After an exciting day of skiing on the Italian side of the Puster Valley on Monte Elmo, followed by a day of sightseeing in South Tyrol, we were planning to spend the last two days of our ski trip in the Austrian Alps. From our home base in St. Oswald, it was literally a 10 minute drive across the Puster Valley to the “Skizentrum Hochpustertal” in Sillian. I was looking forward to skiing in the Austrian Dolomites and we reached the base station of the gondola at about 9:30 am.
Ski tickets were very reasonable: at Euro 39.90 for a full-day these rates compared very favourably to what I am used to in places like Quebec, Vermont or New Hampshire. It had now been more than 30 years since I had skied in Austria, and I was really looking forward to the experience.
February 23, 2012 was a bit of an overcast day. We got to the top and had a great view of the mountain chains surrounding us, but the sky was a bit grey and the sun tried to peek through, which created a rather interesting atmosphere. The “Skizentrum Hochpustertal” is located at an altitude of 1,100 to 2,407 metres and has 16 easy runs, 34 medium-difficulty runs and 5 difficult runs. The longest run is called the “Kammabfahrt” and is 11 kilometres long with an altitude difference of 1,300 metres.
Two gondolas, 2 quad chairlifts, 1 six-person chairlift and2 t-bars service the area and it was a very pleasant day for skiing with relatively few people on the slopes. For the first few runs we took the main gondola up from the valley and skied all the way down. The main run down to the valley had wide, well-prepared slopes surrounded by forests. I enjoyed the scenic views to the other side of the Puster Valley.
Towards mid-day we took some of the chairlifts to the top where we truly had a breathtaking 360 degree mountain panorama. For lunch we skied to a mountain hut half-way down the north-facing slopes and stopped in for a solid lunch of “Fritattensuppe” (pancake strip soup), and “Tiroler Knödel” (Tyrolean dumplings filled with smoked pork meat). Hearty food goes hand in hand with skiing in the Alps.
After some more skiing at the very top we headed into the main Gadein Chalet, a huge wooden chalet with giant panorama windows looking out on the valley. This chalet offers a great lunch buffet with soups, hot and cold dishes, and a big salad buffet, but in the latter part of the afternoon we sat down for a bit of cake: some apple strudel and some “Topfenstrudel”, filled with soft quark cheese, an Austrian specialty. It seems good food and great skiing always go hand in hand in the Alps, and somehow the delicious food is intended to fully replenish the calories you burned skiing. It’s very hard to resist the culinary temptations…
February 24, 2012 was our departure day, but since our drive was only going to be four hours back to Eastern Austria, we were going to be able to go skiing for a half day. In the morning we packed the car full with all our gear and our entire group of 8 skiers headed to “Skizentrum Hochpustertal” together. It was a very sunny and warm day and temperatures in the valley were forecast to reach plus 12 degrees Celsius!
All of my Austrian friends, I called them the “Spreitzhofer Racing Team”, are experienced ski racers, and I spent a portion of the morning taking film footage as they raced one another down the mountains. Without any fear of speed at all, five of them hurtled themselves down the steep slopes and expertly negotiated the terrain and any possible other skiers that might have been on the runs.
My rented ski boots had been causing me some significant foot aches so I retired at noon to the Gadein Chalet and grabbed a nice table by the window overlooking the valley. At about 1:00 the entire group kept rolling into the chalet and selected their respective dishes from the extensive lunch buffet. I had enjoyed a lovely pancake strip soup, followed by an equally satisfying salad buffet. People were sunning themselves on the patio outside the chalet, and it seemed that no more than a light jacket was required in these warm temperatures.
We spent a few more runs going up to the very top of the mountain, and I was amazed by the state-of-the-art 6-person chairlift with heated seats and a glass dome. I had never seen such a luxurious chairlift before!
By about 2:30 we had to start our last run down the mountain and it was going to be a long one. By this time my feet were positively killing me and I opted to take the gondola down into the valley while my friends enjoyed their last long run down to the bottom. Once arrived, they actually concurred that further down the mountain, the snow actually got very slushy and wet, and I had made a good choice taking the gondola down.
Half an hour later we were packed into the car and back on our way towards Styria, one of Austria’s eastern provinces. I was a bit sad to say goodbye to my friends with whom I had spent such a great five days in the Austrian and Italian Alps. This five-day trip had only given me a little taste of skiing in Europe, and the wonderful combination of high mountains, beautiful scenery, great skiing, sightseeing and culinary delights makes me hope to have more opportunities to ski in the Alps in the near future…