This is a trip we have talked about running for years and when a group of friends from Bellingham contacted us about the trip, we got to work making arrangements. The trip takes place in the Tyrol region of Austria, just north of the Swiss and Italian borders. In fact, its easy to look into the Ortler range of Italy, or the Bernina group of Switzerland from numerous high points in the Silvretta region. We began the trip in the charming alpine village of Galtur. This town is the site of an historic tragedy, when in February of 1999, a natural avalanche swept down into the town destroying numerous buildings and claiming the lives of 31 people. The town has since rebuilt, utilizing numerous snow fences to anchor snow in the start zones, massive stone walls to protect structures and prohibiting buildings in the most vulnerable sites.
We began the trip by catching the bus to the enormous ski area of Ischgl. With the of the enormous lift system, we would have been able to ski downhill all the way to the first hut, though the corn was too perfect for that, so we took a couple of runs on our way to the hut.
The day was quite warm so we enjoyed some cold refreshing beverages upon arrival at the Heidelberger Hutte. The typical apres ski begins with a Radler, which literally means "cyclist" in German. This thirst quenching beverage has a long history in many German speaking countries is made by combining beer with lemon soda. Its essentially a sports recovery drink, or so we told ourselves....
The next day began with an ascent of a peak just above the hut. We summitted the Lareinfernerspitze with enough time to let the snow soften while we ate lunch with 360* views of the surrounding peaks.
After enjoying a long corn run back into the valley, we suffered through a stiflingly hot climb up to the Kronenjoch. After arriving at the col (joch in German), we enjoyed a long descent in fun soft snow down to the Jamtal Hutte.
The next morning we woke early for an ascent of the Nordliche Augstenspitze. Thankfully pronouncing these peaks is far more difficult than climbing them.
The climb began with easy slopes above the hut, into a long traverse to the Chalaus Ferner (ferner means glacier). We climbed to the top of the glacier up horribly wind effected snow. The elephant in the room was how we were going to ski back down this slope later in the day.
After crossing a high col, we dropped onto the slope leading to the North summit of the Augstenspitze. The last bit to the summit proved tricky enough that we climbed it on foot.
After some exposed skiing off of the top, we enjoyed the best corn yet of the trip, before climbing back up to the col.
Back on the North side of the col, we actually sniffed out some amazingly non wind effected powder. We took that down, through a few hundred feet of challenging windboard, and then back into fun, warm snow. We skied this all the way back to the hut, for another afternoon of Apres ski....
The next morning it was time to move to our next hut. We climbed up to a high col called the Jamjoch. We were hoping to find a sneak over to drop into the valley leading to our next hut, but the connector looked a bit too heavy on the mountaineering side of ski mountaineering, so we opted for some turns and to follow the normal route over.
After enjoying some fine steep powder turns back down the glacier we headed over to the Obere Ochsenscharte and began the descent to the Weissbadener Hutte.
Upon arrival at the Weissbadener hutte, we were warmly greeted by the hutkeeper and a big sign advertising apfel strudel. Not wanting to pass up a local delicacy we indulged in a few.
After a week of beautiful clear skies and solid high pressure, the weather finally began to change. The next day was overcast and cold, and since it had been over 10 days since the last snow and it wasnt going to warm up, our options for good skiing were pretty limited. With that we decided to focus on the mountaineering part of ski mountaineering and headed up to the Silvrettahorn.
Without any real info about the route, we thought we would just head up there and check it out. It turned out to be quite an enjoyable climb - not too difficult, yet just challenging enough to be rewarding.
The ski back down was less than inspiring, though it was quick and uneventful. As expected, the snow never softened, and it was a bit of a tooth rattling descent. We had a good laugh at the pimento loaf sandwiches that we had ordered from the hut for the day.
On the final day we chose to head out first thing as the forecast was for rain by mid day. We had an exciting descent down the "groomed " snowcat road all the way to the frozen lake below.
We all extended our poles for the aerobic skate across the lake that seemed to go on far longer than any of us would have liked. From there, we got to schuss down true corduroy through a small ski area and all the way down to the village of Wirl. From there a bus brought us right back to Galtur and its wonderful bakery.
We celebrated the successful completion of the trip with an apres ski in the ski town of Ischgl. This town is legendary for its apres ski scene and while we didnt get as wild as many of the locals, our experience was certainly memorable....