Winter in Tyrol

January - March 2024  |  Tyrol, Austria

In the winter of 2024 my wife Claudia and I are spending three months in the mountains of the Tyrol region of Austria! This is an ongoing stream of posts from our time here; I am challenging myself to try to post a photo each day (or at least every few days).

The posts here are displayed in reverse chronological order (latest posts first). So if you are late to the party you can scroll down to the bottom and start from there!

Gondolopolis

March 4, 2024  |  Kaltenbach, Austria
A plethora of gondolas going to and from Kaltenbach and the Hochzillertal ski area.

A plethora of gondolas going to and from Kaltenbach and the Hochzillertal ski area.

Fügen

March 2, 2024  |  Zillertal, Austria
Wallfahrtskirche St. Pankraz near Fügen was built from 1494-1497 and is considered the most important Gothic church in the Zillertal...

Wallfahrtskirche St. Pankraz near Fügen was built from 1494-1497 and is considered the most important Gothic church in the Zillertal in Austria (source).

We have moved apartments again; now we are in Fügen, just a short ways down valley from Aschau where we were previously. The first impression of Fügen seems quite nice; the town feels older and sits in a wider and more spacious area of the Zillertal on a broad, gently sloping hillside that provides a bit of a view over the valley and the mountains further up towards Mayrhofen.

In early March it's already springtime in the Zillertal - the meadows are green, some of the trees are starting to bud, and most noticeably the farmers are starting to push all the winter's cow crap out from the barns and into the fields. It smells RIPE around here!

Two Spitze

February 29, 2024  |  Zillertal, Austria
Wildgerlosspitze (3280 m).
Wildgerlosspitze (3280 m).
Zsigmondyspitze (3062 m) is a granite spire known as the "Matterhorn of Zillertal".
Zsigmondyspitze (3062 m) is a granite spire known as the "Matterhorn of Zillertal".

Claudia is back! 😍 She's been in Germany this last week visiting family, while I've stayed here in the Zillertal doing my civic duty of tracking up powder. This morning we headed over to Zillertal Arena for a morning of skiing groomers, and I snapped a couple pics too.

Hintertux in Black and White

February 29, 2024  |  Hintertux, Austria
Hornspitze (2650 m) emerges from the clouds.
Hornspitze (2650 m) emerges from the clouds.
Hoher Riffler (3231 m) smothered in snow.
Hoher Riffler (3231 m) smothered in snow.
Clouds lift around Großer Löffler (3378 m).
Clouds lift around Großer Löffler (3378 m).
Gigalitz (3001 m) amongst a sea of peaks and clouds.
Gigalitz (3001 m) amongst a sea of peaks and clouds.
Turnerkamp (3416 m).
Turnerkamp (3416 m).
Habicht (3277 m) and the Stubai Alps.
Habicht (3277 m) and the Stubai Alps.
Monte Cevedale (3769 m) in Italy is visible on the horizon 100 km (60 miles) to the southwest of Hinterux in Austria.
Monte Cevedale (3769 m) in Italy is visible on the horizon 100 km (60 miles) to the southwest of Hinterux in Austria.
Looking southwest towards the Ötztal Alps. I think that the pointy peak in the center horizon is possibly Hintere Schwärze (...
Looking southwest towards the Ötztal Alps. I think that the pointy peak in the center horizon is possibly Hintere Schwärze (3624 m).

The last big snowstorm here in the Zillertal Alps happened last Friday, but I've seen on the webcams that Hintertux has been socked in with clouds and wind every day since then, with Tuesday being especially windy. I know by now that this is the formula for a sleeper powder day up there, so with a forecast of clearing skies on Wednesday I headed up first thing in the morning. Sure enough, the wind had worked its magic to buff the snow into cream cheesy powder perfection. I lapped my favorite zone all morning long for more than a dozen untracked 2,000' lines. Just silly.

In the early afternoon I could see the clouds starting to break off the higher peaks, so I headed up top and then had a great time shooting photos of the peaks with clouds lifting. It was a glorious scene and everybody up on the viewing platform was ooo-ing and ahh-ing (and taking selfies, of course). I was having so much fun with the photos I then headed over to the other high point above the west side of the Hintertux glacier and shot more photos looking southwest into Italy.

It was yet another epic day to remember at Hintertux. I am so in love with this place! And to be honest I kinda feel like it loves me back. 🥰 😆

Zillertal Corduroy

February 26, 2024  |  Zillertal, Austria
Overlooking the lower Zillertal. The village of Aschau is visible between the trees at bottom left. Looking further down valley...
Overlooking the lower Zillertal. The village of Aschau is visible between the trees at bottom left. Looking further down valley you can see the villages of Kaltenbach and Stumm, further is Fügen, and on the very far right side in the distance is where the Zillertal meets the larger Inn Valley; if you take a left there you end up in Innsbruck.
Mugler (2958m).
Mugler (2958m).

Back in early January during our first week in Austria this winter Claudia and I skied at the Zillertal Arena ski area and as I mentioned in my blog post from then, we were pretty appalled by the crowded slopes there and never returned. Today I finally went back there with Jürgen who showed me around, including the whole front side of the area which Claudia and I had skipped right past the first time. The pistes were beautifully groomed and uncrowded early in the morning and I now I have some newfound respect for this area as a good place to rip some corduroy! Since we're closer in this part of the Zillertal for the next couple weeks we'll probably be back again.

Sunday Tour

February 25, 2024  |  Hochfügen, Austria
Skinning up Sonntagsköpfl.
Skinning up Sonntagsköpfl.
These snow-blobbed mountainsides look like something in Alaska. It looks like enormous pillows have formed from a massive snow...
These snow-blobbed mountainsides look like something in Alaska. It looks like enormous pillows have formed from a massive snow season; but actually there's not really a super huge snowpack - the mountains are just contoured that way.
Jürgen skis some powder, with some of the slopes of the Hochfügen ski area in the background.
Jürgen skis some powder, with some of the slopes of the Hochfügen ski area in the background.
Looking back at Sonntagsköpfl, the peak we had just hiked and skied down. We started skinning from the cluster of huts at the...
Looking back at Sonntagsköpfl, the peak we had just hiked and skied down. We started skinning from the cluster of huts at the bottom left corner, then skied the long slope on the looker's right side of the mountain. At the top you can see an array of avalanche fences.

