Can you describe it?
Can you describe it?
When I first imagined spending a winter in the Alps, the image that immediately popped into my mind was not speeding down a slope, or jumping off a kicker. It was simply waking up every morning in the silence of the mountains, opening the window and seeing the white powdery stuff covering everything. The quiet, the calm, the Zen. This is essentially what I came to Tirol for. So every morning (well, almost) from January to March 2016 I took a picture from my window in the mountain hut in Gerlosberg. This is the result.
I don’t know about you, but this gets me pumped to go shred as much as any Red Bull super production video. Just sayin’.
Wedelhütte, Kaltenbach. January 2016 (-17ºC…)
Zillertal, January 2016
I could write a whole essay on surf and snowboard (oh wait, I recently did that…), but I’m just going to leave this here.
This was today in Hochfügen. What a day!
If you had to choose a destination to spend 3 months of your life, paying hard-earned money to stay at a carefully picked location, with enough solitude to feel like a soul-searching trip yet close enough to civilization to be able to leave your house on foot and access stores, local ‘wildlife’, transportations and whatever it was that drove you there… would you choose a country that speaks one of the most unintelligible languages of Europe (at least for us Latin speakers, but I suspect we’re not alone on that one), and a region that boasts the most unfriendly, inaccessible and harsh geography on the Old continent?
Well I did. Austria was always the choice to spend The Perfect Winter. And despite the obvious disadvantages (language being number one), here’s why.
– It is beautiful. The Alpine landscape here is just breathtaking. And yes, I am aware that the Alps start in France and cross Switzerland, Liechtenstein, good ol’ Oesterreich, Germany, Italy and all the way into Slovenia. In all these countries the mountains look good. But there is a special care with the landscape in Austria that is truly heart-warming. Especially compared to the landscape raping you see in that country that starts with an F and has baguettes.
– It is cheap. Ok, it’s not cheap. But it is definitely cheaper than any other Alpine country. Yes, I know, choosing wisely you may find here and there cheaper places in other countries. Or not. After having been in every one of the latter (except Germany) for snow holidays, I can tell you, for example, that the cheapest beer in any French resort costs more than the most expensive beer in Austria. And it always tastes better here, hands down. Food is cheaper too – try eating out in Switzlerland. Or even in Alpine Italy, and you’ll see those €€ flying away so fast you won’t have the chance to say goodbye. Even the lodging is cheaper, but that’s not the main plus about it…
– Everything always looks brand new. Everything. The houses. The roads. The cities. The streets. The gardens. The buildings. The infrastructure at any ski resort, it is mind-boggling, it’s always spanking new. How on earth do they do it? At every apartment I was in during holidays in Austria, everything was just clean and perfectly set. No paint coming off on a hidden corner. No patch of rotten wood on the back of the house. Brand new furniture. How do they do it? Go to a restaurant. Nothing looks remotely used. Go outside. The buildings look perfect. What materials are those? How often are they maintained? As I said, mind-boggling.
– Things work. Maybe it’s because of the proximity with their German cousins – or maybe due to their common origin, better yet – stuff works. Rules and regulations apply, oh yes. But it simply works.
– The people are a strange and balanced mix of German stiffness and southern warmth. Strange but it works fine for me.
– Did I mention the mountains look amazing? It is just breathtaking.
There are of course other negative aspects (other than the language, and even that, I must say, I am growing fond of). But everything is bearable. Except for one detail.
The hedious music exhaling from the aprés-ski bars. Oh dear. We are in the country of Mozart, for goodness sake. Or Parov Stelar. Or Kruder & Dorfmeister. How can they assassinate so much good music with the euro-dance garbage puking out of so many overly loud speakers everywhere around 4PM?
But hey. It ends soon, and then you have those mountains around you. And it makes everything fine again.
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!
After the first days, where there was a bit of everything (no snow and sun, rain, wind and finally a heavy dump of the white fresh powder), I give you the first video. It was shot today in Hochfugen.
Temperature at 2000m was -7ºC, no wind and poor visibility. It was snowing the whole day but it ended up being a great snowboarding day.
(I am truly sorry for not posting more frequently, but I am still catching up to riding everyday. Once I get home and sit in front of the computer, I am so tired that I can hardly keep my eyes open. But soon I’ll be fitter than ever!)
Stoked is the word! We drove 2600km during 4 days, crossing 5 countries and we made it! How freakin’ cool is that!!?
Spain and France were easy, as we found hardly any traffic and good weather. But as soon as we entered Switzerland… full on traffic jam from the border onwards. We were heading for Lausanne to stay at a good friend’s house and came across friday rush hour traffic, combined with the first real winter weekend this season, where every Geneva inhabitant seems to drive their oversized over-luxury car to their chalets in the mountains. Seriously, the density of Jaguars, high end Mercedes, BMWs and many other seriously expensive cars (that unfortunately I do not know the name) per square meter on those roads was just mind-boggling. But eventually we got to Lausanne, where our friends Sergio and Marylin had prepared us an amazing raclette. Tank you for that great dinner and company, for the nice beers, bottles of wine and for a great night sleep.
(no pictures though…)
And it was good that we woke up nice and relaxed because after a fantastic breakfast with snowboard master André Pisco in Montreux (next to the Freddie Mercury statue – we will rock you, baby!) we were in for a treat.
The. Worst. Traffic. Jam. Ever. Which lasted for the whole of Switzerland. On its longer side. With rain. And no views, for what would eventually be one of the best scenic routes of the world. Thank you, relentless capitalism.
Eventually we got to Bodensee, which in any other day would be a mandatory stop. But we were so fed up with the road that we just passed by and aimed straight into Austria. And what did we find as soon as we passed the border? This.
Heavy rain, fog, and by 4pm it was already so dark we could swear it was midnight. And yet we had still more than 3 hours of driving ahead. And lets not forget we are crossing the Alps here, and we’d been driving already for 4 hours. Did I mention we got heavy Lexus, Cayenne and Jaguar traffic jams throughout?
Anyway, we made it. The FreshPipe Snowmobile got us through Central Europe and we were ready to roll into The Perfect Winter, my first day of the season, and my 39th birthday.
And this was the view as I woke up in Gerlosberg:
And my birthday present to myself was this: a season pass for the Tirol region!
And with this card and a stupid smile on my face we went up the chairlift to find a fabulous day on the slopes of the Zillertal Arena. While the valley was covered with clouds, there was sunshine above 1000m. The slopes were fantastic, not many people and we just went cruisin’. Hey, just see for yourselves.
But this was just the beginning. The Perfect Winter is not about being a tourist in a famous resort, is about going deeper into the heart of the Alps. But give me some space to enjoy a bit of time out before I go on that deeper side. And speaking of which, the forecast for the next days is up to 50 cm of fresh powder. I’ll let you know all about it in the next posts, stay tuned!