Thursday, March 3, 2011

Zillertal on the Cheap

Zillertal. Valley lights under a fog cover.
I just came back from a weekend trip in Zillertal, Austria. It had been a long time since I visited Austria, and I had forgotten how good ski destination Austria is. I was expecting something less than what I had been used to in France and Switzerland. Not so.

Going skiing? Take the tube.
While the highest altitudes in Austrian resorts are generally moderate, 1600 meters of vertical is nothing to be sneezed at. In fact, that tops any ski area in Northern America. And you can ski it top to the bottom on one, consistently steep run. (In five minutes and 30 seconds.)

In addition, Zillertal and other Austrian destinations can be done on a low budget. In Zermatt a lunch in a restaurant in the middle of the ski slopes costs 20€. At least. In Zillertal they were serving large bowls of thick Goulash soup for 4.50€. Add 3.50€ for beer. Not to mention that in Zermatt almost every restaurant even in the middle of the slopes and middle of the day was asking if we had table reservations. Don't get me wrong, I like fine dining now and then. But I came to these places to ski, not to spend a fortune and valuable time on a lunch.

Even cheaper accommodation?
Then there's accommodation. Our well equipped cabin was 67€ for four nights per person. Eleven people stayed in this cabin for roughly the same price than I paid in Zermatt for three people. Finally, the flights to Munich and car rental are less expensive than in cities further south. An excellent option for the budget minded skier. I will come here again.

Off-piste views in Hochfügen
But back to skiing. My favorite part of valley is Hochzillertal and coming down to a small side village via skiroute Aschau. This gives you a 1600 meter descent on well-groomed black run. On the lower part you are unlikely to encounter other skiers, as the exit requires taking a bus back to the main lifts. But the bus connection works well and takes only a little bit of time. Recommended. Another good run is the Stephan Eberharter Goldpiste, which runs next to the main lifts in Kaltenbach.

There are also very nice runs in the Hochfügen area, long, steep red runs, 700 meter vertical on one quick chair lift. The area also has a self-service GS race track, courtesy of BMW. From this area you can also access some easy off-piste runs. For instance, traverse the ridge right from the top of the Hochfügen 2000 chairlift. This gives access to a small bowl with a few steeper sections. You can reach the bottom of the lift just by skiing along the fall line.

Off-piste next to Harakiri
The third fun area in the valley is Penken. This area hosts Austria's steepest run, the Harakiri with its icy 35-degree slope. Note: do not be mislead by claims about this and other ski runs around the world with "78%" steepness. These numbers are measured as percentage from 45 degrees, so they sound nastier than they really are. In any case, the advertisement video for Harakiri is a must. Unfortunately this run was closed on the day that we were at Penken. As a consolation price we skied a probably steeper off-piste next to it.

After-ski at the Postalm
Austria's after-ski is naturally good. We found that Postalm in Kaltenbach is very good, right at the end of the ski runs, and packed with people.

Well planned trip, except for missing Tuesday
Other good places can be found from the bottom (Yeti-Bar) and top of the gondola from Scwhendau (taking you to Penken). At the top of the gondola the bar was even playing live music.

Pictures (c) 2011 Jari Arkko and Ari Keränen.

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