The ski area powder is all beat up after Saturday, so today my new ski buddy Jürgen took me on a ski tour up a peak just outside the Hochfügen ski area. As always it felt great to get on the skin track, get the heart pumping, and use some different leg muscles for a change. And of course, the fantastic powder on the way down was a nice perk too!

Bluebird Powder Panic!

February 24, 2024  |  Hochzillertal, Austria
A breezy day after a snowstorm with fresh powder blowing off the high peaks of the Zillertal Alps.
A breezy day after a snowstorm with fresh powder blowing off the high peaks of the Zillertal Alps.
Freshies under the Wimbachexpress did not last long on this Saturday morning!
Freshies under the Wimbachexpress did not last long on this Saturday morning!
About to drop into this bowl with one of the most magnificent winter backdrops I've ever laid eyes on. Dreamy!
About to drop into this bowl with one of the most magnificent winter backdrops I've ever laid eyes on. Dreamy!
Marshmallow creek.
Marshmallow creek.
The north side of Rastkogel looking mighty fine. Lots of mind surfing in this photo.
The north side of Rastkogel looking mighty fine. Lots of mind surfing in this photo.
Animal tracks and sunlight through the fog above Aschau.
Animal tracks and sunlight through the fog above Aschau.

16" of fresh powder + bluebird skies + Saturday crowds = serious powder panic today at Hochzillertal/Hochfügen! The fresh tracks got absolutely devoured today. It was a bit of shock after my solo pow feast yesterday, but nevertheless I still rode some amazing lines today along with Jürgen who I met while waiting for the first gondola at 7:30 in the morning. Another incredible day in the Zillertal Alps!

Deeper by the Minute

February 23, 2024  |  Hochfügen, Austria
Sepp and Zenzi are getting a bit cold out there.
Sepp and Zenzi are getting a bit cold out there.
Dumping snow on the Zillertal Shuttle gondola at Hochfügen.
Dumping snow on the Zillertal Shuttle gondola at Hochfügen.
The Abfahrts Hütte - not a bad place to stop at the end of a day at Hochzillertal for a celebratory beer and Käsespätzle on...
The Abfahrts Hütte - not a bad place to stop at the end of a day at Hochzillertal for a celebratory beer and Käsespätzle on the way back down to Aschau!

I've been anxious all week waiting for this big snowstorm that the weather forecasts have been predicting. Would the forecast pan out? Would I find fresh tracks? Would it get tracked out immediately? Would I miss the bus and be late? After three mostly dry weeks the anticipation was building. Powder panic, you could say.

This morning I woke up to pouring rain outside and I could see on the webcams that not much snow had accumulated yet up on the mountain. But it was snowing up there, and the forecasts called for 1"+ per hour during the day! Sure enough, halfway up the Hochzillertal gondola the rain turned to snow - and it was absolutely nuking. My first couple runs were about 5" of powder on top of smooth groomers... well, that was a great start! Then I ventured off piste and by then it was more like 7-8" inches - still skipping off the old base beneath but feeling good. It was piling up fast. So I headed back towards Hochfügen and found a beautiful open gladed zone which now had a good 10" of fresh snow, and getting deeper by the minute. Totally untracked. Nobody around. I couldn't believe it.

I ended up lapping that zone probably more than a dozen times, for 5 hours straight. Each ~1600-vertical-foot run through the glades was deeper than the last and soon enough after 12" through 16" of powder I wasn't scratching the bottom at all. Never saw anyone else back there, never had to share the gondola or wait in any line. I basically had an entire mountainside of powder to myself! After a while it actually started to feel a bit gluttonous. Finally I had to leave my sweet spot and make my way back towards Hochzillertal before the lifts closed. I kinda felt bad leaving so much powder untracked back there, but there's only so much one man can do.

Cloudbreak at Hintertux

February 21, 2024  |  Hintertux, Austria
Sunlight shines through the clouds above the cliff wall spire of Lärmstange during a February snowstorm at the Hintertux ski...

Sunlight shines through the clouds above the cliff wall spire of Lärmstange during a February snowstorm at the Hintertux ski area.

Rastkogel in the clouds, as seen from Hintertux.
Rastkogel in the clouds, as seen from Hintertux.
Snow clouds blow past Grosser Kaserer at the top of Hintertux.
Snow clouds blow past Grosser Kaserer at the top of Hintertux.
Sunlight illuminates a precipitous snowy cliff edge below Hintertux.
Sunlight illuminates a precipitous snowy cliff edge below Hintertux.
A brief spotlight of sun through the clouds illuminates Kleiner Ingent (2840m).
A brief spotlight of sun through the clouds illuminates Kleiner Ingent (2840m).
Grosser Möseler (3479m) emerges from the clouds after a snowstorm.
Grosser Möseler (3479m) emerges from the clouds after a snowstorm.
Grosser Möseler (3479m) amongst the clouds as a snowstorm breaks in February.
Grosser Möseler (3479m) amongst the clouds as a snowstorm breaks in February.

Yesterday the weather forecast called for snow in the morning and clearing clouds in the afternoon. Trusting the forecast, I headed up to Hintertux around noon, found some nice windblown powdery lines to ride for a while, then waited in the clouds at the mid-station lodge while I ate pommes dipped in pea soup. 😋 When I finally saw some clearing outside I hopped into the top gondola and spent a chilly but exhilarating half hour up top photographing various mountains as they emerged briefly from the blowing clouds. At 4pm sharp I got kicked out but couldn't resist snapping a couple last photos as the guy stood next to me with a stern and impatient look on his face!


