The return of Frau Holle

It’s been a long time coming, but the ski areas north of Innsbruck have had a wintry blast and heavy snow, as Content Editor Chris Taine found out over the weekend. 

Frau Holle has been making her bed. Big time. She may have been made several beds, perhaps attempting to make up for her rather lacklustre bed-making so far this winter.

Although December’s mild temperatures and stingy snowfall affected resorts across the Alps, lower-lying resorts north of Innsbruck have had a particularly tough time, with alpine valleys seemingly resigned to perpetual autumn. ‘Frau Holle has been making her bed’, they’re heard to say in some German-speaking parts when big fat snowflakes are falling from the sky. This phrase, originating from an old Brothers Grimm fairytale, is not one that has been uttered with great regularity this winter. This likely has more to do with prevailing weather patterns favouring mountains in the south of the Alps this season, rather than the negligence of domestic chores by a fairytale Hausfrau, but in any case the snow has arrived.

Since last week conditions have dramatically improved at British faves including Kitzbühel, Söll, Alpbach-Wildschönau and Mayrhofen. Consistent light snowfall last week preceded proper dumps over the weekend – just the excuse needed to head to the Ziller Valley in search of a much needed powder fix.

Off-piste terrain near the Kapauns chair

Off-piste terrain near the Kapauns chair

Zell im Zillertal is certainly not the best-known resort in the valley, as Brits skip past on their way to Mayrhofen, German daytrippers stop at Hochzillertal and serious freeriders set their sights on the steeps around Hochfügen. A relative dearth of off piste skiers is exactly the reason why such a resort is worth a look however.

Ascending the Rosenalmbahn gondola, which rises quickly from the still-green valley up to 1744m, the, it’s clear that the promise of fresh snow and blue skies has brought the crowds, however they quickly disperse. The vast sprawl of the Zillertal Arena means that it’s basically a full day excursion to get to the Hochkrimml side and back again – a ski circuit that appeals to skiers wanting to clock up maximum mileage. I’m more of a quality over quantity kind of guy, so it’s straight to the oldest, slowest lift on the mountain.

Perfect conditions at the Zillertal Arena

Perfect conditions at the Zillertal Arena

Why? Because no-one else is riding the oldest, slowest lift on the mountain. Sure, the ride time is a bit longer, but that just gives the legs a chance to rest and plenty of time to think about what pocket of deep powder to infiltrate on the next run. The Kapauns undetachable double chair accesses varied terrain endowed with a thick coating of fresh, with even more steeper terrain accessed via a short hike from the 2500m Übergangsjoch.  snow. While the snow is deep, the underlying base is still thin, particularly on the more southerly-facing aspects where unseen sharks still lurk below, so everything is approached thoughtfully and cautiously – but the turns are the best of the season, the snow light and dry.

At some point during a run through this light, dry snow, my phone decided rather inconveniently to vacate my unzipped jacket pocket. What a rookie move. Literally seconds of fruitless searching and it was time to give it up for lost forever. Hence the relative paucity of photographic evidence to support my claims here.

Beer with a view towards Mayrhofen

Beer with a view towards Mayrhofen

After a quick schnitzel at the self-service Kreuzjochalm, which sits at the edge of an area dominated by rollercoaster red runs and gentle treeline off-piste, we crossed to the Karspitzbahn where the rest of the afternoon was easily absorbed exploring more untracked powder near the lift line. Before downloading (which is necessary here) we stopped at the Wiesenalm for a Weißbier, watching the sun dip below the mountains on the far side of the valley, the pistes and lift stations of Mayrhofen visible in the distance.

Awaking to more even fresh snow on Sunday, the decision was made to head to Mayrhofen – a resort perhaps best-known as the home of the rowdy weeklong Snowbombing party and the off-beat Altitude Comedy Festival. Socked-in weather and continued heavy snow did mean that it was difficult to fully explore the area, or even get a good sense of the layout of this vast resort, so we stuck on or near the pistes around the Horberg and Penken zones, not having to stray too far to find deep pockets of powder. For this part of the Austrian Alps, things are definitely looking up! Danke, Frau Holle, you’ve done good.

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Chris Taine

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