They told me and I knew it too: it’s not the size that matters. In this case, small Alpine resorts are much more likely to have the x-factor than big, famous ones.
That said, Hochzillertal Kaltenbach is a medium sized resort in the northern tip of the Ziller valley. It boasts 88km of prepared slopes, 2 snowparks (that are still closed at the time this review was written) and an impressive infrastructure in parking lots, ticket offices and ultra modern gondolas and chairlifts.
The area by the main gateway through Kaltenbach – Stumm is interesting, with nice pistes (including the Stephan Eberharter Goldpiste black run all the way to the gondola – that’s almost 1200m of vertical drop), and great views over the valley. A word of advice: they get busy and ultra bumpy quite fast.
However, it is when you transit into the area of Fügen that things get really juicy. This area can be accessed through the Neuhuttenbahn state-of-the-art chairlift (those plexiglass covers came in handy today, with -14ºC at the top). This is a true freerider paradise, with many slopes available and untouched for the off-piste enthusiast, right from the top of the lifts. In these cases, there are even avalanche beacon testers for safety. While this is still not full-on backcountry, it is still quite impressive to see these beautiful open faces just waiting to be tracked.
However, I must say that I resisted the temptation as I watched an avalanche being triggered by a snowboarder that wasn’t carrying safety gear (at least neither the probe or the shovel, and probably not the transceiver). Fortunately no one was hurt but the warning was there. Mental note – buy avalanche safety gear and take a backcountry awareness course.
But there are many more freeride lines in this area. With a little bit of research and with the right knowledge, a pot of white gold will open before you. Search and you shall find.
The cherry on the cake came by accident. To find some shelter from the cold and get some hydration (i.e. beer), I bumped into on the most spectacular alpine huts ever: the Wedelhüte, just by the top of the Wedelexpress lift. Oh man. DJ on the stunning terrace (spinning good music, for a change in the Zillertal…), live performance by a sax player, chilled environment, and the view. The view. While not being cheap, it still costs less than anywhere in France. And even for Austrian standards (where everything seems to be brand new – how do they do that?), this was something else. Definitely worth those extra €€.
If you are in the Zillertal, Hochzillertal is a great place to ride your vehicle of choice down the slopes!