One persistent question with my photography on this trip is whether to publish color or black & white versions of my photos. Winter alpine photos tend to be particularly well suited for black & white treatment, since the snow-and-rock scenes are mostly monochrome to begin with and often the only colors are blue tones in the sky and snow. So it's tempting to just do all the photos in black & white, but yet oftentimes I find that I still like the color versions best.

On one hand, with black & white photos there's more leeway to push and play with the contrast to add drama to a scene while still retaining a natural look (well, as natural as black & white can be). For example, I can darken the sky and boost the contrast to a degree that would look silly in color, but still natural in monochrome. So, some scenes that look somewhat flat in color can look more dramatic and compelling in black & white.

On the other hand, fully de-saturated neutral monochrome images (which is how I like to process them) have a warmer tone than the cool blue colors of winter photos, so sometimes with black & white you lose the cold winter feeling which can be an important element for many winter scenes. Also sometimes color itself adds depth and dimensionality to an image that is lacking from a monochrome version regardless of the contrast. And finally, sometimes monochrome photos can just end up looking too contrived and "artsy for artsy-sake", which is definitely not what I'm going for.

In the end, it's a gut instinct and I always just opt for the version that has the better feeling to it. With the first four photos above, the blue colors give the photos a depth and sense of winter cold that was lacking in their black & white versions; while the last three images had too much flat atmospheric blue color throughout and look much more appealing (to me) in black & white.

Back in the Zillertal

February 19, 2024  |  Aschau im Zillertal, Austria
Wetterkreuz (2417m) emerges from the clouds on a stormy February morning. This photo shows a taste of the vast and easily-accessible...
Wetterkreuz (2417m) emerges from the clouds on a stormy February morning. This photo shows a taste of the vast and easily-accessible off-piste terrain of the Hochzillertal/Hochfügen ski areas; and it also shows the dense February ski crowds on the main pistes down below!
A single lonely piste running down through grassy hillsides provides a ski route home to the village of Aschau from the Hochzillertal...
A single lonely piste running down through grassy hillsides provides a ski route home to the village of Aschau from the Hochzillertal ski area.

After our last two weeks spent in East Tyrol, we returned to the Zillertal valley yesterday and are staying in a small village called Aschau at the foot of the Hochzillertal-Kaltenbach ski area. There hasn't been much snow in Austria in general in the last three weeks or so and the valley here looks more like it's spring than winter, with green grass and birds chirping. But the town sits at a mere 600m (1,969 ft) elevation, and it's a different story when you take the gondola up a thousand meters (~3,300 ft) higher to where most of the lifts begin and it still very much looks like winter!

There's no ski lift in Aschau (I have to take a 5-minute bus ride to the next town over to catch the gondola) but there is a single piste that runs all the way down to the village here. In fact from the top of the Wimbachexpress gondola (visible near the top of the mountain in the first photo above) it's possible to ski continuously for 1700 vertical meters (over 5,500 vertical feet) down to Aschau!

We skied here previously about a month ago, and as I wrote then I was pretty impressed with this ski area and its off-piste potential. Fortunately the snow forecast is finally looking favorable again, so hopefully I will get to ride some powder here in the not too distant future!

Lienz

February 17, 2024  |  Lienz, Austria
Colorful buildings in the center of Lienz, Austria.

Colorful buildings in the center of Lienz, Austria.

On Saturday we had a casual day with Claudia's family of strolling around and browsing the stores along the colorful pedestrian shopping street in the center of Lienz, the principle city of East Tyrol in Austria. It's a charming city with its multi-colored buildings and the rugged Lienzer Dolomites towering above. But the highlight for me was the Nuss-Torte at the City Café-Konditorei Glanzl, perhaps the most delicious piece of cake I've ever had!

Sillian Tour

February 15, 2024  |  Sillian, Austria
Larch trees in a bumpy, snowy meadow.
Larch trees in a bumpy, snowy meadow.
Skinning into the Sun.
Skinning into the Sun.
This photo shows the bulk of our ski tour from Sillian today. The top lift station of the Sillian ski area is on the highest...
This photo shows the bulk of our ski tour from Sillian today. The top lift station of the Sillian ski area is on the highest peak in the center (the ski resort on the other side). From there we rode down the slopes to looker's left, skinned up here, rode back down to the left again, then skinned back over the right-side ridge to the top to the ski area again where we went straight to the lodge for a hot plate of fries, Speckknödelsuppe, and cake! 😋
Skinning with a spectacular backdrop of the Sexten Dolomites.
Skinning with a spectacular backdrop of the Sexten Dolomites.

With beautiful calm weather today, Claudia and I returned to the Sillian ski area, rode up the top lift, then left the resort for a tour of the "backyard", which is mostly high rolling terrain reminiscent of McMillan back home, except for the Dolomites in the background!

Sillian Round 2

February 13, 2024  |  Sillian, Austria
Looking over at the Vierschach ski area in Italy and the Sexten Dolomites behind, from the top of Sillian ski area in East Tyrol...

Looking over at the Vierschach ski area in Italy and the Sexten Dolomites behind, from the top of Sillian ski area in East Tyrol in Austria.

We went skiing with the Schulzis again today at Sillian ski area. Unlike our first time here during a snowstorm a few days ago, we could actually see where we were today and I was able to find some leftover powder stashes to lap for much of the day. I have some newfound respect for this little ski area, which I could see would have a pretty great tree skiing on a deeper snow year.

3 Zinnen

February 12, 2024  |  Vierschach, Italy
A view of the Sexten group of the Dolomites in Italy. Elferkofel is the highest peak on the left; Zwölferkofel is on the right...
A view of the Sexten group of the Dolomites in Italy. Elferkofel is the highest peak on the left; Zwölferkofel is on the right.
Elferkofel (3090 m) looking mighty rugged in the Sexten group of the Dolomites of Italy.
Elferkofel (3090 m) looking mighty rugged in the Sexten group of the Dolomites of Italy.
Pfannhorn looking mighty skiable!
Pfannhorn looking mighty skiable!
A paraglider in the clouds.
A paraglider in the clouds.
Schulzis go skiing.
Schulzis go skiing.

