EU Continue — Foehn Hits But We Adjust

Post by blogger | January 5, 2008      
Austrian backcountry skiing
We drove to Aschau, a fringe town of mega-resort Kitzbuhel. Plan was to utilize the piste in case snow conditions were too horrendous because of the foehn winds. Plan worked, we had a nice tour and everyone had fun skiing down. Also fascinating to see industrial tourism on a scale I’ve never experienced. Manfred spoke quite a bit about slopes he used to tour that were now served by ski lifts. Kinda sad.

Austrian backcountry skiing
Ever interested in Euro ski touring culture, I’ve been noticing the lockstep thing. Sure, we do that in the US, but not quite so diligently. I also continued my informal binding use survey. For the first time in Europe, I saw more people on Fritschi than Dynafit. A Kitzbuhel thing?

Austrian backcountry skiing
The old farm buildings continue to delight me.

Austrian backcountry skiing
At the summit of the Schwarz Kogel, just a small highpoint near Kitz. Everyone was quite friendly. Much of that is produced by Manfred, who’s been touring in this area for longer than just about anyone, and is quick to share helpful knowledge. His dog Cato provides amusement, especially when strangers have to defend their sausage sandwich from his snapping jaws.

Austrian backcountry skiing
While hanging out at the highpoint, Manfred explained how the foehn winds dump over the alps, dropping moisture up high then blasting down as warm gusts once they get to this region. In this photo, the foehn is roiling up the atmosphere in the distance, and we’re standing on ever softening mucky snow. As a boy I’d read about the infamous foehn of the Alps, fascinating to see it.

Austrian backcountry skiing
The master also pointed out all their beautiful and classic mountains (Gross Glockner just out of photo to left, highest peak in Austria.) When we head for the Dachstein in a few days we’ll be going this direction to the high Alps.

Austrian backcountry skiing
We use some of the piste for descent. Kitz area has so many runs they don’t bother to name them, they just assign a number. Bogus. As in “hey, I’ll take 95 and meet you at the bottom of 56.”

Austrian backcountry skiing
Quite a few people were doing this tour. On the way down, Manfred stopped to help these guys with their map navigation. The variety of touring gear is amazing. I saw people with no backpack and a jacket tied around their waist, contrasted by folks outfitted more snazzy than myself with all my test clothing from OR, Cloudveil and Dynafit.

Austrian backcountry skiing
So, to make the industro day complete we head for Kitzbuhel proper after the tour. The town core really is kinda cool. It dates back to Roman times as a mining area, and super old buildings still create mood. 1360 is the date this building hearkens back to. A bit different than Colorado, where you have trouble finding anything Anglo that’s more than about a century old.

Austrian backcountry skiing
I snapped a bit of street photography. This guy looked like he belonged there in a nice sort of way…

Austrian backcountry skiing
While this gal was simply too much…as in, how does one ski all day and keep their rear so white? Perhaps skiing was not in the program?

Austrian backcountry skiing
And the prize went to this shop window, where you could check out 2,200 euro skis paired with a set of Fritschi Freeride Plus rando bindings. Just shows you how stylish AT skiing has become. Only question, should one really mount Freerides on a pair of approx. $3,000 skis? More, you have to wonder how they ski. And titanium? Are they light? How much will you pay to save 12 grams? Most importantly, are downhill racers in the nearby famous Kitzbuhel Hahnenkamm World Cup downhill using them? If no, I’m not interested — ho hum.

Austrian backcountry skiing
Back during my alpine climbing phase, I had a pair of custom Haderer boots made in Kitz and shipped to the States. Haderer still exists, though in this location it’s more like a Prada store.

Austrian backcountry skiing
And of course, the traditional completion of any good ski tour. This time I inhaled some sort of confection that was mostly whipped cream (as indicated by the red arrow). It worked. I’m still sitting here blogging.

Austrian backcountry skiing
What really gives the Kitzbuhel area plenty of alpine spirit is the Kaiser mountains rising dramatically across the valley. Much of early Euro climbing history was written here, and it’s still a destination for summer rock and winter (human powered) snow. Quite a contrast to the industrial tourism of Kittz. But then, contrast is frequently what it takes to create appreciation. Just give it to me in small doses please.


