For the last 5 years or so, I have had the good opportunity to ski guide in Europe with John and Olivia Race for the spring season in Europe. They operate the Northwest Mountain School, and are very active in the spring ski guiding scene over there. In 2015, we had the opportunity to put together a group to do something a little less ordinary in Austria- The Silvretta Ski Tour.
This tour is a big horseshoe loop, and in this way, there is little to worry about in terms of logistics. It starts above the town of Ischgl, and finishes in Galtur. The route zig-zags along the border with Switzerland, and crosses in and out of both countries- although, you would never know it! The huts are cozy, with home-cooked meals, and friendly people. The valley is well connected by public transportation to either Innsbruck, Munich, or Zurich.
We decided to start our 2015 tour by snowcat, instead of spending most of the day riding lifts from the ski area and skiing down to the hut. This swift method of approach allowed us to get to the hut at about 10:30 am, and we ended up skiing some really nice north facing open terrain with great weather!
After a great first day skiing, we spent the night at the Heidelberger Hutte. Most of the people their were surprised that we would come all the way to their mountains to go skiing. “Don’t you have mountains at home?”, they would say. I would reply, “Yes, we do, but we don’t have huts like this in our mountains.” When I told them we had to carry our tents, sleeping bags, stoves and foods in the mountains, they would just shake their head in disbelief. After you travel on skis between the huts, you really do realize how fun it is to ski with a relatively light pack!
On day two, we went up and over a pass, and then skied down to the Jamtal Hutte. This hut served free soup and bread for lunch, and hosted an ice climbing tower for those who are inclined for such things. Part of the group decided to rest and relax at the hut for the afternoon, while part of the group headed out in search of good snow to ski. We ended up finding a really good North facing run for the afternoon that entertained us.
On this tour, we spend 2 nights at the Jamtal Hutte, so we have time to do some exploring. On day 3, we woke to murky skies, so we decided to focus on a more ski-mountaineering objective and climb the Gemspitze (3114m), with a ski down. We did climb it, and ski it, with some flat light, but the snow was pretty good. After this, part of the group peeled off and headed back down to hut. The folks who stayed on decided to climb the Hinter Jamspitze (3156m) and take a long run down the glacier back to the hut.
Day 4 started cloudy, but we were still able to get up and over another pass, and arrive at the Weisbadener Hutte. The skies cleared enough for a good run down to the hut, off of the shoulder of the Drielanderspitze.
Again, we planned for the 2 nights in this amazing place to explore. That afternoon, we headed up a side valley, hoping for cold snow, but got a mixed bag. When the clouds came back in, we used our GPS to get back to the hut!
In the morning, the storm was brewing! We skied up to a small emergency hut on the border with Switzerland. It was nuking up there! We struggled back to the hut in bad visibility, and took stock of the situation. This is most normally done by eating some treats, and enjoying the mountain ambience at the hut.
After indulging in some sweets, and caffeinated drinks, we struck out in search of good snow, in one of the many valleys that were more wind protected. We made one attempt, got thwarted by visibility, bailed, and headed to another one that was lower. Despite the group getting a little frustrated with the weather, this time we hit pay dirt! We did 3 laps on a low angle glacier, where the snow was completely blower! So much for big mountaineering objectives, we just had to take what mother nature gave us, and it was good. In the evening, the skies began to clear for our final day. My co-guide John Race and I were prepared for a stormy exit via IFR, and we were very excited to see the clouds parting in the late afternoon.
On the final exit day, we awoke to find bluebird skies, light winds, and about a foot on new cold smoke that was stable! What happened next was one of the best ski days I have had anywhere! We worked 3 successive valleys on the way over to our exit valley to the town of Galtur. This was some of the most amazing powder skiing we had done. High in the mountains of the Austria, it was out of sight! Fresh lines available everywhere, smiles on everyone’s faces, and the views that couldn’t be beat. The team was ecstatic!
The final run of the day was mind blowing…some of the best turns for me for the whole season!
The Silvretta really produced! This tour is a great option for folks of all abilities. The transit times between huts are relatively short, allowing folks who want to take it easy a relaxing time. For skiers who want to get after it, it provides plenty of time for climbing peaks and afternoon sessions to make sure you get enough! We will be offering Silvretta Ski Tour every season now through the Northwest Mountain School. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you have any questions!