Across the Kitzbüheler Alpen
From the Hohe Salve to the two thousand metre mountains and return - an ambitious experiment on skis through two ski areas.
7:45 a.m. The sun has just risen behind the Hohe Salve. In Hopfgarten’s gondola station in the valley the day’s work is beginning. Nevertheless, I am the only one at the cash desk just now who needs a lift pass. I sincerely hope that I will be permitted to travel in the first gondola with the mountain lift personnel. “Where do you want to go?” asks the lift attendant, a little surprised. “From the Hohe Salve to the two thousand metre mountain peaks and return!” I reply. “Well! Well! That’s some challenge” he says with a smirk on his face. Thankfully I don’t have time to consider what he means by that. Into the gondola it is and off on my first lift journey of the day – there’s no turning back now!
Early morning atmosphere
During the 10 minutes while I’m suspended in mid-air, I have all the time in the world to enjoy the beauty of nature in the early morning light. Now, in the middle of March, the Spring is beginning to appear in the valley and on the opposite sunny slopes. However, below me, regardless of the pleasant temperature, the perfectly groomed slopes are presented – pure and untouched, without tracks or mounds. Actually, it’s like a fairy-tale, as every night hundreds of lift personnel move out unnoticed onto the slopes, like little elves, and mysteriously conjure up perfectly groomed slopes which only appear at dawn – and that occurs on more than 460 km of slopes in the SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser – Brixental and Kitzbühel ski areas alone! A rumble pulls me out of my thoughts – middle station. Change over.
On the move to the most beautiful mountain views of Tyrol
“Last stop!” What? A defect on stage 2 of the gondola lift to the Hohe Salve ensures that I can’t continue on this route. Well, that’s a good start! “Safety comes first! The gondolas must be secured on the cable – it may take some time, but you can take the chairlift to Rigi, then to Hochsöll and then the gondola from Söll to the top.” Again that grinning face, but I’m grateful for the information and the thought of sitting in the chairlift with the warm Spring air in my face can be of benefit to me. To be honest, the detour is not really putting me out of my way. After two turns, I flop onto the seat and a minute later find myself suspended on the 3-man chairlift towards Rigi.
Crossing the mountains to 1,829m
“With two modern gondolas, you arrive at the mountain summit in comfort”. The SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser – Brixental website hasn’t promised too much. A pleasant journey but an even much more incredible panorama! Up here the mountain peaks really seem to greet each other and the Hohe Salve greets you - from the Wilder Kaiser to Kitzbühel and from the Zillertal Alps to the Hohe Tauern. My destination too, the two thousand mountain peak way behind the Großer Rettenstein, shows its presence. A lot of ski kilometres lie ahead of me although, as the crow flies, the distance can be deceiving. With perfect visibility, like today, it is possible to see a total of 70 three-thousand metre mountains from the Hohe Salve. It is not surprising then, that a chapel has been erected on this beautiful spot. To be precise, the highest pilgrimage church in Tyrol. The Salvenkirchlein’s (little church) existence was recorded as far back as 1589. Whether its energy really has the power to put an end to headaches, backaches and depression remains to be seen, but the chapel is definitely worth a visit!
Once around in the "Umadum-Stubn"
Right beside the Salvenkirchlein Peter Ager has fulfilled a dream with the summit restaurant. The “Umadum-Stubn” is his latest achievement. The lampshade made of dried hay, the dishes à la Oma (grandma) and once an hour, the platform revolves around its own axis. The backdrop that opens to a leisurely breakfast is unique - Leogang Steinberge, Wilder Kaiser and the Inn Valley all the way to Bavaria. My first doubts begin to unsettle me and my inner weakness slowly creeps in. Actually, I would much rather remain here at Peter’s but luckily my reason urges me on “Hop! Hop! On your skis!”. With a heavy heart but well fortified, it’s back into the sun and into the bindings.
From black to red enroute to the "Alpeniglu Village"
A black slope with a 70° incline is ahead of me. My luck is in – hardly touched. A deep breath and off I go. My skis are positioned perfectly on the snow and there’s no trace of either ice or crusted snow. Just my knees haven’t really adjusted yet. The next slope is red and with time, the tension disappears. In the dip, directly at the mountain station, Hochbrixen, the “Alpeniglu Village” is situated. In 2009, Benno Reitbauer had this key idea and the lift company in Brixen the perfect location. Every year the theme and the ice sculptures change in the igloos. Whether it’s for a quick visit or an overnight stay in the igloo, here in Hochbrixen there’s a lot on offer from December to the middle of March. But unfortunately today there’s no time to chill to the lounge music – the gondola in the village is waiting.
Nostalgic gondola trip and architectural benchmarks
Of course there is a ski run from Hochbrixen down to the valley. However, now in mid-March, it has already given way to the flowers and blades of grass on the sunny slopes. But a journey in an almost "nostalgic" gondola is also something special. In 1986 the gondola Hochbrixen was built. For a long time it was a magnet for architects and universities from near and far because of its modern architecture. Directly opposite is the state-of-the-art SkiWeltbahn, built in 2008. It is not only technically, but also structurally one of the most modern lifts in Tyrol. An architectural masterpiece, a 35 m long steel bridge, connects both valley lift stations. Here on the "Schatt'seit" (shady side) as the Brixental folk say, some of the trees still have their white dresses on. From this side, the Hohe Salve seems to be far behind me. A little inner rejoicing for me! I’m getting closer to my destination.
