Just finished packing up my crap and organized for my trip back to Zurich this afternoon, and the sun is trying hard to peek through the clouds for the last day of most of the Zillertal ski areas. The Penken, Ahorn, Flugen, Hochflugen, Hochzillertal, and Zillertal Arena are all closing today. The glacier at Hintertux is open year round, and as trails melt out they will be closed but with gondolas all the way to the top it is easy to ride back down. Strange, no party atmosphere here in the valley about the closing, just a sense that everyone is moving on to other jobs and spring cleaning right away. I would think there would be bands and free booze for the locals. Go figure.
I woke up this am with high hopes for the weather and it looked like it might be reasonable like yesterday but, NOOOOOO, it has to sock in once I get to the top of the glacier. Literally I walk off the gondola and the weather door slams shut and it is a ski-by-braille experience. The fog did clear for about 20 minutes, just enough time for me to ride a drag lift and ski back down in more fog. I stopped for a coffee and during my down time the fog dropped all the way to just above the village of Hintertux. Plus, the ski area had shut down the ski route I had done a few days ago in great corn snow so no option but to ride the gondola back down in the rain. Once back in Hintertux the heavens opened and my day was done. It rained hard for most of the day until just now at 5:00 pm it has cleared out and is wonderful. Crossed fingers for tomorrow. At least I got my souvenier shopping done.
Only two days of skiing left then I have to pack up and make my way back to Zurich for my Monday flight. Personally, I am ready to leave (if only to get a big city and clean smelling air; Holy Smelly Fields Batman, the local farmer love to fertilize with their cow poop). I can spend about two and half weeks away from home and then I get a bit homesick. Maybe I just miss my cats and my mom. Whatever the case, the weather certainly has gone from wonderful to crappy and back again in just one day. Earlier this week the weather cleared out on Monday and Tuesday enougth for me to go back to the Zillertal Arena and ski all over the place there. It was a fun area, and worth it especially since I could see.
The upper base area.
Weather stayed good and the upper slopes were chalky and dry despite the direct sun.
I went to Hochzilleral and Hochfugen on Tuesday as my prior trip was so foggy and had great weather again.
Intermittent clouds but great visibility all in all.
Able to see the Hochfugen area finally.
The upper part of Hochfugen, a series of fun red and the odd black run. Great corn snow.
On Wednesday I returned to the Hintertux glacier where winter had set back in. The skiing was good but the light really flat (but not foggy) and I saw two people catapult off of the edge of cattracks because they couldn't see the edge. Luckily both were unhurt.
Beer break watching the snow come in and just as I finished my beer a good sized sucker hole rolled in and the vis on the upper mountain was great for about an hour, then it closed down again.
And everybody else was having lunch. I think the most number of people I saw on any one lift or piste was perhaps 30. Amazing.
Last part of a ski route down to the bottom. Hardly anyone on it with the upper section still smooth at 2:30 in the afternoon and great corn down low.
The weather looked uncertain today plus I needed to get some postage stamps so I went back to the Penken area and skied around. Partly cloudy and warm with corn everywhere at 10:30 am.
I skied this run twice and on the second one decided it was cooked; I was leaving trenches eight inches deep in the snow. And this was by 11 am.
Can't go over to the Eggalm area in the distance: the ski route to the bottom was torn up by snowcats and all the chairs over there were closed. Getting to the end of the line for this season.
Spent the day walking around Mayrhofen watching people packing up cars and grabbing buses and taxis for the end of the Easter week vacation. Happily, I have another week and it certainly look like town is emptying out. I expect the slopes to be even more deserted that they have been this week. The weather was crappy again today with rain in the valley and the clouds and fog all the way to the top of the Hintertux Glacier at over 3000 meters. I pulled the plug and went for a walk instead. I just looked at the webcams and most of the resorts are still socked in with the exception of the very tippy-top part of the glacier. I'll take a look in the am and see what is going on.
Woke up this am seriously doubting whether I was going skiing but I looked at the webcams this morning and they showed partly couldy weather. Then I saw the live webcam feed on the registration desk tv and it showed bright blue skies at Ahorn. Shit, I thought, I had better go skiing. I got out the door, caught a taxi to the train station and took the train to Kaltenbach, and walked to the bottom gondola station for Hochzillertal. It was pretty foggy up at the top station but I thought I needed to only get high enought to break free of the clouds. True, but I didn't realize "high enough" was nearly 2500 meters and this left only 100 meters or so of the ski area free of the fog. Not really great skiing conditions. Which is a shame because yet again the snow up high was great but you couldn't see poop. I had lunch at the Wedel Hutte and spent more time at lunch than I did skiing. Such is life.
What greeted me at the top of the gondola. I am thinking, was this a mistake?
Just at the top of the fog.
Top part of the Hochzillertal. I skied down and through the murk and when I returned, the fog layer had moved all the way to the top.
