Perfect powder and freeride fun in Fieberbrunn
Pulling into the parking lot in Fieberbrunn on a cold and clear-skied February morning seems to have caused a rather weird sense of spatial displacement. Having driven past family-friendly SkiWelt and it’s sprawl of intermediate slopes, and glimpsed Kitzbühel’s Hahnenkamm in the distance – perhaps the most famous race course of all, it feels as if we’ve just arrived in Revelstoke or Jackson Hole. The parking lot is full of skiers hoisting monstrous powder skis over their shoulders and marching purposely towards the lifts in ski suits so bright they make your retinas ache.
It’s certainly not the Austria I’m used to, where slalom carvers seem to rule supreme and the majority of skiers stick resolutely to the groomed runs, leaving plenty of off-piste there for the plunder. This sudden proliferation of ‘freeriders’ has me slightly concerned… what if they all get there (wherever ‘there’ is) first? I’ve never put my ski boots on so fast.
Fieberbrunn, which is in the far eastern reaches of the Tirol region, has made a concerted play for the freeride crowd. On top of the obvious marketing efforts (ie comically enormous stationary), they also host a stage of the prestigious Freeride World Tour. Claims of being Austria’s freeride hot-spot are not entirely unfounded.
While the Wildseeloder (the FWT competition venue) is a giant and untamed beast, I’m here to find out is what Fieberbrunn has to offer freeriders of the average weekend warrior variety.
The frontside of the resort is mostly family-fare, but dropping down towards the 4-seater Lärchfilzen things get a bit spicier, with steeper pistes and marked ski routes. Perfect for a couple of warm-up runs, but with sunny skies and new snow, we’re soon itching to tackle some longer descents. The avalanche warning – Lawinegefahr – in this part of the country is moderate (2 on the 5 point scale) today, so things are looking good on most aspects, with temperatures set to remain pretty stable. In short, nearly perfect conditions!
The new Reckmoos Nord gondola (dubbed the “Dark Side of the Sun”) ascends to 1873m, delivering skiers and snowboarders to a sunny southeast-facing area with views towards the intermediate-friendly Saalbach-Hinterglemm area in neighbouring Salzburgerland. The main red piste funnels the crowds towards the bottom lift station, but a few enquiries with lifties and locals reveal that the far skiers’ right slope descends to the valley floor, from where a 15 minute boot-pack will get us back to the lifts. That affords a thigh-burning 800m vertical descent with not a groomer in sight, and plenty of wide-open rolling terrain. Sure, it’s accessible enough that we’re skiing chop more than virgin powder, but it’s incredible to get such a substantial off-piste run with no interruptions.
Below the tree line there’s some playful terrain amongst the gullies, where the wide tree-stumps and fresh powder have created mini-pillow lines. Great fun, caution should be exercised around the streams running through the gullies. After a couple of runs in this area the lower parts of the descent (and the lower parts of our legs – courtesy of the short but steep hike) are feeling the effects of the sun. Time to move on.
The top lift station of the Hochhörndl at 2020m is the highest lift-accessed point in the resort, as well as the gateway to sun-protected and steeper off-piste terrain. More serious backcountry terrain extends to the south, but we head for the shorter side-country options. A traverse and a short hike gets the lungs working hard, but fewer skiers have made the effort and the powder is deep, light and well… velvety! Fieberbrunn has an abundance of this sort of terrain, but it’s not served up on a plate – this area is definitely best for those that have no qualms about tackling a ragged traverse track, side-stepping, or shouldering their skis to ‘earn’ their turns.
A traverse around the frozen lake to the Wildseeloderhaus reveals that there’s a lot more vertical to burn before getting back on a lift. The FWT competition venue looms above, but there’s plenty more trees, gullies and cliff bands below. A quick ‘refuelling’ break at the cosy Teehütte, and it’s back for more laps on this massive Varianten before a couple of gentler runs back on the frontside.
As for the crowd of freeriders kitting-up in the car park earlier? Despite the occasional appearance of bomb-holes at the bottom of cliffs, or evidence of high-speed turns on exposed big mountain faces, it never felt like there was a mad-rush to “get the goods”. It may be no secret that Fieberbrunn has some of the best freeride terrain in the Austrian Alps, but for now at least, it seems that there’s plenty to share around.
Fieberbrunn ski area is included in the Tirol Snow Card, which provides access to 4000km of pistes, more than 1000 lifts and 86 ski areas throughout Tirol.
The Freeride World Tour comes to Fieberbrunn on 9 March. It’s the last chance for athletes to stake a claim on the top stops before the season finale in Verbier.