Foehny business in Obergurgl
Conditions in the Alps are slowly improving, however not before many resorts delayed their opening days. Mild temperatures have thwarted snow-making efforts, while Mother Nature has been miserly with precipitation since mid-November storms. The conventional wisdom holds that is you’re planning on skiing or snowboarding before Christmas, it’s best to ‘aim high’, in case seasons start like this one. Chris Taine heads to Obergurgl – one of the loftiest spots in the Austrian Alps – to confirm that the Ötztal is a sure bet for a pre-Christmas blast.
The lines drawn on a map don’t usually exist in real world, however today it’s pretty easy to see where Italy ends and Austria starts. In Italy in the weather is terrible, the mountains and valleys blanketed in thick white clouds, while in Austria it couldn’t be more perfect. gorgeous. The main divide of the Alps, which determines much of the border between the two countries, is stopping the cloud dead in their tracks. Wisps of cottony clouds that dare sneak across onto Austrian soil promptly disperse, giving skiers and snowboarders at the top of Hochgurgl incredible views across the entire Ötztal Alps. The disappearing act that the weather is doing is due to the famous Foehn wind, which is both a blessing and a curse in this part of the world.
A blessing, because on days like this the Foehn wind means blue skies, perfect skiing and milder temperatures on the lee side (north) of the main alpine divide. A curse, because… well, the winds aren’t known as “snow-eaters” for nothing. While the Foehn is partially to blame for the slow start to the season, at least Hochgurgl-Obergurgl is high enough to make it almost a sure bet.
Obergurgl, at 1930m, is the highest parish in Austria, and almost all of the ski area is between 2000m and 3000m. Hochgurgl and Obergurgl, which are connected via the Top-Express gondola, are amongst the first non-glacier resorts in the Alps to open each season, and the snow lasts well into the spring. One major advantage the area has over glacier areas is that the best skiing is just a chairlift ride away. No lengthy commute to share the snow with spandex clad racers.
There are 110km of pistes, so although it does not rank amongst the largest resorts in Europe, the quality of pistes, the fast and efficient lift infrastructure, and the unspoilt nature of the upper reaches of the Ötztal makes it a firm favourite amongst many Brits. Obergurgl is in fact one of five Austrian resorts that hosts a Ski Club Leader, where they go about their business unaffected by the legal tussles that have disrupted leading and social skiing services in France.
The terrain, which is ‘quality over quantity’ is very intermediate friendly too, and the snow stays in great nick due to the altitude. Looking out across the snow-covered peaks – many of which are well over 3000m – from the Hohe Mut Alm, it’s almost hard to believe that other parts of the Alps are struggling for snow. Sure, the snow cover isn’t amazing, but the vast expanse of white is a welcome reminder that winter really is here.
The mountains aren’t the only ones dressed in white either. As I clicked into my skis for a final fast descent down to the Nederhütte (the local apres-ski spot), a white-gowned bride-to-be emerged from gondola, heading for a mountaintop wedding ceremony. Obviously it’s an amazing spot to tie the knot, but the guest will have to remember that at 2670m the Schnapps will work a little faster than usual!
Obergurgl is also covered by the Tirol Snow Card – 87 ski areas, 1100 lifts and 4000km of pistes