Today we dipped into Italy for a fun day of skiing with Claudia's family Gundolf, Ferdi, and Emmi at Vierschach and the "3 Zinnen" ski area, which looks directly over towards the ultra rugged peaks of the Sexten Dolomites and Tre Cime National Park. Spectacular! We were looking right at the same peaks where we did an awesome via ferrata hike with Gundolf and Ferdi 10 years ago (the first five photos at that link).

Low Vis

February 11, 2024  |  Sillian, Austria
Frosted larch trees at Sillian, Austria.
Frosted larch trees at Sillian, Austria.
Pine trees in a foggy snowstorm.
Pine trees in a foggy snowstorm.

We are currently staying in a small village called Kartitsch, in southern Tyrol close to the border of Italy. Claudia's dad and family are here on their annual winter vacation, so we found an apartment to stay just down the road and will spending the week visiting and skiing with them!

It's actually snowing again, so today before they arrived we went to a little ski area near here called Sillian. It was nice to feel some soft snow under my board again, though we could hardly see anything above treeline in the whiteout snowstorm! It was a wet and wild one today and we only lasted a few hours before throwing in the towel. These photos here were taken from the gondola window on the way back down to town.

Sankt Jakob Sunset

February 7, 2024  |  Sankt Jakob im Defereggental, Austria
A colorful winter sunset over Sankt Jakob im Defereggental, Austria - February.

A colorful winter sunset over Sankt Jakob im Defereggental, Austria - February.

Two Hikes Today

February 6, 2024  |  Defereggental, Austria
Up on the little peak above Brunnalm / St. Jakob ski area. You can see one of the chairlifts down below in the right corner.
Up on the little peak above Brunnalm / St. Jakob ski area. You can see one of the chairlifts down below in the right corner.
Sunset over St. Jakob im Defereggental. The south-facing slopes of the valley are dry this February.
Sunset over St. Jakob im Defereggental. The south-facing slopes of the valley are dry this February.

Today I went on two hikes - and by "hikes" I mean walking, not ski touring. First I headed up late to the ski hill and the snow conditions weren't too inspiring, so after a couple runs I decided instead to leave my snowboard at the highest lift and scramble up a mixed snow and rock ridge to the top of the little peak above the ski area. I sat up there for a while snapping photos and soaking in the view before heading back down and trying my best to zen out on my snowboard on one continuous long run back to the base, focusing on each turn and the simple pleasure of sliding over snow. But one run was enough of that.

Back at the apartment in St. Jakob in the afternoon, Claudia and I went on a long sunset walk up a road along the bare south-facing slopes overlooking town. I had feared the day that we'd be dry-land hiking this winter, but that day has come. Still nice to be outside in the mountains in any case.

Close to Grossglockner Again

February 5, 2024  |  Grossglockner Ski Resort, Austria
Grossglockner (3,798 m / 12,460 ft), the tallest mountain in Austria, as seen from the Grossglockner ski resort - February.
Grossglockner (3,798 m / 12,460 ft), the tallest mountain in Austria, as seen from the Grossglockner ski resort - February.
Claudia skis with a backdrop of Grossglockner. In September 2022 we hiked up that narrow shadowed valley in the middle of the...

Claudia skis with a backdrop of Grossglockner. In September 2022 we hiked up that narrow shadowed valley in the middle of the photo during an 8-day trek through Hohe Tauern National Park.

The Adler Lodge at the top of the Grossglockner ski resort has massive floor to ceiling windows with a spectacular panoramic...
The Adler Lodge at the top of the Grossglockner ski resort has massive floor to ceiling windows with a spectacular panoramic view of the mountains of East Tyrol.

This morning we took an easy bus connection from St. Jakob im Defereggental to Matrei in Osttirol to try out a different ski area in this region - the Grossglockner Ski Resort. (For our winter in Austria we each bought a Snow Tirol Card, which is basically a season pass to over 90 ski areas in Tyrol! So we can go to pretty much any ski area we want in Tyrol, which is quite nice!)

Since most of the storms so far this winter have hit the Alps from the west or north, East Tyrol has been a bit too far from the action, and it's painfully apparent around here. The town of Matrei sits in a valley that is bone dry right now, and the long gondola ride only reached snowline when it was about half way up the mountain. With a warm Tauern wind, it felt like spring skiing in February with slushy snow and all.

In any case, it was fun to check out another new (to us) ski area, especially because it is situated right across the valley from Grossglockner, the tallest mountain in Austria and the mountain we hiked past during our 8-day hut trek through the Hohe Tauern in September, 2022 with Claudia's dad. From the ski pistes we could see directly towards the same valleys and passes that we hiked through two Septembers ago! I didn't expect to be here again so soon, albeit in different circumstances!

Evening in St. Jakob

February 4, 2024  |  Defereggental, Austria
Looking up the Defereggental from the center of Sankt Jakob.

Looking up the Defereggental from the center of Sankt Jakob.

St. Jakob has more of the traditional Tyrolean architecture that you might expect in a small village in the Alps of Austria, and therefore it's a bit more photogenic. (At least in the eyes of a tourist like me).

In the photo above you can see our corner apartment on the third floor of the building on the right. So I didn't have to venture too far for this photo, though it was a bit of mission compared to yesterday's town photo which I shot from the balcony! 😮‍💨

St Jakob im Defereggental

February 3, 2024  |  Defereggental, Austria
A distant view of Grossglockner, the highest mountain in Austria at 3,798 m / 12,460 ft tall, as seen from the west from the...

A distant view of Grossglockner, the highest mountain in Austria at 3,798 m / 12,460 ft tall, as seen from the west from the top of the ski area at St Jakob in Defereggental - February. The Stüdlhütte (where we stayed on a hut trek through the Hohe Tauern in September 2022) is just visible as a tiny rectangle in a distant saddle on the right side of the photo.

This trippy sun aura lasted for hours as thin clouds passed over the mountains above St. Jakob in Defereggental.
This trippy sun aura lasted for hours as thin clouds passed over the mountains above St. Jakob in Defereggental.
Evening in the center of the small village of Sankt Jakob im Defereggental in east Tyrol, Austria.
Evening in the center of the small village of Sankt Jakob im Defereggental in east Tyrol, Austria.