From challenging to fantastic
Westendorf has won the award for the most beautiful flower village in Europe. It is also well known for its bars and nightclubs and its Dutch guests. The ski resort was a secret for a long time. Even today it has lost none of its charm - gorgeous scenery, mountain lifts and its slopes, which are situated harmoniously in the natural course of the mountains. Familiar local titles such as “Die Waxe” (challenging), “Die Bärige” (fantastic) or “Gmiatliche” (comfortable) supplement the ski route descriptions and help in the choice of your favourite tour – that is if you understand the local dialect in this part of the world! Westendorf boasts one of the most famous snow parks in Europe. In 1998, snowboard legend, Gogo Gossner had the idea for the Boarders Playground. Since then countless fans have shredded the “Big Mama” or tested themselves at the “Shred Down Masters” in the Slopestyle Contest. It is 11:23 a.m. and I flop onto the Gampenkogel chairlift totally satisfied. From here you can get the best views of the boxes, rails and jumps. Unfortunately for me, the freestylers are already chillin’ today - no chance of seeing any impressive stunts. What a pity! Maybe next time.
The last and most easterly part of the Skiwelt Wilder Kaiser - Brixental is ahead of me. "Die Bärig" - according to Duden: great, extraordinary, powerful - that's the way it should be. The slope leads along the "KiWest" down into Spertental and is the connection to the ski area Kitzbühel. Here too - sunshine! Swop goggles for sunglasses.
Change of ski areas within 5 minutes
To get to the Kitzbühel ski area, you don’t need another ski pass, but a 5-minute bus journey on the KitzSki-Xpress. The fare is included in the AllStarCard. "Moin," (mornin’) comes from the driver's cab. I return the greeting and reflect on the one hand about a "good morning" at lunchtime and on the other hand on a dialect not usual in this country. He comes from Germany, the bus driver confesses to me. He has been in Tyrol for 8 years now. His wife also lives in Brixental and he is an avid skier. Lots of people get to know each other here. That’s an exciting part of his job, even if he only commutes back and forth between the two gondola stations. I’m the only passenger on the bus just now so decide to tell the nice driver about my experiment. After all, he should be able to bring back some information to his wife today. When I’ve finished, he makes no comment. Stops the bus, grins and wishes me a nice day. Somewhat perplexed, I get out and think to myself “That smirk again!”
Adrenaline kick 400 m above ground
The descent "Schroll-Skirast" is the equivalent to the "bärig" (fantastic) KiWest. It is the most westerly ski run of the Kitzbühel ski area and the connection to the SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser - Brixental. Winter is still very dominant here in the valley. Spring flowers and areas of green meadows are nowhere to be seen. However a completely new panorama, this time with views of Kitzbühel and Jochberg. To reach the latter and finally to see the Salzburg Pinzgau mountains and my two thousand metre mountains, fear of heights has to be overcome and a deep valley has to be crossed. The 3S – a peak to peak gondola – connects Kitzbühel and Jochberg ie. the Pinzgau region. The 3,700 metre long gondola journey, with its highest point being 400 m above ground is a real experience every time. The gondola No. 1 even has a floor made of bulletproof glass. Something for the courageous and with a head for heights - face to face with the valley floor.
The two thousander is closing in
After that rush of adrenaline, hunger slowly reappears. Good that it is not far to the Bärenbadalm. And, as well as that, the two thousander is getting closer. At least you can see it here from the mountain-top station South of the 3S-Bahn quite well. In short - only three lifts and three runs, then I'm at my destination. Time to take a little break. Preferably with a well-earned meal. Käsespätzle (cheese noodles) with salad and a schiwasser (raspberry syrup diluted with water) - because that's a typical meal here. And also because I now can tolerate a decent portion of sugar – the raspberries floating on the drink just playing an unimportant minor role. By the time I have eaten and paid, time moves on and I should really get back onto my skis and start envisaging the last mountain. Another descent, another ascent. After my meal I have more power on my skis and the slightly sloping piste is easy to manage. Only on the steeper edges over the last 30 km my legs begin to feel the strain. It doesn’t matter. Now my goal is within reach. The “Zweitausender” – an 8-man chairlift with heated seats, the most modern comfort for the last ascent. Majestically I float from the “Trattenbachgraben” in the air. To my right, the flank of the Kleine Rettenstein with traces of avalanches. The sun is dazzling – I squint with my eyes, peeping to see it on the right, now face to face, almost at the same height – the two thousand metre high mountain! The summit cross shines as if to welcome newcomers to the summit.
Border region Tyrol - Salzburg
At exactly 12:52 p.m. I slip from the seat, get out and slide over to the mountain ridge. Deep blue skies above snow-white slopes. Views of the Hohe Tauern with Austria’s highest mountain – the Grossglockner. Here on the ridge is actually the geographical border between the provinces of Tyrol and Salzburg, between Pinzgau and Kitzbühel. Borders that may well be on the map but not on the ski pass, because from here you could continue onwards in the direction of Pass Thurn and Mittersill.
For me, the excursion to the two thousander ends in the unknown. My journey now leads back over the Trattenbachgraben, the 3S Bahn, from Pengelstein via “Die Bärige” and the Choralp gondola to Hochbrixen – from there to Hopfgarten. In the end it all adds up to a proud 99 km, 10,574 m of altitude, including breakfast and lunch on the mountain, 8 hours and 32 minutes. Tired with thighs burning and a suntanned nose, I load my gear into the car and glance back at the mountain. “And? How was it?” I turn around and see the lift attendant from this morning standing in front of me. “Experiment mastered”, I reply overjoyed. “Well done!” he says. And this time I know he’s serious.
Listen. Feel. See the big picture. Reveal a new world. For and with locals from the Kitzbühel Alps. www.katietropper.com more details