Otztal Day 1 – Alps Backcountry Skiing

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | April 16, 2012      

Otztaler Alpen is a European Alps highground with a number of beautiful mountains at over 3,000 meters, many nestled in glowing white glaciers like they’re curled for the night in thick European bed quilts. Summits such as Weiskugel and Wildspitz, for example (see location map below). More, the region boasts dozens of famous huts you can connect in a variety of ways.

Lisa in Vent, Austria starting our version of an Otztal ski traverse.

Lisa in Vent, Austria starting our version of an Otztal ski traverse. Vent is a formally tiny village that's been expanding due to nearby ski lifts. It's still less industrial than places just a few kilometers down the valley. Click all images to enlarge.

Our friend Ted Kerasote (Jackson, Wyoming denizen and author of best seller Merle’s Door) is crazy for European hut ski traverses. With route suggestions from Manfred Barthel, sage of the Tirol, Ted’s been after the Otztal area for a while. Turned out Lisa and I could join, so we did.

Heading up to Martin Busch hut from Vent. You start up the local backyard ski hill.

Heading up to Martin Busch hut from Vent. You start up the local backyard ski hill.

Day 1 of the trip (as we’d planned it) was a basic walk up an alpine valley to reach Martin Busch hut, where we’d spend two nights with climbing planned for day two. Not particularly exotic, yet since this is Europe and we don’t know our way around, an adventure nonetheless. The trip progressed with shaky weather and a few blue sky moments, short but sweet. We’ll file trip report posts over the next week so you guys can check out what we’ve been doing these past few days. We’ll be here in the EU for another week or so, with more tours planned and apparently better weather for at least a few days, so hopefully we’ll blog that as well.

Signs in town indicate your exit. Even so

Signs in town indicate your exit. Exhibiting a good case of GPS fever, I blew past this billboard direct up through someone's driveway, going for the direct route. Until Ted pointed out that it might be nice to use a bridge to cross the river instead of wading. The GPS would prove quite useful later, but common sense is not programmed into the Garmin software.

Up the valley from Vent, steep sides appear rather productive in terms of avalanches. Not enough snow to worry about today, on our side of the drain, anyway.

Quite a few slides had come down recently, well away from our route.

Quite a few slides had come down recently, well away from our route.

Before long we were above the timber.

Before long we were above the timber. Otztal region yields huge areas of the alpine, wonderful when weather is good but difficult in whiteout conditions.

Just before the hut, planks were removed for a short section. Just before the hut, planks were removed for a short section.

Just before the hut, planks were removed for a short section of wind blown scree. WildSnow Girl was still smiling, good sign.

Ted can smell the strudl from here.

Ted can smell the strudl from here.

Martin Busch is quite nice, a mixture of old and new, solid stone.

Martin Busch is quite nice, a mixture of old and new, solid stone.

Busch Hutte stube, the hut was perhaps half full. Perfect.

Busch Hutte stube, the hut was perhaps half full. The hut keepers were super, one friendly girl, a big fed looking cook, and a gruff Tyrolean fellow who shouted you down as he got your coffee; 'kaffee, you want kafee, YOU WANT KAFFEE? DON'T YOU HAVE ENOUGH KAFFEE?' Perfect way to wake up. And you should have heard the guy when Ted timidly asked if he could special order some rosti during the breakfast rush. That was NOT going to happen.

The dreaded lager (mass bunkroom) of the Busch hut, located next to the

The dreaded lager (mass bunkroom) of the Busch hut is located in the basement next to the vaporous boot drying room. One can only imagine, which is what we did since we stayed in a room upstairs.

Kind of a basic day, but when you get going on one of these trips, your first days and hut nights feel truly special no matter how mundane. For Americans not used to the culture, it’s quite exciting to simply be in the same dining room as 30 other ski mountaineers of equal or better ability. You know they’ll be heading out the next day for all sorts of beautiful adventures, enjoying their Alps, and at the end of the day sliding into yet another hut for another bed and meal, with perhaps a spirited Tirolean hut keeper yelling, “fleisch, FLEISCH, YOU WANT FLEISCH!?”

Center of Google Map below shows the town of Vent, Austria, where we began our Otztal tour. The first day we toured southerly up the “approach route” from Vent to the Martin Busch Hutte. Just a few hours, about 5.5 km and 600 meters vert on a snow-covered shelf road.