Yesterday two trains and three buses carried us and all our luggage from Mayrhofen in the Zillertal to Sankt Jakob im Defereggental in East Tyrol. St Jakob seems to be just about as remote of a place as it gets in Austria and the vibe is refreshingly mellow here in this little village. No more omnipresent apre-ski techno pop here, just the gongs of the church bells instead.

This area is not too far from where we trekked with Claudia's father two Septembers ago when we did an 8-day hut-to-hut trek through the Hohe Tauern National Park. In fact, today we caught a view of Grossglockner itself (the tallest peak in Austria), albeit from farther way than last time!

We had a fun day today skiing/riding at the local ski area here. It's not a big area but it's got really nice wide groomers - perhaps the best groomers we've skied in Austria so far. And no lines or crowds at all - no pinball skiing here! Though it hasn't snowed here in quite a while, the pistes were in surprisingly good shape and not too terribly icy.

One reason I wanted to come here when we were planning our trip months ago was because this ski area can be a hidden gem when there's good snow, with lots of fun off-piste potential and not too many people tracking it up. Supposedly it doesn't snow quite as often in this more southern part of Tyrol, but when it does it can seriously dump. Unfortunately the snow gods are not indulging me with any powder this week, and even the backcountry snow conditions seem pretty rough right now. So it goes on a ski trip... it's always a gamble.

Bis später, Mayrhofen

January 31, 2024  |  Mayrhofen, Austria
A cozy Tyrolean cabin high above Mayrhofen.

A cozy Tyrolean cabin high above Mayrhofen.

The first phase of our Austrian winter trip is wrapping up, with just one more day left at our apartment we've been staying at for the last three weeks in Mayrhofen (and no, it's not the one pictured above!). We've enjoyed our time in Mayrhofen, but we're also excited to move on and experience some other "bases" in Tyrol. For the next two weeks we'll be staying in some much quieter places in east Tyrol (St. Jakob in Defereggental and Kartitsch), then will return here to the Zillertal for five more weeks after that.

When we were initially planning this long winter trip to Austria we tried to find a place to rent for the whole three months, but that didn't work out. So then we booked shorter stays in various different villages up and down the Zillertal valley (Mayrhofen, Aschau, Fügen, and Finkenberg). Now that we're here I'm really glad it turned out that way.

Since we are traveling after all, it's fun to switch it up and not just stay in one spot for the entire time. Also, now that we're getting to know this valley and its various ski areas we have a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of the different base towns here. Although Mayrhofen is the beating heart of the Zillertal, I think that the other villages we'll be staying at will each have some strategic advantages for getting onto the slopes. We shall see!

Glacial Ice Palace

January 29, 2024  |  Hintertux, Austria
The entrance to the "Nature Ice Palace" is just a small hole dug into the snowpack near the top of the Hintertux ski area.
The entrance to the "Nature Ice Palace" is just a small hole dug into the snowpack near the top of the Hintertux ski area.
Once inside, a network of natural caverns and tunnels (some excavated further to allow easier walking) provides about an hour...
Once inside, a network of natural caverns and tunnels (some excavated further to allow easier walking) provides about an hour-long tour deep into the glacier, even including a short raft ride through a water filled canal - all deep in the glacial ice underneath the ski pistes above.
An ice tunnel in the Hintertux Glacier.
An ice tunnel in the Hintertux Glacier.
A glacial canal deep in the Hintertux Glacier.
A glacial canal deep in the Hintertux Glacier.
This is the "port" where the raft embarks on its short tour of the glacial canal.
This is the "port" where the raft embarks on its short tour of the glacial canal.
An icicle-laden wall in the "Ice Palace" underneath the Hintertux Glacier.
An icicle-laden wall in the "Ice Palace" underneath the Hintertux Glacier.

Today we went back up to Hintertux and we skied on the glacier, then took a boat ride IN the glacier! In 2007 an opening was discovered near the top of the glacier to a series of natural ice caverns and tunnels. Then in 2011 a glacial lake was discovered, and now the tour includes a short raft ride through a natural water-filled tunnel deep in the glacier under the ski pistes! So surreal...

Search for Soft

January 28, 2024
Skinning below Rastkogel.
Skinning below Rastkogel.
A view of the Hintertux ski area from the summit of Grüblspitze above Eggalm.
A view of the Hintertux ski area from the summit of Grüblspitze above Eggalm.
Interesting and remote terrain in Junsbachtal.
Interesting and remote terrain in Junsbachtal.

The Mayrhofen ski area pistes are bulletproof right now, so we ventured out again to our go-to skinning zone out of the far backside of the area to find some softer snow. After a fun cruiser line on smooth, sun-softened windblown powder, I parted ways with Claudia and rode down to Eggalm, where I caught the lift then bootpacked up Grüblspitze for a roughly 1000m (3300 ft) descent down the gentle southeast ridge to the village of Juns. (The top half above treeline was great, but the rest was mostly speed-checking my way down an icy snow covered switchbacking road through the forest).

Although today can't quite compare to yesterday's powder bonanza, it always feels great to go hike up some mountains, strengthen the legs, explore around, and ride wild snow.

Wind Loaded

January 27, 2024  |  Hintertux, Austria
Olperer (3476 m / 11,404 ft) overlooks the Hintertux Glacier on a windy day in late January. According to Wikipedia, the glacier...

Olperer (3476 m / 11,404 ft) overlooks the Hintertux Glacier on a windy day in late January. According to Wikipedia, the glacier is up to 120 meters (390 ft) thick at its deepest, though this will undoubtedly shrink in the coming years as the glaciers in the Alps melt away.