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18 Responses to “EU Continue — Foehn Hits But We Adjust”

  1. Randonnee January 5th, 2008 5:01 pm

    Great narrative and photos! Again, I am living vicariously through Wildsnow since Austria has been next on my list since my trips to the Valais Haute Route and the Dolomiti. I, too am fascinated by the European experience. Wildsnow has been a very interesting read during the past few days, with the trip descriptions and gear talk. Thanks.

    We got a warmup in the Washington Cascades yesterday as well that affected the snow.

    Judging from a previous coment yesterday, it sounds like a few of us are waiting for some new Dynafit gear. Soon, we hope.

  2. scottyb January 5th, 2008 4:49 pm

    love the pictures and discriptions, hope to do this one day. Keep the updates coming.

  3. Tom G January 5th, 2008 5:58 pm

    Hey Lou, keep it up. We’re socked in with a major storm here in CO. All these pics from Austria get me thinking about ski touring in the alps. Maybe you can pick up a few tips from the locals on good guide services doing packaged tours that would appeal to American touring skiers. It’s tough to find local euro guide services on the web.

  4. AJ January 5th, 2008 8:10 pm

    Hello Tom,

    Most skiing resorts in Austria have excellent websites that include some information on ski touring in the area and the e-mail adresses of local guide services.

    For example On the right you will find “Sprachwahl”, you can select Deutsch (German) or English. In the main menu you will find “Ski area”, select “Ski/snowboard” and you will find information on ski mountaineering in the area.

    Other websites work in a similar manner.

    All guide services employ certified guides, hard to go wrong. Usually they have package deals for single or multi day tours and they do private guiding.

    Good luck searching on the web!

  5. Lou January 6th, 2008 3:09 am

    Thanks AJ,

    Indeed Tom, it is tricky to get info on the web because language and such make simple search engine queries difficult. Most of the info is there, however, so it’s just a matter of getting tips like that from AJ.

    As for me, I’m such a newbie at this, so don’t expect much in the way of insider tips. One thing I have learned, however, is that the “lower Alps” as opposed to the alpine Alps offer ski touring that’s very similar to the sub-alpine powder skiing we do in the Wasatch or lower areas in Colorado, while the “high Alps” offer an alpine aesthetic in terms of views and such, though they may not provide skiing that’s as good.

    It seems that a good ski touring trip could try to combine days on the higher Alps with days on the lower. Best to do so with some flexibility for weather. For example, I’m sitting here in my friend’s home and it’s raining hard outside because of the foehn. We could probably do a short tour at lower elevation if we really wanted to, but trying to get up in the alpine would be tough and probably not that much fun (pea soup whiteout — with avy danger for icing).

  6. AJ January 6th, 2008 5:57 am

    For about 5 years I’ve been going to the Ötztal region of Austria, summer and winter, so I’m quite familiar there.

    In my opinion your best bet is to go near to a high ski resort, for example Sölden or Obergurgl. The infrastructure is there, lifts, huts etc, you just have to make it work for you.

    A local guide can be very helpful in finding right spots and conditions, most guidebooks are in German and only cover the “popular” routes.

    Some international guide services offer tours in France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria. Their websites can be a good source for information. For example

    My advice would be to go for a private guide. Just your group (or alone) and a guide. You can do a program identical to a package deal or something completely different to cater for your specific needs. Not having to deal with strangers with different needs/ambitions makes life a little easier 🙂

    You shouldn’t be put of if a guide service is in a small village with only 160 inhabitants. For example, the guide service in Vent (near Sölden) employs some of the best skiers of Austria.

    Have fun!

