Austrian Euro Pow — Hochfugen & Kraxentrager

Post by blogger | March 21, 2008      

It snowed fairly hard last night here in the Austrian valley of the River Inn, so we headed south to the Zillertal region and drove the steep windy road to Hochfugen, a ski resort complex where you’ll also find a plethora of excellent moderately angled backcountry skiing terrain that works well with new snow and iffy weather. We got about a foot of new on a firm base. Excellent. Only thing lacking was the views, as clouds kept everything under wraps. Ho hum, another powder day for WildSnow…

Austrian backcountry skiing.
Louie on Kraxentrager. This was the first mountain I skied in Europe several years ago during a Dynafit press visit. The snow during that first visit was terrible, and I was so jet lagged I could hardly ski. Somewhat embarassing to say that least. Nice to be up there today with good snow, ski legs and fine turns.

Austrian backcountry skiing.
Oh, forgot to mention that back at the Barthels they’ve got some traditional Tyrolean agriculture going on. Chickens with fresh eggs every day, and a stable of Tyrolean “berg schaf” (alpine goats). This is the billy of the bunch posing with his harem.

Austrian backcountry skiing.
Meanwhile, back on the Kraxentrager, below timberline you find a vast area of open timber. Beautiful. This comes about because nearly every square foot of land in the Tyrol is used for some form of agriculture and has been for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. Thus, while you’ll find areas of dense trees (that are still selectively logged), many areas remain thinned out so they provide pasture as well as lumber, with the side effect of good skiing.

Downside is that with so much skiable terrain, all you have to do install a cable car and you’ve got instant ski resort. So the industrial skiing tends to spread like “cancer,” as Manfred succinctly states it. I was under the impression that Europeans resisted such development more effectively, but apparently the resorts have dozens of ways of convincing the locals that yet another ski lift is worth installing. This is very unlike the western US, where we’ve got so much room and such strict opposition to new resorts, that I’ve always been rather laissez-faire about the occasional proposal for a new ski area as such actually happening in Colorado is as rare event as seeing a goony bird on the summit of Pikes Peak.

Austrian backcountry skiing.
Manfred and his hound Cato.

Austrian backcountry skiing.
At the summit, the ubiquitous cross you find at most highpoints in this area. This one is not huge like some, just a nice small wooden one with a good feeling. It’s not that cold today, but the humidity is high and the wind howling, so it still feels sub zero and we don’t hang around for long. Whatever happened to those sunny European fondu summit picnics they always show on the postcards? We’re still trying to make one of those happen.

Austrian backcountry skiing.
Another group coming up, perhaps searching for the fondu picnic or at least a pot of speckknoedel. As with many of the good touring areas around here, you’ll see plenty of people even on weekdays. There is indeed lots of room, but even snow the best powder lines get taken early. Sort of like the Utah Wasatch.

Austrian backcountry skiing.
Since we couldn’t find any Tyrolean gastronomic treats at the top of the mountain, stopping at a small gasthaus near the bottom was of course obligatory. I started with a raddler (beer and lemonade) and coffee, both which inevitably evolved to a nice plate of landjager and brot as presented above.

Later that evening we ended up at another excellent Tyrolean restaurant for dinner, actually an old farmhouse converted into a gasthaus/brewery a few years ago. Such as traditional setting was a nice situation for Louie to enjoy his first beer, so that special event in a man’s life capped of another fine day with the Barthels.

Today we leave Austria and drive to Switzerland, Berner Oberland area. We’ll visit relatives there and hope to do some higher altitude ski tours if weather cooperates. We’ve got the skiing fairly down — now we’ll see how we do on the autobahn. Wish us luck!


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7 Responses to “Austrian Euro Pow — Hochfugen & Kraxentrager”

  1. Mark Worley March 21st, 2008 8:04 am

    With a terrific name like Kraxentrager, it has to be good. The sheep shot cracked me up.

  2. Dongshow March 21st, 2008 10:49 am

    wow, snow looks great! industrial skiing cancer had me laughing.

  3. Derek March 21st, 2008 7:05 pm

    Mmmm, that beer looks tasty.

  4. Tom Gosiorowski March 21st, 2008 9:08 pm

    Looks like it was good day. It was cool to see the goats. When I was in Austria it really struck me as interesting to see how the mix of agriculture and tourism occurs. I remember seeing barns full of dairy cows right in the ski towns and seeing the barns and herders sheds right in the middle of the ski runs. Quite a contrast from our resort areas in the US where people survive off of second homes and construction of second homes. Keep the pics and stories coming.

  5. Lou March 22nd, 2008 1:28 am

    US formula: Whine about 2nd homes and make your living off them or the associated economy. EU formula: I don’t know, any theories out there?

  6. Robert March 23rd, 2008 8:51 am

    “Downside is that with so much skiable terrain, all you have to do install a cable car and you’ve got instant ski resort. So the industrial skiing tends to spread like “cancer,â€? as Manfred succinctly states it. ”

    Much of the small-scale lift-served skiing in Europe, at least in France, is operated by local communes, serving mainly locals and bringing in a bit of extra cash to the local community. They also provide a much-needed source of employment in mountain areas which often have little industry. Given that much of the land is farmed and used for leisure all year round the existence of a few ski lifts is hardly more an intrusion than the buildings, fences and so on associated with all the other parallel uses of the land. There are also plenty of protected areas where such developments are not allowed.

    Give me the sight of a few ski lifts any day rather than the noise, air pollution, beat-up tracks and so on associated with the use of high-powered snowmobiles in order to gain access to ‘Backcountry’ skiing – as seems to be favoured in the US!

  7. Lou March 23rd, 2008 2:39 pm

    So, what if we use a low powered snowmobile instead of a high powered one?

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