Archive for the ‘austria’ Tag

Innsbruck, Austria

So I hit the roads and skies for a few weeks. Innsbruck has always been one of my favorite places to visit, a city of 150,000-ish people squeezed into a narrow valley between mighty mountains. It’s a strategic location, along a river, and at the foot of the Brenner Pass, the lowest pass between Austria and Italy. So there’s more than a hint of Italian flavor, mixed in with a large student population, and all sorts of outdoorsy folks hitting the slopes or trails on their lunch breaks. My kind of town indeed. It has that combination of history and beauty, while remaining a real city with its gritty corners and less beautiful neighborhoods. It’s authentic, in other words, fitting for the main city and administrative center in the Tyrol (Tirol).

I normally take the train, but this time I flew in and out, and having taken 500+ flights in my lifetime, this one is special. The flight paths pretty much graze the Alps at barely over 3000 meters, so you’re really up close and personal with the mountains for the first or last 10 minutes of flight. So here you go, some mountain porn for your viewing pleasure.

On the way in, just past the Zugspitze.

On the way in, just past the Zugspitze.

Around the Germany / Austria border

Around the Germany / Austria border

Also around the Germany / Austria border

Also around the Germany / Austria border

From the Patscherkofel looking up the Stubaital

From the Patscherkofel looking up the Stubaital

No architecture in this post, maybe I’ll write another one about the numerous interesting structures in town, along with some of the urban stuff.

Advertisements

mid-March in Lech

Mostly unintended.

I didn’t bring my equipment, as I planned on staying in Frankfurt, but upon reading the forecast, I bought a train ticket, sucked up the steep prices in Lech, and took a 9.5 hour trip down to the Arlberg.

My rental setup was on this year’s equipment, with a colorful and well-maintained Burton Custom 158, and a smelly pair of Ozone boots. The boots were not really suited for my riding style, though, they were comfortable, but too soft and didn’t really agree with my feet. The bindings, Burton Missions, were the toe-cap type, which I’ve never used before, and they were just okay. Somehow a lot of snow piled up around the toe area, at least more so than my normal bindings. The board, though, was great, the right length and flex compared to my current 161 tank.

I met up with my buddy Michael, who made it up from Feldkirch to ride a couple hours Monday afternoon with me, and then had to leave to go to Innsbruck. Too bad it was so short, but hopefully next year!

Riding buddies since 2004.

I caught what is probably going to be the last big snowfall of the season. After snowing around 15 – 20 cm the first day, It dumped nearly 60 cm overnight Monday into Tuesday, mostly starting around 5 AM, and by the time I was up on the slopes, it was deep and mostly untracked. A German lady I rode up with summed it up nicely, as she simply looked at me and said, ” WOW”, which translates in any language. So began a day of above the knee powder, where you feel the snow gently pushing against your clothing, and get the occasional elusive face shot. The visibility, as expected for a place above treeline, was quite bad.

It snowed a bit.

What a view.

The sun came out the next day, which made for more powder runs, and it stayed good until the early afternoon, when the rapidly rising temperatures turned things into mashed potatoes. But I also took a few of the off-piste runs, but still had to stay cautious given that I was riding alone and it’s all too easy to lose your way around here or otherwise end up in trouble. This place is sweet on a day like this, but it’s better to ride with a buddy, or better yet, a local who knows his way around.

Endless fields of goodness!

Valluga and Roggspitze

The downsides to the place: there are several areas of traverses that are difficult on a snowboard. Somehow, even when I point it, I still can’t manage enough speed, so inevitably I end up walking. And as I pointed out, the powder days are amazing, but the visibility can be terrible.

And as for the town, it exudes luxury and money, and is probably the most prestigious resort in the Alps, along with St. Moritz. The food and accommodation will break your budget, but it’s an undeniably gorgeous location to blow your cash. I stuck to the less expensive options, i.e. pasta and pizza, stayed in a reasonably priced pension a short walk uphill from the church, in the Anger part of town. And I avoided the whole apres-ski scene, which is a unique, cheesy only-in-Europe experience.

One last word about the trip back: late leaving Langen, late leaving Bregenz, late leaving Lindau, broken down train in Stuttgart. Five transfers, blech.

Weekend in the Arlberg

First trip here this season, after I took the plunge on the steep train fare and took the 7-hour journey to meet up with my buddy Michael in Lech. I’d love to go more often, but I just live too far away. After relaxing in the evening, and still staying up way past my bedtime (1 AM), I managed to get some sleep, never enough, though. It had been a roller-coaster week at work, and I had not been riding in three weeks. 

 

chillin' in a "chilliges Abteil"

chillin' in a "chilliges Abteil"

Here we go, this is what happens when it puked a bunch of snow during the week, and when you put an old guy with a bunch of early 20-somethings. You get a powder day on steroids, in a clockwise loop from Lech to Zuers and back. And plenty of that indecipherable Vorarlberg dialect.

 

gonna be an excellent day

gonna be an excellent day

9:30 AM, off to the races, and the first of many extended powder runs. It’s this undulating terrain with numerous gullies, cliffs of different sizes, and all sorts of natural terrain features. So off we went, taking the usual set of chairlifts and surface lifts to get to Zuers, and then gradually back to Lech. They knew the way, I just did my best to follow them around.