  7. Lenka K. January 6th, 2008 6:34 am

    Hi Lou,

    it’s a real pity that you always seem to end up in Europe at a time when conditions are pretty bad: last year very little snow and this year you missed the goods by two days! Things should work out better for your trip in March: the weather is often more stable, and with a bit of luck you can still get good powder at lower elevations, like Kitzbüheler Alps, where you’ve done all of your touring so far, as well as good conditions higher up (Dachstein, Hohe Tauern, Stubai, Ötztal). BTW, the snow gully in the middle of your Kaiser picture is the “Ellmauer Tor”, a nice, moderate (30-35 degrees) spring tour you might consider doing in March. There’s of course a Gasthof right next to the parking lot! 🙂

    Now for the binding question. I’ve found the binding preference goes (or used to go, it’s beginning to change) pretty much along national lines: the more slender “southern types” like the French and Italians prefer the Dynafit binding (“light, elegant and functional to boot”). The heavier “Germanic” types (this would include 100lbs-women skiers! 🙂 ) in Austria and Germany ski mostly Fritschis or Silvrettas. And the Swiss? Fritschi, but of course! And when you ask why use something weighing twice as much as the Dynafit, they reply (without a hint of irony): “Because Fritschi is Swiss-made!” 🙂 But as I said, this is now slowly changing, as more backcountry skiers see the undeniable advantages of Dynafits, and you see ever more of these on Austrian and German mountains.

    Oh, and one more thing: you forgot to mention that your average backcountry ski used in Europe is about half the width of that used in the US backcountry! I’m exagerating a bit, but you get the point. My Shuksans are by far the widest thing you’ll normally see in Europe.

    Have fun in the Alps and wish you better snow in the Dachstein region!

    Lenka K.

  8. Lewis January 6th, 2008 7:11 am

    Ah, it appears you were the victim of a “Cremeschnitte”. They are indeed mostly cream!
    Also, I believe the correct translation of “hutte” is “hut” not “hot”.
    I really miss the mountain restaurant culture in Europe. But who would want a great meal and a great beer near the slopes when you could have an inedible $11 cheeseburger in a cafeteria setting? 😉
    Great TR. Keep it coming.

  9. Lou January 6th, 2008 10:32 am

    Lenka, the snow builds character and allows one to test skis designed for difficult snow, and the cremeschnitte takes away the pain.

  10. Phil January 6th, 2008 12:13 pm

    Re Kitz. town core: a friend of mine says a European is someone who thinks one hundred miles is a long way, and an American is someone who thinks one hundred years is a long time.

  11. Lou January 6th, 2008 1:42 pm

    Phil, that’s great! So true.

    The other big difference is that we describe our drives in time, and Euros describe them in kilometers.

  12. Mark Worley January 6th, 2008 10:19 pm

    Amazing contrasts in Kitzbuhel. And with the weak dollar, you might pay $12 dollars for French fries!

  13. hunter January 6th, 2008 11:17 pm

    Hi Lou,
    Sounds like you’re having a great trip, Too bad that you aren’t getting the snow in Austria that we’re getting here; 3-5 feet here in the Durango/Silverton area in the last 36 hours. Anyway, just to let you know that you’ve been mis-led on the hight of the Glockner; it’s actually the 3rd highest peak in the Alps behind Mont Blanc on the French/Italian border and Monte Rosa in Italy. I’d recommend the later for your next trip!

  14. palic January 7th, 2008 9:19 am

    Hi Lou,

    just small remark, Gross Glockner is the highest peak in Austria, but not in the Alps (there are 83 peaks over 4000m in the Alps, and the Gross Glockner is pretty under 4000m). BTW, you can try also other EU mountains, see photos from Slovakia – High Tatras: and youtube presentation

  15. Lou January 7th, 2008 10:15 am

    Woops, sorry Palic. I need an editor! Will fix.

  16. BMisu January 7th, 2008 11:59 am

    Are you SURE you’re only worried about how clean that girl’s pants are?

  17. Lou January 7th, 2008 1:26 pm

    BMisu, now that you mention it…

  18. Mike December 29th, 2008 12:36 pm

    I travelled to Kitzbuhel in 1968 and had some leather Haderer ski boots made. They were terrific and gave me many years of great skiing. I passed them on to a ski shop for their display. Hopefully someone will see them as a fine example of a lost art, and not just some old boots. I liked your pics and commentary.

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