Skiing the Tirol’s snowiest valley

Keen for a powder fix, Mary Creighton prays to the Norse god Ullr and is rewarded with a trip to Fieberbrunn. Let the shred commence

Until now, I was 90 per cent certain I had been cursed by the Norse god Ullr to never actually experience the kind of cold, smokey snow that fills the pages of Fall-Line magazine. I spent my first-ever trip to Colorado side-stepping patches of brown earth; during a whole season in New Zealand I counted exactly one lacklustre powder day, and I moved to the Austrian Alps just in time for the two leanest seasons in recent history.

Long lifts open up swathes of terrain

Long lifts open up swathes of terrain | Bergbahnen Fieberbrunn

But here I am, driving into the Pillerseetal, a valley on the eastern edge of the Tirol, watching the snow fall thicker and faster than I ever have before. In our minivan full of journalists, all here to check out the new connection – the Tirol-S gondola – between Fieberbrunn and Saalbach-Hinterglemm, the stoke level is rising fast. But no one is looking more jubilant than Angela, our rep from the Tirol tourist board. She can spout facts at us about how the Pillerseetal is the ‘snowiest valley in Tirol’ without raising one eyebrow from a group of people who have definitely heard it all before. “It averages almost seven metres of snow per winter,” she explains. “It’s a schneeloch – a snow hole!” Looking out the window it’s clear she isn’t kidding.

It’s still dumping the next morning. Visibility is next to zero, but we’re not bothered. It’s one of those days where you don’t need to head off-piste. There’s at least two feet of fresh powder lying on top of the artificial base. We stay low, sessioning the slow, cranky Lärchfilzkogel gondola and Lärchfilzen chairlift on the frontside of the hill. There are just seven lifts (plus a few T-bars) on the Fieberbrunn side of the resort, but they are all long and well positioned, opening up swathes of terrain, both on and off-piste. With nothing but the feel of the snow beneath my feet and the rough outline of our guide five metres in front, I let my legs and skis take the lead. It’s exhilarating.

After lunch the clouds start to lift. Time to duck off-piste. From the top of the Lärchfilzkogel lift I follow fellow journos James and Mark past some avalanche fences into a mellow bowl below. The snow is impossibly light, billowing around me in a way that makes me certain I should be in the next Matchstick Productions ski movie. Until my left ski finds its way deep into the snow and pulls me down like an anchor, that is. Trapped under a metre of snow in a position my yoga teacher would most definitely be impressed by, the snow doesn’t feel so light anymore – more concrete-esque. Three minutes of vigorous wriggling and my leg still won’t shift.

Pow bliss in the back bowls|Bergbahnen Fieberbrunn

Pow bliss in the back bowls|Bergbahnen Fieberbrunn

Sebastian, who works for the local lift company , spots me and digs me out, telling me about the new Tirol S gondola as he does (two birds, one stone and all that). He uses it to commute from his home in Fieberbrunn to his office in Saalbach every day. “It’s a 50-minute drive, but I can ski it in less than 30”. After a few minutes of digging I’m back on my feet. “I’m not used to skiing powder this deep,” I explain.

I jump into my skis the next morning (another tick for Fieberbrunn is the doorstep skiing, a rare find in Austria) even more excited than yesterday. Not only did it snow all night, but the clouds have dispersed to reveal a bluebird day. We meet our guide Richard and load into the Streuböden gondola, taking in the vistas that were hidden from us yesterday.

In front of us are rolling alpine meadows and tree-covered knolls; behind, the dramatic peaks of the Henne (2078m) and Wildseeloder (2118m), offering up the kind of rock-lined gullies and gnarly point-those-skis-and-send-it faces that have been luring freeriders here since the late 1990s. In fact, the last time I was here was to watch pros like Eva Walkner, Drew Tabke and Reine Barkered launch themselves down the Marokker face for the Freeride World Tour.

Richard seems to be on a mission to show us just why freeride lies at Fieberbrunn’s heart, as he immediately takes us off the backside of the Lärchfilzkogel and down a steep valley, before tumbling into a cloud of smokey powder and fat skis. “Watch out for the fence posts,” he shouts up at us.

We make our way down to the middle station of the Tirol S gondola, which divides Fieberbrunn from Saalbach, hardly touching a piste on the way, only to discover the downside of the new connection: more people. “The Saalbach side doesn’t really have much in the way of freeride skiing,” says Richard. The connection between the two resorts, just a few kilometres away from each other as the crow flies, had been talked about for years. It very nearly happened in the late ’80s, but a change in government put an end to the project.

Fieberbrunn: so good, even the Freeride World Tour comes here for its big juicy lines

Fieberbrunn: so good, even the Freeride World Tour comes here for its big juicy lines

By the 1990s, Saalbach had grown so much as a resort itself it didn’t need Fieberbrunn’s tiddly 40km and talks were tabled once more. By 2013 things had changed. Fieberbrunn’s reputation as a freeride resort had earned it an almost cult status among skiers, and Saalbach realised they needed to get in on the action. Now Fieberbrunn has access to Saalbach’s 270km, making it part of the biggest ski area in Austria (well, until the new St Anton/Lech link opened this season, anyway).

“The only problem is, on a day like today, everyone heads to Fieberbrunn,” explains Richard. Not that he seems phased much. He knows every inch of the resort. After a pitstop at the new Pulvermacher Scherm restaurant for Kaspressknödel (cheesey dumplings) he leads us to the very top of the resort, via the Reckmoos Süd gondola and the exposed Hochhörndl chairlift, and then off the back. Cue a 15-minute-long traverse around what feels like at least three-quarters of the Henne peak, scraping over rocks as we go. But our reward is an untouched bowl filled with what might be the deepest powder I’ve ever skied.

At 3.30pm we make it onto a piste for the first time all day. And a very nice one it is too: F1c, which winds its way down a tree-lined gulley before depositing us at the door of our hotel. “Perhaps tomorrow we could try heading back over to Saalbach?” I venture. “We don’t want to do that,” says Richard. “There’s more snow coming tonight and I know a place that will be completely deserted…” Sorry Saalbach, you’ll have to wait until next time.

Do it

Inghams (01483 791114; inghams.co.uk) offers a week’s half-board at the four-star Austria Trend Hotel Alpine Resort from £849pp(saving £130pp), including flights from Gatwick to Salzburg and resort transfers.

Taken from our Powder issue

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