2 PM, time for a quick lunch with a view. And a brief check of our transceivers for safety’s sake.

 

lunch with a view

lunch with a view

4 PM,  a long-ish hike out of bounds, that hour when you start to feel the temperature falling, and when the light on the mountain starts to take a slight pinkish glow. What a view, what a day.

 

last steps, way out of bounds

last steps, way out of bounds

 

the crew

the crew

 

 

The flat spots, however, really got me. Despite pointing it, I found that I had to skate or unstrap to get going, so I probably irritated everyone. To all of them, danke fuer deine Geduld, thanks for your patience, and sorry!

I’ve been to the Arlberg several times now, but I think this trip took the cake with regards to quality. The sun came out for just one day, the temperatures still stayed below freezing, and hooking up with a bunch of locals, they knew where to go.

Now it was harder to get up early the next morning, crawl out of bed, and pull on the clothes and my still-damp, slimy boots. I had a long journey back to the flatlands of Germany after riding, and I decided on another loop of Lech / Zuers, albeit this time it was a solo mission, and abbreviated.

 

weather moving in, a 60+ cm dump is on its way

weather moving in, a 60+ cm dump is on its way

I revisited some spots from the day before, some of which had become suncrusted and choppy, but ended it on a happy solo run to the Lech tunnel. And then it was a breathless set of bus and train connections, a postbus to Langen and on to Feldkirch, a six minute connection, a standing-room only train to Lindau, another six minute connection, a delayed train to Ulm, a two minute dash to the bullet train, and a growling stomach from not eating quite enough over the past couple of days. 

A few lessons I picked up out of this:

I’m old and out of shape. My abilities are headed south, but I can still do a mean powder turn. Safety first. Still among the best days of the year so far.

Traversing in Garmisch

. . .with no offense to the Partenkirchen part.

I haven’t been here in ten years. In fact, this was the spot of my first snowboarding experience outside of the U.S., for an afternoon back in February 1999, on a crappy rented board with bindings that were way too big for the boots I was using. I was seriously ill after catching something on the plane ride from the West Coast to Frankfurt, added a few antimalarials, alcohol, a train system all out of whack from the avalanches in Austria, and I was an absolute mess. But hey, I still had to go and ride for the afternoon on the Hausberg.

Fast forward ten years later, give or take a month or so, and I checked the snow forecast and headed to Garmisch. It was partially a money-saving move, but I had not been up to Germany’s highest point either. And the Bavarian beer sealed my decision to stick relatively close by. 

Alas, it didn’t snow as promised, but the overcast gave way to plenty of sunshine during the day. I hooked up with another solo rider from Munich, and checked out some of the off-piste stuff. More snow is needed, but there were still some good spots. As usual for going to a new spot, I was lost much of the time. The runs are pretty short overall, and there are lots of flat spots that required either a lot of speed or plenty of traversing.

img_8559

Put on the boots. . .

img_8566

Get on the train, get on the cable car, and 25 minutes later. . .

 

The last run down was absolutely awful, narrow icy paths designed for walkers, but instead it was a nightmare getting down to the bottom. Ice. Flat spots, death chunks of ice. And more traverses. I don’t think I ever figured out how to really get around the area, but then again, it was my first time on some of these slopes.

Monday was significantly better, but cut short by my 4 PM train back to Munich. I headed for the Zugspitze area, which was a 45 minute journey by cogwheel train followed by a very thrilling cable car that went up 2000 m to the top of Germany. But that’s not all, then you have to take another cable car to go down to the ski area.

I did take in the view first, before heading down to the ski area. It’s an isolated peak in the almost Austrian Alps, with a view on the nicest days clear into Italy and Switzerland, so it’s an impressive panorama.

Waxenstein and Garmisch

Waxenstein and Garmisch

Top of the cable car

Top of the cable car

 

The snow was actually OK in spots, the ski area is built on this wide open bowl, with a fast disappearing glacier somewhere in the middle. I never figured out where the glacier actually is (was). There was 4 cm of snow Saturday night, but by the time I got there, it was sun baked, crusty, and skied out. Still, I found a few parts in the shade that stayed in very good shape, so I can say that it was a semi-powder (chowder?) day.

From the top

From the top

 

And, I should add, that I took a 5 minute detour and walked across the border into Tirol, before crossing back into Bayern. Note that there’s no mention of Germany or Austria.

Welcome to Freistaat Bayern

Welcome to Freistaat Bayern

Welcome to Tirol

Welcome to Tirol

 

Alas, one that ended a bit too quickly. I had to quit by 1:30 PM to make my way back, even though my legs were hurting, my big toes were getting bruised (again) from my oh-so-supa-tight boots. With the scheduling, the system of cable cars and trains was absolutely awful- a 10 minute wait here, a 15 minute wait there, and then the train back to Garmisch which ran every hour. There is a ski bus, but I couldn’t figure out where the stops were. So once you’re at the area of choice, it’s fine getting around, but to go between sections is downright horrible.

Not sure that I will come back here, unless I’m missing something really special. I’ll stick to Austria.