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TR: Hochfügen (Zillertal), Tyrol, Austria -- Easter Sunday spring storm over refreeze

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

This is my first trip report here, so my apologies for the lack of photos, I hadn't intended to write this... I'll try to use my words (and a short video) :)

 

We had a late start to the season in Tyrol, a wild series of dumps, then an early spring-- and the 3rd/2nd warmest March on record. So I was afraid the season was over in the lower elevations.

 

Woke up in Munich, Germany to a beautiful sight out my window: an unexpected two inches of fresh snow. 

 

It's about a 1.5 hr drive to the Zillertal area in Austria, and by the time we got there, the conditions had gone from a good 4 inches on the ground around the border, to full-on springtime, deep green grass, flowers, and a layer of fog. Pretty worrying stuff. 

 

Hochzillertal/Hochfügen is a series of 4 or so peaks, all connected by lifts. There are ~ 181km of relatively sedate and somewhat boring pistes. I guess it's pretty good if you're an intermediate or you like longish, over-groomed trails. Highest peak is about 8,000 feet, and the valley is at 1,650 feet. So there is a decent amount of vertical.

 

On the way up from the Kaltenbach gondolas, we were over grass until the mid-station. But by the top of the Gondola, which is at 5,900 feet, we had plenty of snow on the ground. 

 

Visibility got worse and worse throughout the day. On the runs traversing our way to Hochfügen, pistes were chunky crud, a little dust, and hard crust underneath. 

 

Luckily, where we wanted to ski-- a significant wedge of the mountain, off-piste, accessible between black pistes 6 and 7-- the visibility was pretty good, and we basically kept lapping the area. It covers about 1500 feet of vertical going under a gondola and an ancient 2-person chair I've never seen running, not even on the busiest of days. 

 

We took a few runs, starting under, unbelievably, some sunshine. Then the storm kicked into gear-- dropping 8+ inches by the end of the day. The snow kept getting better with each hour. Underneath it was rock hard crust, but we ended the day with enough creamy pow on top of it to have fun in. 

 

Midday, we tried to access the bigger, steeper, open bowls from the summit of Hochfügen just outside the 4er lift-- with various lines starting either under the lift, or at various hikes up to about 30 minutes along the ridgeline. We were hoping we'd get clearer conditions at that point. But visibility was still bad up there-- down to about 2.5 meters-- and we had to take it slow down the pistes... skimming over some wonderful freshly fallen snow... the off-piste stuff was probably avalanche-y (the warming trend of the previous weeks included cloud-cover over night, so we've got really wet, ice-crystally snow under the crust), but also probably wonderful given the dump happening. 

 

Oh, and on one gondola ride up, riding with a couple: The woman was beeping.... but she was turning it on and off each time up the mountain... and leaving it (when on) in her jacket pocket! Not good. 

 

So we headed back to the area we were lapping before-- which starts out with relatively open terrain and some nice natural kickers, and eventually deposits you in thick conifer trees at the bottom.

 

After a few more runs, we moved over to the free riding terrain between the red piste 10 and the Pfaffenbühel II drag-lift. Visibility was, for a window, great. It felt like we had just under a foot of fresh on top of the crust, and the runs were in mostly open, smooth, fun spaces.

 

The most difficult part of the day was getting back to the Gondola for the ride down to the valley. A real blizzard had set in, with visibility down to a meter or less. There were times I couldn't see my ski tips! Hard wind, snow everywhere. It was skiing by feel-- with blue pistes (American green) transformed into treacherous stuff because of the lack of visibility. 

 

Getting comfortable with not seeing, I started with some small radius turns along the edge of the piste, playing in the fresh-- when all of a sudden the ground disappeared underneath me, and I ended up falling into a small ravine/ditch. I literally didn't see it happen. Being Europe, there are a few places along the trail where such a mistake could send you over a damaging cliff... so I wised up, and took it slow down. I had icicles on my beard by the time I got to the gondola. Miserable last run. 

 

But the mountain itself is pretty fun if you're willing to leave the pistes. There are three relatively large off-piste/free-riding areas that are totally lift-accessible, and cover 1,000 to 2,000 feet of vertical in open bowls and woods. If you're willing to boot-pack and carry avalanche gear, there's some nice open, steeper stuff. And while it gets skied, the off-piste thing hasn't totally arrived here yet (it's on the cusp), so it's possible to go days after a storm and find fresh lines in places that would be tracked out by 11am in the American West. 

 

In any case, I made a questionable-quality video on a few of the off-piste runs in the middle of the day, when visibility was at its best. I'm just getting used to using the camera for skiing, so my angles/shooting leaves something to be desired. And this was the first time trying to hold the camera on the end of the pole-- and you can tell that my skiing takes a hit; I only filmed about 1/4 of one run with the camera mounted on the pole because with the ice underneath the crust, and the strange feel of it all, I didn't feel very comfortable. 

 

Hope it's at least a little fun to watch, and gives a sense of what this part of the mountain is like:

 

post #2 of 6

Hey. Thanks for sharing.

Nice read.

Nice video, just, for my personal tastes, a bit too much of "fore ski half" in it...

Still, very nice to see that there's still snow and lines to be had, around Europe.

I wish I had been there!

 

 

post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nobody View Post

Hey. Thanks for sharing.

Nice read.

Nice video, just, for my personal tastes, a bit too much of "fore ski half" in it...

Still, very nice to see that there's still snow and lines to be had, around Europe.

I wish I had been there!

 

 


 

Yeah, I agree re the video-- overcompensation for the opposite direction in my first attempt. Hopefully the third time's the charm. 

 

post #4 of 6

great vid... i enjoyed watching it... thanks for the write up!!!

post #5 of 6

Some good skiing in that video.  Many clips start out with a jump.  Something purely selfish that I'd like to see more of in amateur ski videos, especially on days when there is good visibility, are some occasional stops to give us a 5-10 second panorama of the scenery above, below and all around you.  I have little experience skiing in the Alps, but enough to know that the mountain scenery, slopeside restaurant/hut architecture, base areas, uphill transport, etc. are often spectacular and quite different from many US ski areas.  Whereas, close-ups of the snow surface or images from within a tight glade are very similar looking in many parts of the world.

post #6 of 6

if you like that... look at my last trip report from end of febuary from cervinia and zermatt... did it as a tour of the resorts there... 

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