Meer.

Mountain fires are beautiful, no matter which direction you look. Be it the illuminated mountain ridges or the fire pictures that are burnt. There is no difference or competition between Saalfelden and Leogang. It is the overall impression that is fascinating and makes it so special.

Thomas Schreder, Ortsfeuerwehrkommandant Saalfelden

Do you also want to be part of it?

If you are interested in joining us during the next years, please contact the Saalfelden fire brigade or the Leogang Alpine Club at any time. All helping hands are very welcome. We can already present the solstice dates for the next few years:

  • 22.06.2024
  • 21.06.2025
  • 20.06.2026

We wish you all a magnificent solstice in Saalfelden Leogang!


Photos: Lukas Klima, Michael Geißler, Feuerwehr Saalfelden, Alpenverein Leogang