Austria: High Spirits in High Places

To ring in the New Year, I went to visit my parents in Europe for a long awaited family ski trip.  The destination? The small town of Hintertux in the region of Tirol, Austria.  It was my family’s first ski trip overseas.  The area had just gotten a fair bit of snow allowing the ski areas to be mostly open by the time we arrived.

The view when we landed in Innsbruck.

The view when we landed in Innsbruck.

The town of Hintertux is seated in a mountain valley at 1500m (nearly 5000 feet).  From the floor of the valley, three separate gondolas take skiers up onto the Hintertux Glacier.

The view of the Glacier from our hotel. Photo credit: My sister Beth.

The view of the Glacier from our hotel. Photo credit: My sister Beth.

Our hotel, constructed in traditional Austrian style. Photo credit: Beth

Our hotel, constructed in traditional Austrian style. Photo credit: Beth

We arrived in unusually warm conditions, with temps hovering right around freezing, causing fog, flat light, and low visibility for the first few days of the trip.  Avalanche danger was moderate when we arrived, as indicated by the Tirol Avalanche center.  I’d brought my touring gear along and was interested to see if I could get a guide or maybe at least do some inbounds skinning.

The hotel lounge, a good place to warm up. Photo credit: My Mom.

The hotel lounge, a good place to warm up. Photo credit: My Mom.

The first day we set out to explore what the glacier (Gletscher, in German)  had to offer.  We did a few warm up runs until I saw a closed, but tracked ‘ski route’ that looked promising and I convinced my dad and sister to check it out.  Here’s some pics and footage:

The top of the ski route, which was pressed against a huge rock face.

The top of the ski route, which was pressed against a huge rock face.

A second look at the gully.

A second look at the gully.

A short technical section at the bottom.

A short technical section at the bottom.  Pictured: My sister on the left, my Dad on the right.

All of the footage and photos from on the mountains came from my phone or my Dad’s.  I was attempting to purchase a goPro before the trip, but after a lot of runaround, I gave up.  I think we got some good shots nonetheless.

We were taking it pretty easy, since it was really only the second day on skis this season for my family, the first being at the worlds largest indoor ski area in the Netherlands.

Unfortunately visibility was next to nothing at the top of the glacier, which is at 3250m (Just over 10,000 feet).  It gave us occasional vertigo to look down and see a white canvas beneath, with no indications of the piled up powder and rolling terrain.

The next day was similar, with temps edging a little higher, causing the avalanche danger to start a rising trend.  We made the best of it, but most of it did not get caught on camera.

The third day brought a 20″ storm to the valley, which hit all the lower mountains near the town of Mayrhofen up to Hintertux.  The resort seemed empty so we got out and had some great runs in deep snow, though I could tell the unfamiliar heavy powder was tiring out my family.  Due to the unusual warmth and large quantities of snow, there was active sluffing outside the resort, the avalanche warning lights were spinning, and I spotted many glides avalanches down lower, even in the backyard’s of homes in the valley.

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Notice the slides in the right side of the photo, with a dusting of snow on top.

We caught of bit of footage of me doing some storm skiing.

My sister and I enjoying the distinct lack of visibility.

My sister and I enjoying the distinct lack of visibility.

We were able to nearly ski back to our hotel at the end of the day.

We went down into Mayrhofen for an afternoon, which is only at 800m, despite being barely 17 km away.  The trip allowed me to exercise my fading German vocabulary, asking for help with the bus schedule, and of course ordering beers.

The last day of skiing we finally got the views we were hoping for.  We headed down to the Penken resort near Mayrhofen to ski the notorious Harakiri, the steepest groomed trail in Austria, at 78% grade, or something like 38 degrees.  There were blue skies, and nearly two feet of fresh snow to enjoy!  Everywhere you looked there were craggy peaks.  The Austrians didn’t seem to have any qualms about skiing right past or around sluffs and soft snow slides on out of bounds terrain, despite the avalanche danger being ‘high’ for the past two days.

My sister kindly shot a video of me in some pow on a mellow pitch.

My Dad getting pysched about the Harakiri

My Dad getting pysched about the Harakiri

While attempting to video my Dad and sister, I caught this poor woman on film falling all the way down the Harakiri main pitch.  Turn up the sound part way in for a truly terrified scream.

The rest of the day was nothing but gorgeous views.

Looking across the valley.

Looking across the valley.

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Trail closed, though I was tempted to check it out.

Trail closed, though I was tempted to check it out.

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The last day we went back to Mayrhofen for some sightseeing, after some morning photos.

Credit: My Mom

Credit: My Mom

Creidt: My Mom

Credit: My Mom

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Summer hiking trail signs

We took the 150 person capacity tram up the Ahorn, which was in a whiteout of thick fog. Luckily my sister got some good photos of the valley and the Penkenbahn lift.  Having a delicious last meal on the peak didn’t hurt either.

The Penkenbahn in Mayrhofen. Credit: Beth

The Penkenbahn in Mayrhofen. Credit: Beth

Creidt: Beth

Credit: Beth

The trip was amazing. It was great to see my family together for the first time since May.  The skiing, while not extreme, was thoroughly enjoyable, and amplified by the locale.

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