During the winter, snowcats plow these series of large berms over wide expanses of the glacier between the ski pistes; I surmise that the purpose is to act as wind fences to catch as much snow as possible to boost the snowpack and prolong the life of the glacier. Indeed, in just a week or so I've seen these berms fill up with windblown snow (for instance, see the mostly buried berms on the far right side of the photo). Further evidence of care for this glacier is visible in Google Earth, where you can see that in the summertime large sections of the glacier are wrapped in white coverings to shield them from the sun.

Rietzer Grießkogel (2884 m) in the top center, as seen from the Hintertux Glacier about 50 km (31 miles) to the southeast.

Rietzer Grießkogel (2884 m) in the top center, as seen from the Hintertux Glacier about 50 km (31 miles) to the southeast.

It's been stormy and windy up at Hintertux lately and this morning was the first clear sky since the last snowstorm began several days ago. The wind had worked its magic once again overnight, buffing the powder into a smooth buttery surface. Fast and firm powder is my favorite type of snow, when I can really throw my weight into each carve and feel the force of gravity. (Plus I've been working on my gravitational power the last few weeks by drinking lots of hefeweisen!) This morning might have been my best yet here... I have snowboarding dreams like this! 😌

Cloud Sandwich

January 26, 2024  |  Mayrhofen, Austria
Clouds swirl around the peaks above Ginzling.
Clouds swirl around the peaks above Ginzling.
Claudia skis as misty clouds hover around Grinbergspitze.
Claudia skis as misty clouds hover around Grinbergspitze.
Light and shadows below Hippoldspitze. The barns of Geislalm are on the hillside at bottom right.
Light and shadows below Hippoldspitze. The barns of Geislalm are on the hillside at bottom right.

It was raining lightly in Mayrhofen again this morning, but it was inversion rain; up higher the mountains were in a cloud sandwich with misty clouds swirling around the peaks. I was glad we woke up early and got up high to see that. By late morning the clouds had lifted and the sun was poking out.

Unfortunately the warmish temps haven't done any favors to the snow; yesterday's tracks in the powder have turned to cement, but I still managed to find some pockets of decent wind-buffed powder up high and some heavy but fun slushy lines way down low.

Rain Low, Snow High

January 25, 2024  |  Mayrhofen, Austria
Snowstorm clouds swirl off Grinbergspitze, as seen from the Mayrhofen ski area.
Snowstorm clouds swirl off Grinbergspitze, as seen from the Mayrhofen ski area.
A snowbow over Penkenjoch, as seen from Eggalm.
A snowbow over Penkenjoch, as seen from Eggalm.

This morning in Mayrhofen I walked to the Penkenbahn gondola in the rain, with some vague notion of just checking out if there was much snow up higher. By the time the gondola finished its nearly 1,200 m / 4,000 ft. ascent, it was snowing quite heavily up there... and I was delighted to find a lot more fresh powder than I expected in the trees! About 8-10" of thick but smooth snow with the still-soft base underneath made for yet another sneaky surprise powder day!

I met up with visiting Colorado skiers Ben and Jay and we did our best job of tracking out a whole gladed tree zone mostly by ourselves, while dodging the occasional barbed wire fences (a novel hazard you definitely would never encounter on ski slopes in the more litigious United States). The cherry on top to end the day was a long pristine line between hay barns at Eggalm - skiing with the scent of cows in the air.

What a day... my legs are toast!

Warm and Windy

January 24, 2024  |  Mayrhofen, Austria
A cloud over Reichenspitze (3303 m).

A cloud over Reichenspitze (3303 m).

Sun and funky wind clouds over Tristner (2767 m).
Sun and funky wind clouds over Tristner (2767 m).

Today was warm and windy up on the Mayrhofen ski area. With temps rising to 10ºC (50ºF), the snow on the groomers softened nicely offering carvable spring-like conditions, a welcome change from the icy pistes lately. (Though once they freeze again they'll probably be bulletproof!)

Mayrhofen has some great webcams, and when I'm at home in the evening or in the morning I often watch to see what the clouds and light are doing up in the mountains. Yesterday's sunset and this morning's sunrise both looked awesome, and it's a bit painful for me to not be up high to photograph them! But I just haven't figured out a way get up there during that light, since the cable cars open a little too late in the morning for sunrise and close a little too early in the evening for sunset. As far as I can tell it doesn't seem feasible to hang out for sunset and ride down in the dark - it's just not that straightforward here. Maybe I'll figure something out eventually, but for now it's mostly daytime photos for me.

Nevertheless, I always ride with my camera and telephoto lens, and it's still fun to zoom in on distant peaks when the light, shadows, and/or clouds are interesting. And there's no shortage of rugged photogenic peaks in Tyrol!

Ahorn

January 22, 2024  |  Mayrhofen, Austria
Tristner (2767 m) towers above the Filzenstadl bar at the top of the Ahorn ski area above Mayrhofen.

Tristner (2767 m) towers above the Filzenstadl bar at the top of the Ahorn ski area above Mayrhofen.

This morning we skied at Ahorn, a tiny ski area accessed the gigantic Ahornbahn tram right out of Mayrhofen. The tram is supposedly the largest cable car in Austria; it's roughly the size of two busses stuck together side by side and holds up to 160 people! The ski area is situated on an arm of the Ahornspitze and has several nice wide groomers up top, as well as a single (treacherously icy) piste that runs almost 1,400 vertical meters (~4,500 vertical feet) all the way back down to Mayrhofen.

Hochzillertal & Hochfügen

January 21, 2024  |  Hochzillertal, Austria
Easy pickings below the Wimbachexpress gondola.
Easy pickings below the Wimbachexpress gondola.
Sepp and Zenzi wish you a good ski day in the fresh air!
Sepp and Zenzi wish you a good ski day in the fresh air!
The Zillertal Shuttle gondola.
The Zillertal Shuttle gondola.
Looking off the backside of the Hochfügen ski area.
Looking off the backside of the Hochfügen ski area.
Rauchkofel (3,251 m) far off to the east.
Rauchkofel (3,251 m) far off to the east.

