7 reasons to visit… Stubai Glacier
For skiers and snowboarders, November is often defined by anticipation. Watching webcams, waiting for winter weather to arrive and for the mountains to turn white. But if you’re lucky, November is the month when the first turns of the (hopefully long) season are made. For our Munich based correspondent, Chris Taine, the October storm which deposited snow across the Alps meant that it was time to wax up the skis and head to Stubai Glacier, one of the ski areas in the Alps that are already open for business.
The Italian Dolomites loom far off on the horizon in one direction, while in the other direction the wide Inn Valley makes its way north towards the German border. From my vantage point at 3210m, the Alps stretch out in every direction. The snow storm that hit the Alps in late October has blanketed the high glacial peaks of the Austrian Alps, and extends far down into the valleys below. There aren’t many views that can beat the one from the very top of the Stubai Glacier, but the best thing about standing at the top of Tirol? There’s nearly 900 vertical metres of piste below me. And, it’s only the start of November.
Early-season glacier skiing is definitely a different beast to your mid-winter powder hunt, but if you do roll the dice and get lucky with snow and weather, you’ll certainly be the envy of all of your snow-starved friends!
So here are 7 reasons why you should visit Stubai for an early-season escapade.
Getting a head start… skiing and boarding before winter truly awakes
Stubai is not a summer skiing area as such, but due to its high altitude and glacial slopes, it typically operates from mid-December until mid-May. How much of the terrain is open entirely depends on snow conditions, however Stubai is known for offering some of the best conditions during the autumn season (October and November) and again in the spring. At the start of November, it was already possible to ski down to the Middlestation Fernau at 2300m, meaning only one gondola to download at the end of the day. At this time of year in the UK there’s the Ski and Snowboard Shows, ski movie premieres and the shops fill up with all the latest kit. All of which aims to create a bit of ‘buzz’ ahead of the coming winter. But do you know what’s a much better way to get buzzing about winter? Actually go skiing.
Austria’s largest glacier ski area
Hintertux Glacier take the honours for the longest season, open 365 days of the year (weather permitting), but Stubai Glacier is actually Austria’s largest glacier ski area. 26 lifts serve 62km of pistes, though the amount of terrain open obviously depends on snow. On 2 November, 22km of pistes were open – not bad given that October’s storm is the only substantial snow fall in the past weeks. There might not be any frighteningly steep black runs, but Stubai’s terrain is more varied than most glacier areas, and as soon as the off-piste starts filling in up high there’s the chance to get away from the groomed. There are enough surface lifts on the glacier that even when the car park in the valley fills up, the crowds can spread out across the ski area.
Sit back and watch the show
The guys and girls who you saw tearing up the Slopestyle course in Sochi surprisingly enough didn’t just turn up at the Olympics, throw themselves off those huge jumps and hope for the best. The top freestyle athletes train just as hard as top ski racers, and it’s places like Stubai where they hone their skills. Stubai’s freestyle park, with kickers sculpted to perfection, is a gathering place for the best freestyle skiers and boarders in the autumn and again in the spring. The park is located on the sunny Gaisskarferner, at the very top of the ski area, and it’s well worth stopping by to check it out – even if you prefer to keep your own ski attached to the snow!
Gourmet at altitude
The Schaufelspitz restaurant – with a Gault Millau toque to its name – brings fine-dining to the high alpine peaks. At an altitude of nearly 3000m, the Schaufelspitz serves Austrian classics done to the highest standard using regional ingredients, a solid wine list, and an expansive sun terrace. Surely some of the best Knödel (dumplings) anywhere in the Alps.
Soak up the last rays of… summer?
The days are getting short, but at this time of the year it is still possibly to feel the warmth of the sun’s rays. The lifts open from 7.30am until 4.00pm, so there’s no harm at all in taking an extended lunch break, parking up on a sun lounger outside the Eisgrat Restaurant at 2900m and catching a few rays.
Worth it for a weekend
It’s only a 20 minute drive from Innsbruck, meaning that it’s very easy to base yourself in the city and travel up to Stubai for the day. There are hotels and pensions in Neustift, as well as other small villages up and down the valley, but Innsbruck itself has a stunning location and plenty to offer besides skiing. Mix a bit a skiing into your city break, or add a bit of history and culture to your skiing break – make a long weekend of it and escape the dreary November weather in the UK. At this time of year there are quite a few glacier ski areas to choose from across the Alps, however none are as convenient to get to as Stubai.
I can see my house from here!
Not quite (the jagged Karwendel mountains north of Innsbruck obscures the view of Munich), but the views are incredible. A picture tells a thousand words, so for the sake of brevity…