Lunch spot. Rosti was so-so, only about a 3 out of 10.
At least it isn't raining now. A quick look at the webacms and if the same is happening, back to the glacier.
I know our weather in Jackson can change fast, but once it changes, it generally stays that way for a few days at least. Not so here. Wednesday was valley fog and overcast, yesterday was picture postcard perfect, and today sucked with a weather system pissing rain in the valley. Fickle weather indeed.
Yesterday I went to the Hintertux glacier since the weather was so nice. I knew the photos would be outstanding and the visibility would be just fine (as opposed to today; no amount of money or sex could have gotten me out on that glacier today). The glacier is huge: multiple chairs and drags lifts, some of the widest pistes I have seen (well over 500' wide), immaculate grooming (get this: they must actually blow snow whenever they have the temps just to freshen up the pistes because there was evidence they had made snow on Wednesday night and then spread some out. Farsighted indeed). It was pretty cold up there at 3000 meters so the snow was chalky and dry, just fantastic. It did get scraped off to the ice in high traffic places but given the large numbers of folks out skiing (I estimate 10000+), I rarely waited more than a few minutes in any line and rarely had to share a chair. With this area, I can see why it is open year round and is a favorite for national race teams. It easily surpasses the glacier area of Zermatt and probably has twice the glacier runs that Zermatt has (both in season and in the summer).
You drive up from Mayrhofen up the valley to Hintertux and hit the end of the road where the village of Hintertux sits with about 20 or so hotels, a half dozen bars, a shop, and few other odds and ends but there is no indication of any skiing aside from the bottom station of two gondolas and one ski piste (actually a ski route). You think, WTF? then go up the gondolas and this is the sight that greets you. A huge area.
And this is about a 20th of what is available to a skier. Massive amounts of skiing, and all about this crowded.
Plus, there are all the chairs, gondolas, drag lifts, and bars, cafes, and restaurants on the mountain itself. Some are pretty amazing like this top tower complex for a two cable gondola:
I was standing on top of the station on a viewing platform and every time one of these cabins entered and left the top station the entire viewing platform shuddered. Kinda scary. Plus, this is right smack dab on top of a several hundred foot cliff. How would you like to be the concrete pourer on this job?
A very nice day, and then there was today. It started to cloud up last night and it was overcast this morning and I deciced to ski the Zillertal Arena area, a pretty vast collection of some 60 lifts (that includes the baby pomas and drag lifts) and 225km of pistes. Well, in about 2.5 hours I was able to ski from one end to the other, and ski back in just under 2 hours, hop on the downloading gondola, and meet my taxi at 2:30. The weather was ok when I started with the bottom of the skiing zone being above the fog, but it was overcast with a light snow. By the time I returned four hours later I was skiing by braille down the run and wondering if I was lost. Pretty nasty conditions.
This valley fog is pretty persistent, and has been around several days.
Pretty flat terrain but also pretty flat light.
Skiing down one of three black pistes (and barely a black at that) heading towards the Konigsleiten area of the Arena (you can see the pistes on the upper right), one of five sectors of the Zillertal Arena.
Looking back at the Konigsleiten area from the top of Plattenkogel, some 16 miles of ski runs and chairlifts from where I started 2.5 hours earlier.
One of the clearer times; it only got worse.
And now it is pouring rain and the weather forecast is for rain showers through next Friday. My only consolation is I have had three fantastic days and any weather forecast more than three days out is worthless, even as poo paper. At least I can come back to my hotel room to this sight:
The left one is a swan (white, large wings) and the one on the right is a...a..., shit I don't have a clue. A white duck? Maybe. A baby swan? No, they're grey. An albino snail? Possibly, but that's just creepy. Let's stick to the nice white ducky idea and try to not think about giant, albino snails leaving slime trails across my bed.;)
I woke up late this am (7:45) and realized I wasn't going to get an early start, no matter how hard I tried. Not only that but the weather had kinda turned to crap: valley fog which extended all the way up to the base area of Penken, so I knew it was pretty thick. I dithered about goint skiing at all and thought about taking the day to walk around town and do some shopping but at the last minute I got dressed and decided to hire a taxi to take me to Spieljoch/Fugen for the day. I knew from some of the ski brochures it was on the small side with only 21km of pistes, a gondola, two lifts, and two drag lifts so I didn't think it would keep me entertained all day. There is an extensive bus and train system which is free for skiers and snowboarders provided they are carrying their equipment and dressed in their skiing duds. However, it looked like the service down in the Fugen area had been curtailed on the first but I couldn't say for sure because the bus schedule printed up by the local tourist board is a surefire way to confuse the shit out of visitors and give them a headache (it did this to me at least). I swear I can't make friggin' heads or tails of anything in this brochure. What a piece of crap. I did figure out I can take the local valley train north to a few towns and I can walk from the station to the bottom lifts at the Hochzillertal area (which is good) but no dice for the Zillertal arena so another taxi. However, the taxi is a good deal (39 euros to the Fugen area both ways) plus it is a free shuttle to the Penken gondola so I save some money there. I figure one or two more days of taxi then that's it: bus, walk, or train otherwise. If any dear reader figures out this f*cking bus schedule of the Zillertal area, let me know cause I sure as shit can't.