This morning we woke up early and took the train down valley to check out Hochzillertal/Hochfügen, the last of the four big ski areas here in the Zillertal that we haven't skied yet. The ski guidebook I've got calls this the "freeride hotspot of the Zillertal" and now I see why! The off-piste potential here is impressive, with heaps of low hanging fruit to be plundered on a powder day (though judging by the sheer amount of tracks I can tell it's a race when it happens!). The mountains here are very skiable, with long fall line routes, nice wide groomers, and a logical arrangement of lifts. I'm happy that we'll be staying here for three weeks in February and early March.

The recent powder was mostly tracked up today, but it was still fun to cruise around on the groomers and explore such a vast ski area. This is one reason why we chose to spend the bulk of our winter in the Zillertal, because the four big ski areas here offer lots of groomed piste options for the inevitable days between fresh snows. The last time I spent a winter in the Alps was in 2011 in Engelberg, Switzerland. That place absolutely rocks for off-piste powder, but is fairly limited otherwise. The Zillertal probably doesn't get quite as much snow as there, but the variety of options and sheer amount of terrain is keeping it fun so far!

Sneaky Surprise Powder

January 20, 2024  |  Hintertux, Austria
Hornspitze caked in snow on a bluebird morning at Hintertux.

Hornspitze caked in snow on a bluebird morning at Hintertux.

Kleiner Kaserer (3093 m)
Kleiner Kaserer (3093 m)

Yesterday it snowed only about 10-15 cm so I didn't expect much today at Hintertux except for maybe some slightly softer groomers. But the wind had worked its magic and the glacier was buffed out with excellent smooth powder! What an incredible sneaky surprise powder day! I milked it all morning long, finding fresh lines lap after lap, with usually nobody else on the lift chairs. So stoked on this place!

Rugged Tyrol

January 18, 2024  |  Hintertux, Austria
Snow blows around the Hornspitze (2650 m).

Snow blows around the Hornspitze (2650 m).

A plethora of rugged peaks east of Hintertux.
A plethora of rugged peaks east of Hintertux.
The Gletscher Bus gondola at Hintertux, with the Hornspitze behind.
The Gletscher Bus gondola at Hintertux, with the Hornspitze behind.
Wilde Kreuzspitze (3135 m) in Italy, as seen from Hintertux, Austria.
Wilde Kreuzspitze (3135 m) in Italy, as seen from Hintertux, Austria.

Clouds and flat light made for difficult ski conditions up at Hintertux today, but I sure had fun shooting photos up there with my telephoto lens! It's been snowing a lot in the western Alps the last few days but the storm didn't quite made it over to central Tyrol, aside from a few centimeters of blowing snow.

Finding Solitude

January 16, 2024  |  Mayrhofen, Austria
Lots of skiable terrain in the valley below Hippoldspitze (2,642 m).

Lots of skiable terrain in the valley below Hippoldspitze (2,642 m).

Skinning with Eggalm and Hintertux ski area in the far background.
Skinning with Eggalm and Hintertux ski area in the far background.
Stoked after some nice turns in the middle of the basin behind.
Stoked after some nice turns in the middle of the basin behind.

The pistes are getting icier and the crowds are getting thicker, so Claudia and I ventured out on a ski tour from the far backside of the Mayrhofen ski area into the mellow basin below Rastkogel. There's still powder to be found (along with a touch of wind crust in spots). Heaps of potential for further touring around here! 🤤

Unterberg Ubervolken

January 15, 2024  |  Mayrhofen, Austria
Looking over a sea of clouds from above Unterbergalm.

Looking over a sea of clouds from above Unterbergalm.

The Unterberg webcam captured my carves and I this afternoon; my track is the solo line down the middle and I'm the little black...

The Unterberg webcam captured my carves and I this afternoon; my track is the solo line down the middle and I'm the little black dot at the bottom near the M in Mayrhofner.

Today much of the mountain was socked in in the clouds, but with a bit of skinning I managed to find a fun untouched line up in the sun above the clouds. Not too shabby for a week after the last snowfall!

Funny thing - I was checking the webcams this evening to see if the sunset was good (it was not), and I saw that the Unterberg webcam caught me and my carves in action earlier that afternoon! 👋

Wanglspitze

January 14, 2024  |  Mayrhofen, Austria
Some spicy terrain on the east face of the Wanglspitze below the 150er Tux tram in the Mayrhofen ski area. Believe it or not...

Some spicy terrain on the east face of the Wanglspitze below the 150er Tux tram in the Mayrhofen ski area. Believe it or not, almost the entire face and every couloir is tracked up in this picture, lol.

Stillupklamm

January 13, 2024  |  Mayrhofen, Austria
Stillupklamm in winter.

Stillupklamm in winter.

A closeup of some expanding ice crystals.
A closeup of some expanding ice crystals.
The Stilluppbach flows towards the Zemmbach.
The Stilluppbach flows towards the Zemmbach.

Our first four days in Austria were spent skiing, so on Saturday it was time to rest our legs and run some errands instead. We are now back amongst the civilized people, with Austrian cell phone numbers! While running around town doing errands we did a side walk over to the Sillupklamm - a deep gorge that flows into Mayrhofen from the south. Our attempts to walk into the gorge were thwarted by deep snow but I still had fun shooting some photos around the mouth of the klamm.

More Mountopolis

January 12, 2024  |  Mayrhofen, Austria
In the depth of winter, the sun doesn't rise for Mayrhofen until afternoon, and then only lasts for a few hours if at all, depending...

In the depth of winter, the sun doesn't rise for Mayrhofen until afternoon, and then only lasts for a few hours if at all, depending on the location in the valley. With frigid weather the last week, the snow in town is sticking around.

See the two little yellow gondolas near the lower middle of the photo? The apartment we're renting in January is in the building visible directly below the right one.

Since our main purpose for being in Austria for the next three months is to ski and snowboard a lot, I'd better include a ski...
Since our main purpose for being in Austria for the next three months is to ski and snowboard a lot, I'd better include a ski photo! Here's Claudia carving a wide groomer in the Rastkogel area.
Ahornspitze (2973 m / 9754 ft) is one of the dominant peaks above Mayrhofen. If you look closely you can see two paragliders...

