Resort review: Kühtai

Nestled in the Sellrain valley and a mere 35km from Innsbruck lies the resort of Kühtai. Unlike many other snow resorts in Tirol, which usually stem from already established villages, this seems to be a purpose-built ski town. Or almost, as it is home for no more than 10 (ten) inhabitants. In fact, Kühtai is one of the smallest localities in Tirol and was established as a farm in 1288 AD. Later in the 17th century it was transformed into a hunting château and in the mid 1900s the ski fever came to take over the slopes of the nearby mountains.

Kühtai is a unique destination for several reasons: for example, its air is considered so pure that is recommended for people with allergies and asthma, probably due to its high altitude: nothing less than 2020m above sea level. So guess what: it’s the highest resort base in Austria.

The high altitude provides for reliable snow cover, but also for the relatively barren landscape as the tree line falls below most of the pistes. The full 80 km of runs are divided in two domains: Kühtai and Hochoetz. Although they are not connected by piste, there is a free skibus to make the transfer between the two.

As always in Austrian resorts, the staff performs an impressive and impeccable work: the pistes are smooth, wide and kept in perfect condition. Almost too perfect for the fun-seeking snowboarder, as there seemed to be few (if any) ‘natural’ features in the runs and therefore no side-hits in sight when we visited. Still, it’s super fun to ride, carve and butter through these slopes.

However, the freestyler within each one of us can surely be pleased with one of the main attractions of this resort: the KPark. Oh boy.

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(photo by Kuehtai.info)

Take the Alpenrose draglift or Hohe Mut Bahn chairlift and you’ll reach the park. Again, the modules are perfectly shaped and maintained by the park crew. Kudos for the guys. The slopestyle area has all it takes to keep riders entertained, with medium and advanced lines for jib and kickers that will keep you repeating the word ‘Sick!!’ over and over again. However, the star of the park is the ridiculously spot-on superpipe. Seven meters high, 140m long and 20 m high, this crisp work of art has been ridden by pros such as Shaun White or Terje Haakonsen and is the venue for many competitions.

An added value for the all visitors of the park, from the average Joe to the super pro, are the regular Public Shootings: professional photographers from Got It spend the day shooting the riders, and all the pictures are posted later in their website, free of charge. Who doesn’t like to have their photos taken by professionals?

(photos by Got It)

When it comes to freeriding, the snow conditions when we visited didn’t allow for much more than mindsurfing the lines we could see from below. Rumour has it, though, that with the right conditions you can get epic descents from the peaks of Küthai. As always when you venture to the backcountry, make sure that you are equipped with the right safety gear and good judgement before you go out.

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To summarize, Kühtai is an excellent choice to enjoy a day if you are based in Innsbruck, especially if you like to enjoy a wide open high-alpine landscape, or if you are into freestyle snowboarding or skiing. To enjoy tree-lined pistes, head out to Hochoetz. Guaranteed fun!

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(photos by The Perfect Winter unless stated otherwise. Thank you to Kuehtai Tourism and Got It shootings.)

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Trivia on off-season travelling (or how we met Winter in plain Autumn)

Every winter sports enthusiast knows the feeling: the days get shorter, the nights start to get colder and we start looking into weather forecast for the nearest mountains. Yep, winter is coming. But in full climate change process (no, it’s not a hoax by the Chinese) booking a 5-day trip to snowboard in November is a shot in the dark. When we did, we aimed high enough to be safe and so that we’d have at least something to slide on. So choosing the Stubai glacier was not at all a random choice – and did I mention it hosts the Stubai Zoo, one of the best and most hyped snowparks in the Alps?

img-20161112-wa0015(click by Vasco Abreu)

Book flights, make contacts, let’s go. As usual, weather forecasts in Autumn are not really trustworthy, especially when talking about a glacier. But we did know that there would be snow – just weren’t sure how much of it, and when. There was a huge chance that we’d catch bad weather. Hell yeah, we did! We got more than we bargained for, with 2 days of closed skies and temperatures as low as -15ºC up in the peaks. And snowfall, lots of it.

(clicks by Brian Fernandes and Vasco Abreu)

The glacier resort itself had 25km of marked slopes open, which was not bad at all for this time of the year. And with the recent snowfall and low temperatures it really felt like winter. Visibility was crap though, and the wind was strong in the high alpine. Due to that the park was mostly closed in the first days. But the open pistes were more than enough to keep our rusty legs entertained. Even more so were the side-country slopes that looked really good for some off piste riding. Wrong choice! Peer pressure and the craving for powder after a long summer can truly hinder your choices: think thrice before you venture off piste! Nothing really bad happened except for some board carnage and ego damage. But things can go severely sour when these factors come together: early season, glacier, short base layer and sharks. When in doubt, there’s no doubt, don’t go out. Even if the clouds go away and the mountains look as awesome as this.

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Well they eventually did go away and the sun came out on a beautiful Saturday. And so did the crowds. Geeeez, hundreds, thousands of tourists, locals and pros just stormed in and made it feel like Sierra Nevada after a dump on a weekend. The park quickly became filled with high-level riders, and the one lift that was open (come on, one draglift for the whole park? You gotta be kidding!) queued like there was no tomorrow. Back to the pistes it was, but we managed to steal some quick shots just to say we were there.

So was it worth it? Definitely! Would we go back and do the same? Yep, but my advice is choose your dates wisely to avoid major weekends. Better yet, keep your options open to visit other glaciers nearby: Hintertux is 1.30h drive from Neustift where we were based, and Kaunertal and Pitztal are 2h away for example. They all have amazing snowparks, are open in the pre-season and can be an option even if you’re aiming for the Stubai mojo.

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Best advice? Leave your riding destination open and make you base in Innsbruck. From there you’ll have plenty to choose from and you’ll get to experience the vibe of a beautiful city that is home of a large community of snow lovers.

img-20161113-wa0006img-20161110-wa000920160129_133332(clicks by André Pisco, Brian Fernandes and João Saraiva)

What are you waiting for?

 

 

Resort review – Hochzillertal

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.

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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.

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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!