WELCOME TO ONE OF THE BEST SKI TOURING DESTINATIONS IN THE ALPS, WHERE EPIC BACKCOUNTRY MEETS FULL-ON FAMILY FUN.
Austria has a justified reputation as being one of the finest ski destinations in the world, but it isn’t all about hooning down the pistes with your buddies; this is also one of the best ski touring destinations in the Alps, offering a diverse range of landscapes, snow-sure high alpine areas, and an excellent public transport infrastructure for easy access to the mountains.
Among the best destinations to explore winter off the pistes – whether it’s ski touring or showshoeing – are Innsbruck, St Johann In Tirol and Zillertal. Here’s a taster of what they have to offer for skiers looking to get out into the backcountry…
The area around Innsbruck has a wide range of different ski touring routes for everyone from beginner to expert, taking in beautiful landscapes which vary from hidden winter valleys to picturesque alpine villages and sun-kissed mountain plateaus, all the while looked down upon by spectacular high mountains. Highlights include the wonderful ski touring along the Sellrain Valley and sunny, high-alpine ski tours on the Mieming Plateau.
Beginners should try a ski tour on a groomed ski slope to get a feel for the sport without the need to carry avalanche safety equipment or have mountaineering experience; there are both day and evening guided piste ski tours that are ideal for novices at Patscherkofel, Muttereralm, Axamer Lizum and Rangger Köpfl.
The next step up is to enjoy a ski tour with a bit of help from a ski lift; it allows you to get way up into the mountains before you start the hard work of climbing for extended distances on your touring skis. A relatively short ascent from the top of a lift can be followed by a seemingly endless descent down untouched slopes, with the rest of the day spent shredding the slopes.
The resort of Kühtai is a great place for this, and it is close enough to Innsbruck to allow you to visit for the day and enjoy a quick ski tour to the summit of Pirchkogel (2828m) or Grieskogelscharte (2586m), before heading back down to make the most of the resort skiing.
What’s more, you don’t even need a car to enjoy the mountains around Innsbruck. Follow the example of the locals and simply pop your skis on your shoulder, walk to the bus stop or train station with your ski boots already on, and take public transport to the start of your ski tour.
Many top ski touring destinations can be reached by train, bus or tram, including the Wetterkreuzkogel in Kühtai, the Axamer Kögele from Axams or the summit route on Patscherkofel. Even better, public transport in the Innsbruck region is free with the Welcome Card, which also includes guided snowshoeing and winter hikes, taster ski tours and cross-country skiing excursions; the Welcome Card is available with a stay of at least two nights at selected partner hotels and accommodation providers.
Be sure to also check out the Ski Plus City Pass, which allows you to access 13 ski resorts around Innsbruck alongside 22 attractions of the city, all with one ticket.
A ‘must’ for cross-country skiers, the St Johann In Tirol region has an array of cross-country ski trails that are free to use, and groomed on a daily basis.
Every town and village in the area has a central access point to the cross-country trail network, and you’ll find routes that are suitable for all levels of ability, even complete novices. If you don’t have your own cross- country ski gear that’s no problem – there’s a wide array of suppliers who can rent you everything you need for a great day out on the trails, and you can book lessons (including taster sessions) at every ski and snowboard school in St Johann In Tirol.
And since there’s even a floodlit trail that’s open from 5pm to 9pm there really is no excuse not to give this exhilarating winter sport a go.
You can keep your winter activity nice and simple in the Zillertal – there’s no need for lots of fancy equipment if you take on one of the region’s many winter hiking trails: all you need is some warm and waterproof footwear and clothes, maybe a pair of ski poles and an adventurous attitude.
With over 460km of trails the Zilllertal has something for everyone, along with plenty of hikes that are ideal for families with small children. For something more challenging, try one of the region’s snowshoe trails, which enable you to explore forested valleys, secluded alpine pastures and sunny mountain tops under your own steam. The technique is easy to master, and several ski and alpine schools in the Zillertal offer guided tours for all levels, along with snowshoe hire.