Ahornspitze (2973 m / 9754 ft) is one of the dominant peaks above Mayrhofen. If you look closely you can see two paragliders in the sky to the left of the peak.

On Friday we headed back up the Penkenbahn from Mayrhofen and explored some more distant parts of the "local" ski area - the vast south-facing open bowls of the Rastkogel area. Tons of terrain here and heaps of backcountry potential beyond. I can't wait for the next powder day to refill everything! We continued from there to Eggalm, another mountain across the valley, where I sniffed out a remnant fresh pow line followed by some bulletproof icy north-facing slopes back down to the bus stop to get back down to Mayrhofen.

Zillertal Arena

January 11, 2024  |  Zillertal, Austria
Looking southwest from Übergangsjoch, at 2500m elevation it's the highest point of the Zillertal Arena ski area. In the bottom...

Looking southwest from Übergangsjoch, at 2500m elevation it's the highest point of the Zillertal Arena ski area. In the bottom of the valley near the center of the photo lies the town of Mayrhofen, over 1800m (6000 vertical feet) below. The furthest peak in the center is where the Hintertux glacier ski area is.

A delicious plate of Käsespätzle with a generous topping of fried onion bits.

A delicious plate of Käsespätzle with a generous topping of fried onion bits.

The complex bus system in the Zillertal valley has proven to have quite a learning curve so far, even for my German wife! But despite some setbacks again this morning, we finally made it to the Zillertal Arena - another gigantic ski area down the valley. The ski area is stretched out in a long line, up and over numerous peaks and valleys, and it took us 2.5 hours just to ski a direct route from one end to the other.

Our experience here was almost the opposite of our time yesterday (at least as far as a decent day of skiing goes). Even on a weekday this place was a madhouse, and since everybody is packed on the same one or two runs that connect each lift it felt more like pinball than skiing. That said, the far side above the village of Königsleiten is a great part of the mountain that looks like it would be a blast on a powder day. The highlight of the day was our lunch break with my first Käsespätzle and Claudia's first Kaiserschmarrn of our trip! Yum.

Glacier Powder

January 10, 2024  |  Hintertux, Austria
"As unique as you" 🦄 🙄 #MarketingBrainstorm

"As unique as you" 🦄 🙄 #MarketingBrainstorm

Wurmaulspitze (3022 m) as seen from the Gefrorene Wand (3250 m) at the top of the Hintertux ski area.

Wurmaulspitze (3022 m) as seen from the Gefrorene Wand (3250 m) at the top of the Hintertux ski area.

This morning after some trial and error of two wrong bus stops we finally caught the last ski bus from Mayhofen up the valley to the Hintertux ski area. This is the highest ski area in the Zillertal - and in most of Austria for that matter! Much of the upper ski area is actually on top of a glacier. As we rode up the three gondolas to the 3250m (10,663 ft) summit of the ski area, the views got more and more astounding - overlooking an ocean of rugged peaks as far as the eye can see in every direction. We were enamored with the ski area too, with its wide groomers and plethora of off-piste powder (even three days after the last storm). I'm sure we will be back here - a lot!

First Day in Mayrhofen!

January 9, 2024  |  Mayrhofen, Austria
The view from out front of our apartment in Mayrhofen, with the Penkenbahn overhead.
The view from out front of our apartment in Mayrhofen, with the Penkenbahn overhead.
Looking out of the Penkenbahn gondola down at the frosty town of Mayrhofen - January.
Looking out of the Penkenbahn gondola down at the frosty town of Mayrhofen - January.
The Penkenbahn gondola rises 1,160 meters (~3,800 feet) above town of Mayrhofen to the Penken section of the greater "Mountopolis...

The Penkenbahn gondola rises 1,160 meters (~3,800 feet) above town of Mayrhofen to the Penken section of the greater "Mountopolis" ski area.

Stoked to finally be in Austria, heading up for our first day of skiing here this season!!!
Stoked to finally be in Austria, heading up for our first day of skiing here this season!!!

After a long day of flights and train rides, we arrived in the town of Mayrhofen, Austria last night and got settled in to the apartment that we're renting for the next three weeks. We slept in until 10:30 in the morning and awoke excited to buy our ski pass and get up onto the slopes! The Penkenbahn gondola is just a 5 minute walk from our apartment and accesses the Penken section of the greater "Mountopolis" ski area of more than two dozen lifts. We had fun cruising around for the afternoon, gawking at the views and exploring around a little bit.

The Alps have been blessed with almost nonstop back-to-back storms and ample snowfall in November and December, with weather forecasters calling it one of the best winters in recent memory. Mayrhofen sits deep in the Zillertal valley and the steep mountainsides surrounding town are caked white from another dump of snow that fell the day before we arrived. The forecast is clear and cold for the next week which will give us some time to explore the four giant Zillertal ski areas around here before hopefully more snow comes along! 🤞

Colorado to Austria

January 8, 2024
Flying past the fjords of southern Norway on a flight from Denver to Munich.

Flying past the fjords of southern Norway on a flight from Denver to Munich.

On Sunday and Monday, Claudia and I traveled from Ridgway, Colorado to Mayrhofen, Austria! First a quick flight from Montrose to Denver, then a 10-hour overnight flight from Denver to Munich, and finally three train rides from Munich brought us to the town of Mayrhofen deep in the Zillertal valley in the Tyrol region of the Alps in Austria.

Our plan is to spend the next three months in Tyrol, skiing and snowboarding as much as possible! ⛷️ ❄️ 🏂 Two months of that time will be based in the Zillertal, bouncing around to three different apartments in three different villages here, and we also plan to visit some other valleys and ski areas in Tyrol at various points during our stay. Since our travels are typically summer trips involving lots of trekking and backpacking, this extended winter vacation is something quite new and exciting for us!

During our stay in Austria I am going to try to post a photo a day (Or maybe every other day? Or every third day? We'll see how that goes). I will also write more about our experiences here, why we decided to come here, why so long, and much more. Stay tuned!