Skiing in Austria has been surprisingly variable. In one week, we’ve had hard-packed snow, hard chunky snow with exposed icy parts, spring skiing heavy and slushy snow, and powder.
Any powder day while skiing is fantastic, but because I usually get just one week a year to ski, getting a powder day feels like winning the lottery. And, since we had travelled halfway across the planet to ski for six days, this week’s powder day made the trip – and later skiing in the rain – worthwhile.
For a map of Ski Arlberg, click here.
It started to snow Tuesday at lunchtime, and it kept going all through Wednesday. The snow was fantastic, and we were starting to get a sense of the off-piste possibilities at Arlberg. Unfortunately, the visibility was very poor. The light was very flat from the overcast skies, and the clouds stayed settled low into the valley most of the day, meaning that if you went above the bottom lifts you were in the cloud.
When the sky is white, the snow is white, and you can’t see more than a foot past the tips of your skis, it’s very easy to lose sense of which way is downhill. It’s a weird, dizzy sort of feeling.
In a white-out, even with low-light goggle lenses it is difficult find any definition in the snow. When you can’t see if the surface you are about to ski is flat, bumpy or icy you have to trust your feet and keep your knees a little loose to absorb any unexpected impact without getting thrown off balance. It’s doable, but mentally tiring, so we spend most of the day on the lower lifts where there was a little bit of visibility.
In the morning, there was a huge crowd at the bottom of the Nassereinbahn. Normally, a crowd waiting for the lifts to open on a powder day would be normal, but we hadn’t seen that many people all week, and many seemed like tourists. Where were they all hiding for the first part of the week? Are there that many people who don’t ski when the snow isn’t perfect?
The lift opened almost 10 minutes late, which was frustrating given the crowd and the knowledge of fresh snow. We did a run or two on the front of Gampen peak, where we were rewarded with boot-deep powder and some deep pockets in between bumps.
Next, we tried the top of Galzig peak, which was in a cloud. The run markers really come in handy in white-out conditions. Staying between the lollypop-like signs was the only way we made it down.
Rendl peak opened in the late morning, so we headed up the gondola that side of the mountain. Rendl faces a different direction, so while the visibility was slightly better over on that peak.
After a run or two, we found run 12, which was nearly untouched but had been groomed the night before. This meant we got knee-deep, un-tracked powder with a smooth surface underneath. This was the run of the day for me.
We found more fresh snow in the glade underneath the Maassbahn before finally deciding that our legs were getting worn out. Powder is fun but tiring – especially if you haven’t been skiing all season and don’t have the leg strength built up. We decided to try Gampen Bar for lunch. This was a typical on-mountain cafeteria style option, but the food was very good. We had lasagne and a pork knuckle.
We had a late lunch at the Gampen Bar – Lasagne and a pork knuckle. In the evening, we found the Kellerbar in our area of Nasserein for some Après drinks. They have some good beer options and live rock music during happy hour. It was a good spot, that felt local.
A Slow Start
It continued to snow during the night, then on Thursday morning the sun finally came out. Our original plan was to head towards Lech. We still hadn’t made it to that part of the ski area. We also thought there would be good snow in the areas between St Anton and Lech because it had been closed the day before. Unfortunately, it was still very windy at the top and the runs and chairs to Stuben and Zurs were closed.
After a run down into St Christoph the cloud started to clear out and we could see a little better. We found another lift we hadn’t skied yet – Tanzbodenbahn on Galzig peak – and there was some fresh powder off the side of the run that other skiers had started poaching. We rode the lift to have a look at the potential run and decided to give it a go.
To an Awesome Powder Day
The snow was awesome! I can’t believe how much it snowed in just a few days. It was deep but not too heavy. A few runs off the lift and we could see more and more. The sky was finally blue, and we could see them grooming the runs off in the distance that would return from Stuben to St Anton. There were at least four snowcats out doing the one run, but it was clearly going to take them some time to get the middle lifts open, if they got them open at all.
We could, however, see that if we skied between runs 61 and 57, we would get fresh powder and the freshly groomed run at the end. This was easily the run of the day. Steep and deep, with pockets of un-tracked snow all the way to the groomed run at the bottom, where I could really open up the speed and get some wide, low turns for the first time all week. A run like that encapsulates why I love to ski.
There’s the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment, the feeling of soft snow against my legs, the beauty of the surrounding mountain range with the white snow and hard rocky peaks contrasted against the deep blue sky, and the exhilaration of speeding down the run supported by the strength in my own legs.
After the run we headed over to Rendl peak, we knew from the day before there would be some fresh snow to ski if the top lifts were open. Rendl delivered in spades. We started off the side of Gampbergbhan, where we had a run-full of fresh turns. Then, it was down through the glade below Maassbahn again, which was so much better again then Wednesday.
Finally, we to the very top of Rendl – Riffelbahn chairs I and II. To the skier’s right of Riffelbahn II was a huge, wide-open bowl of off-piste snow to ski which hadn’t been touched in three days. While it was getting tracked out, there were still huge un-touched patches.
On the way to the chair, a helicopter came in and dropped a patroller off on the run, then circled back around to pick up the patroller and an injured skier. From where we were, it seemed close the lift and was whipping up a heap of snow – it was a little scary. While on the run down, another heli rescue took place just above us. The snow was deep and a little heavy. It certainly would be easy to injure yourself you weren’t careful. Seeing the two rescues so soon after one another, and so close to where we were skiing made me a bit more cautious.
After a late lunch at MooserWirt – famous for its apres ski – we headed up Kapall lift. We could see a the newly tracked runs in the off-piste area to the left of Kapall lift. It must have opened while we were on Rendl.
When it snows at Arlberg, there is certainly a LOT of good skiing to be had!