Anyway, back to the Spieljoch area. It was certainly on the smaller size and holy cow was is foggy. Like trying to ski in a steam bath minus the heat.
Somewhere there is a ski run I promise.
The very upper bit (perhaps 200 meters) was in the clear but not in bright sunshine at all, and the top station of the gondola would occasionally completely disappear in the fog. Which is a shame because the snow was fantastic: dry, chalky, and nice to ski on, and the bowl of the Spieljoch had these small round hills and hummocks which added some spice to the area (but not enough to keep me entertained more than four runs), and the pistes on the north aspects stayed nice until just above the bottom stations of the ski lifts (when it did get harder but not by much).
However, getting down these northern pistes was a bit challenging and vertigo inducing with little, if any depth perception. If I skied right next to the edge of the piste I got enough depth perception from the edge of the piste and the trees to make it down with no problem. I did take one run down on the SE aspect and found the piste great: just turning into corn about an inch deep. I wondered, why isn't there anyone on the lift (and I never saw anybody at all on the lift on the way down). When I hit the fog and ice, I found out why: it sucked. Back up and never again. I was pretty much done skiing by 1:30 so a brief beer break and down the gondola to meet my taxi at 2:30.
3.40 euros on the hill, or about 5 bucks for half a liter of good beer. Such a good deal. It's nice to be back in Austria where beer is good and cheap, and the variety is really good. I picked up a six pack of half-liter bottles of dunkle hefeweizen beer from the local brewery (pictured above) for about 6 euros at the local grocery store. Imagine, about 8 bucks for three liters of good dark yeasty goodness.
You could have skiied all the way down probably as late as two weeks ago but now it would mean walking plus skiing through large parts of the snow which have been covered by a nice layer of fermented cow shit and piss the local farmers have spread out to fertilize the grass for the cowies later. It smells absolutely stunning and not in a good way.
Springtime in Austria smells like? Shit, of course. I had forgotten how odious cow manure (fermented at that) is. Reminds me of my April sidetrip to Grindelwald when I smelled the same thing and thought someone had hit a sewer pipe by accident. Local shopkeeper assured me no, it wasn't the case but the local farmers fertilizing their fields. Guess you can get used to anything.
tired legs, sunburned face, foot cramps, a hot shower, and a large gin and bitter lemon in the shower. My mother introduced me to gin and bitter lemon some 23 years ago when we were on a family vacation in England. Since then I have tried to find Schwepps Bitter Lemon in the States to no avail. Lo and behold when I started coming back to Europe I find it is a common item in grocery stores across the continent. Oh happy days!
Couple photos from yesterday:
Part of the Ahorn area. Pretty small, only two chairs, two drag lifts, and a tram (but well over three thousand feet of vertical if you ski all the way back down to the valley but holy crap was it icy).
Friggin winter up here.
End of the trail and harder than the back of God's Head.
Well, I have been gone for four days now and this is my first full day in Austria. I got into Zurich Saturday afternoon and decided to wait until the next day to catch a train to Innsbruck. The weather sucked in Zurich: cold and rainy, certainly the worst weather I had in Zurich. Here is a photo:
The next day was not much of an improvement except the temp dropped about five degrees and it was snowing lightly. Pretty friggin' cold in Zurich. Another photo:
And the snow never really stopped until I got to Innsbruck. Once I was in Innsbruck I had plans to store my three largest bags and walk around old town Innsbruck for a few hours but all the ski storage lockers were full I didn't want to drag my ski bag around for two hours in Innsbruck so I called the taxi service and came up to Mayrhofen early. I checked into my hotel and it was a night-and-day difference from the Hotel Krone Limmatquai in Zurich. The Gutshof Zillertal in Mayrhofen (especially the newer wing where my room is) would be $200-250 a night and I am paying about $110 plus breakfast, an afternoon snack, and a set dinner. Pretty damn good. The only drawback to the Gushof Zillertal is it is on the outskirts of Mayrhofen and a 25 minute walk to the ski lifts of Penken and Ahorn, and anything in the old town. Not exactly convenient sans car but thats ok, the walk is good for me.
Only a week to go and I am getting a bit nervous: have I packed everything? Do I need to order/buy anything else? Are my tickets in order? I have to start taking melatonin at night so I can get to sleep. You would think after seven times this shit would get easier but I think it gets harder each time. Jesus.