Größere Kartenansicht


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14 Responses to “Otztal Day 1 – Alps Backcountry Skiing”

  1. Dan April 16th, 2012 9:29 am

    Love those European TRs Lou. I assume you reserved your room ahead of time? You did so on the internet? By phone? Any language problems when making the reservation? Thanks.

  2. Sedgesprite April 16th, 2012 11:07 am

    Those don’t look like misery sticks. Beyond the Geckos, how are the gear choices holding up? Especially interested in how the wider planks do climbing icy tracks, side-hilling and descending in the mank. Have you had to deploy the ‘knives’ (ski crampons)?

  3. Gentle Sasquatch April 16th, 2012 12:44 pm

    Cmon Lou, Group Bunkrooms are clean and smell like lavender! 🙂

  4. Xavier April 16th, 2012 1:36 pm

    Theze trip reports just remind me of how the USA ski culture regarding huts and access is so primitive compared to the Europeans.
    The Euos are so much farther advanced on the evolutionary scale to our new world brethren.

  5. Patricia Dawson April 16th, 2012 3:00 pm

    Enjoying all the photos…Say “Hello” to Ted from Me!!
    Take care and be safe.

  6. Mike Murphy April 16th, 2012 9:13 pm


    I did a kayak trip with a team of Czechs last year to that same spot. We hiked from Rofen (just above Vent) to Below the hut. Then kayaked back on the Rofener Ache river through a magnificent canyon. I was wondering what it would look like in the winter. Thanks for the photos.

  7. Aaron Trowbridge April 17th, 2012 12:02 am

    Off topic, but according to your Contact request:

    Lou, this may be old news but have you discovered Polycaprolactone? It sells under a variety of trade names like Instamorph and Polymorph. It is a granular plastic that becomes fluid at ~60 deg celcius and can be molded by hand and cools at rooom temp to a hard nylon like plastic.

    People use it for about anything you could imagine but I picture unlimited ski mountaineering uses for shop fabrication of parts and field repair. Some uses displayed on this site (home robot builders) and looks like the cheapest source after 5 minutes of searching.

    Here is a boot repair on inline skates (see the white replacement on righthand side):

    I’m almost giddy at the tinkering capability this unleashes.

  8. Lisa April 17th, 2012 9:52 am

    Stedgesprite, the wide skis have been a good choice since we’ve had a variety of challenging snow conditions. We’ve used the ski crampons. Today we had fun making big free ride turns in perfect pow. TR coming.

  9. Silas Wild April 17th, 2012 10:50 pm

    If you want smaller rooms and bigger menus, try staying south of the border. 🙂 And you can choose to pay for your altitude with cash not calories, on the Kurzras lift system. Oetzsi’s Pass monument close by. Great tours on Similaun, Weisskoegel, etc. Austrian and Italian sides are both tons of fun, as you are showing. Enjoy!

  10. F. Felix April 18th, 2012 2:57 am

    The hike up to that hut has got to be the longest sidehill I’ve ever done! Enjoy the tour…

  11. Zach April 18th, 2012 8:29 am

    Enjoying your posts Lou. I was there two weeks ago on my “fliiterwochen” and had an amazing time. I got a chuckle from the comment about the gruff hut keeper. He is a character. Ask him where he holidays. Have fun and enjoy the clear skies while you have them.

  12. Lou April 18th, 2012 9:47 am

    Felix, thankfully the road is melted down enough to have eliminated nearly all that sidehilling. Must be terrible when It’s filled in, not to mention the avalanche danger.

    Last few days we were at the ‘Ammererhof (out of Salzberg) for two nights, did two big day back-to-back, trip reports in a few days.

    On a coin operated Internet machine at the moment (grin). More later. Lou

  13. AJ April 18th, 2012 12:50 pm

    Vent is lovely in summer and winter, thanks for the pictures, it brings back good memories

  14. Lou April 18th, 2012 2:44 pm

    Thanks AJ, we’ll probably head back there at some point (but not this trip). Access via the cables is pretty good as well as the slog up from the valley. The other day we skinned most of the piste after the lifts had closed for the season, kind of a fun “little” place in comparison to the mega industro-skiing complexes nearby. Otztal is worth returning to again and again, amazing the number of huts and how you can fit them together. Lou

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