Raised in the Alpine city of Innsbruck, former ski racer Michi Freymann went on to be a freerider and ski tester – before founding SPURart, the build-your-own-skis company. Here, he profiles five of the best off-piste descents int Tirol – with a little help from the local guides who ski them each winter.
Valluga West: St Anton
As any experienced off-pister will tell you, the north face of the Valluga is St Anton’s pin-up backcountry run. But that’s only the start of what’s on offer in this spectacular resort.
“Yes, most skiers have heard of Valluga North,” says Florian Kraler, owner of the local guiding company Piste to Powder. “But what fewer people know is the Valluga West is even more adventurous and scenic.” This epic run starts from the top of the panoramic Valluga 2 gondola, and can be taken only by skiers accompanied with a guide. “There are two ways to enter Valluga West,” says Kraler. “Either by traversing from the saddle of the north face or by climbing down an exposed ridge into a bridge couloir.” It’s not a place to lose your way.
The effort is well-rewarded. “The route drops through 900 vertical meters, and in places the pitch of the slope is 45°. It’s breathtaking and beautiful, and seems to go on forever – finishing in the majestic Pazieltal valley,” says Kraler. “What’s more, it’s not skied that often. If you want first tracks on untouched snow several days after the last snowfall, Valluga West is the place to get them.”
A day’s guiding with Piste to Powder starts from €130pp: and if you’re not ready yet from a run like Valluga West, that’s no problem. The company offers half-day private off-piste tuition: €160pp for two people for half a day.
Kleines Königstal: Obergurgl
In the UK market, Obergurgl is known as a spectacular but easy-skiing resort. Often, two or three generations of the same British families have made their first turns there.
There is, however, another side to this high-altitude ski area, whose lifts rise to a dizzy 3080m. Hire a guide from the new Alpin Center at Ski School Obergurgl, and more experienced skiers will discover some superb off-piste terrain.
A favourite amongst the guides is the Kleines Königstal, accessed from the top of the Wormkogl II lift (on the Hochgurgl side of the resort). It’s a challenging run, by turns steep and gentle, with one long traverse and some technical sections that require a steady nerve and precise turns. But it’s worth every ounce of effort, for the two open powder fields that are the highlights of the descent. In all, the skiing takes about hour and will drop you through 1200 vertical metres. You might fancy riding the Wormkogelbahn back up to the Top Mountain Star bar when you’re done, for a celebratory toast.
With the Alpin Centre, half a day’s off-piste guiding costs €132pp for two.
Piz Val Gronda: Ischgl
Ischgl’s off-piste allure grew considerably in 2013, with the completion of the Piz Val Gronda cable car at the southern end of the ski area. It opened up a huge and varied area of backcountry skiing – and Ischgl native Christoph Zangerl, of the Skischule Ischgl, is the man you should hire to lead you through it.
“With the new lift, the terrain is easily accessed,” says Zangerl. “From the top station, you can see literally hundreds of different runs. Even if you do decide to hike, it’s only going to take five or ten minutes, and you’ll be at the top of a descent few people will have skied.”
The real joy of the area is the variety. There are wide-open powder bowls, steep chutes, and slopes facing in several different directions, “so if one side is sun or wind-affected, the other is usually in great condition,” Zangerl explains. “It’s a pretty playful area, and both experts and beginner off-pisters will enjoy it.” His favourite lines are down through the chutes. To reach them, head skiers right from the top station of the Piz Val Grondabahn. In places, the pitch is more 35 degrees, so only experienced and expert off-pisters should follow in his wake.
With the Skschule Ischgl a half-day’s group freeride lesson costs €74pp.
The guides at the Skischule Serfaus recommend the Moosroute. Short, sharp and thrilling, it drops from the Obere Scheid top station at 2599m, down to the Moosbahn bottom station at 2322m; and it serves up – in places – a 38-degree slope. It takes just 5-10 minutes to get down, and should only be skied with a guide. “The best section is at the top,” they’ll tell you. “The views are sensational.”
With the Skischule Serfaus, a day of private guiding costs €350 for 1-3 people.
Route 66: Alpbach
Route 66 is an easy, winding road that drops from the bottom station of the “2000 Ski Area” beneath the Horn Alm. “It takes the rider far away from the slopes into a remote area at the very end of the valley,” explains Larch. “But there are many opportunities to cut corners and dive into the off-piste between the route. The in-between sections are quite challenging and in places very steep.”
At the beginning of the route, skiers must to pay close attention to the sign posts designating the closed alpine areas below. But once they’ve taken those into account, the mountain is theirs. “The route is stunningly scenic and remote and is an adventure to ride,” says Larch.
With Snow Sports Alpbach Aktiv, a day of guided ski touring costs €300 for upt five people.