Tips for Skiing in Innsbruck
Innsbruck skis. It’s a place where riding a bike with skis and daypack is a usual sight. In fact, you can walk out of a hip upscale store and one block later bump into a skier or snowboarder on his way to Nordkette (seriously, keep an eye out, they’re all over the place on snow days). They skip classes at school or university and take days off. Meanwhile, I am one of those ski addict Innsbruck locals, too. I lock up my bike a snowball’s throw away from the historic old town of Innsbruck at Hungerburgbahn Funicular. A ski instructor dressed in red uniform stands next to the escalator and we have a chat about how convenient it is working as a ski instructor in a city like Innsbruck. His ‘office’ is Nordkette Ski Resort, lying one and a half kilometer above town, where the sun cracks through for a great morning of wintery bliss. Nordkette is a tiny resort but when it dumps, there are tons of epic lines to be had. Add to that breathtaking views of the city below, and this is a solid bet for a quick in-and-out powder mission.
08:00am // Start at the Base of Hungerburg Funicular
Innsbruck’s most exciting contemporary architecture is ski-related – the strangely beautiful stations of Hungerburg Funicular and the Bergisel Ski Jump were designed by world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid who died two years ago. The four swooping, spaceship-like stations of Hungerburg Funicular have been my personal “Stairway to Heaven” ever since I moved to Innsbruck in 2012. They start at Congress station, just outside Old Town, and top out halfway up the mountain at Hungerburg. If snow conditions allow, I skin up my skis and climb towards Seegrube from Hungerburg. Today, I opt for the less exhausting and more convenient ride aboard Nordkette Gondola. Enjoying a bird’s eye view of Innsbruck below, I wonder what the snow will be like in steep Karrinne couloir. The moral of the day is, “You won’t know, if you don’t go.”
09:00am // Riding the First Gondola up to Hafelekar
Today, I really want to hit the heights, so once I have reached Seegrube, I go up the next leg of the cable car to Hafelekar, at a lofty 2300 meters. I spot the narrow ribbons of snow between the rock faces, where skiers have already left their tracks. Steep, narrow and guarded by sheer rock walls, it’s not somewhere to practice your first-ever jump turn. It’s a nightmare for the average skier—and a dream come true for true experts tackling it. I check my beacon, although I know that ski patrol has been blasting avalanche control early in the morning and that today’s danger is low, luckily. Freezing winds greet me atop Hafelekar. And although I’m wearing my warmest gloves, my fingers are ice cold as I make my way to the top of Karrinne. With a gradient of 70 per cent, it is one of the steepest runs in the world and not for the faint hearted. This steep couloir is the reason why many a University student ditches the books and meets up with likeminded for a morning skiing fresh powder.
Well. Not today. Which might have something to do with the poor conditions. A touch of fresh pow on hard, crunchy conditions that are not easy to navigate. Well, it could be better but now that I am here with a photographer I can’t be picky and go home having not done it. The photographer is on his snowboard and has a hard time down this testing field of ice-capped moguls. I try to do my best skiing. However, the undisputed highlight up here is the jaw-dropping view of Innsbruck below. I’ve seen it from every angle but its beauty is never lost on me. I stop frequently to gawp down. Right opposite is Patscherkofel, Innsbruck’s local mountain. Which is next on my list—I want to tick the Patscherkofel’s box today in the afternoon, riding the brand-new gondola that opened there in December 2017.
10:00am // Terrain Park, Igloo Bar and Ski Instruction at Seegrube
Karrinne eventually delivers me to Seegrube. Tiny children slide down the practice slope with ski instructors. Right next to the novice terrain, I spot the shaped kickers, jumps, rails and boxes of Nordkette Skyline Park, deeply shrouded in legend. One daring freestyle skier speeds down the hill, rockets up the ramp and pulls off a flurry of twists, flips and spins directly in front of—and above—me. On his way back to the chair lift he passes a giant igloo, the “Cloud 9” Igloo Bar. Strains of lounge music drift out from this amazing alfresco snow bar. I order lemonade from the barkeeper who tells me that Cloud9 plays host to a club night with international DJs every Friday. “Only on Friday nights,” he adds. Sounds as if he preferred more nights like that.
11:00am // Top-to-Bottom Run and Coffee Break at “Hitt & Söhne”
From Seegrube, I ski down all the way to Hungerburg. There are plenty of hidden secret ways down there, but if I told you where they were, they wouldn’t be secrets, would they! Nordkette is one of few ski resorts in Tirol that features 100% natural snow (there are no snowmaking facilities), which means that the official top-to-bottom run to Hungerburg is only open if snow allows. Today is one of these days.
After the ride down, Café “Hitt & Söhne” at Hungerburg is the perfect place for a pit stop. Located next to the base of Nordkette Gondola, this place is a cool combination of café, bar and shop, operated by Leo Baumgartner. The Café is named after “Frau Hitt”, the prominent rock needle that towers high above Innsbruck up on Nordkette Range.
12:00 Noon // A Convenient Bus Ride to the Base of Patscherkofel Gondola
My day of skiing continues. I take a short walk to the bus stop just around the corner. J Line Buses are running from here every ten minutes, linking Hungerburg to the base of Patscherkofel Gondola. The good news is that rides are free to skiers—the free ski bus goes from Innsbruck to all nearby ski resorts. I look up for a final close-up of the jagged rock spires of Nordkette Range, stabbing thousands of feet into the sky. On the ride through town I take some time to relax. I meet three American tourists on the bus, who want to get up to Patscherkofel as well. Not for skiing, though, they simply go winter sightseeing. Which isn’t a bad idea either, given the amazing views from its top.
Shortly after noon, my bus arrives at the base of new Patscherkofel Gondola. The novice terrain with T-bar echoes with the laughter of children on the gentle slopes at the base of the mountain. Aptly named “Das Hausberg“ (‘The Local Mountain‘), the new restaurant at the base building is quite busy. Right next door is an ample sports store with rentals and tuning and everything you would expect. I board one of the new gondola cabins that seat ten and climb to an elevation of almost 2,000 meters within only 15 minutes. That’s convenient! No more waiting in lines for an hour on busy days, as it was usual with the old cable car. Up at the top, I see a couple skinning up their touring skis. They climb towards the snowy peak of Patscherkofel, which sits some 300 meters above. There are several ski touring routes that lead from the base to the top—and can easily be shortened by a ride on the gondola.
2:00pm // Patscher Alm, a Hidden Gem
For most winter sports enthusiasts, Patscherkofel Shelter right next to the top of the gondola is the most popular stop to take a break from skiing. This time, though, I opt for a lesser known on-mountain eatery, quaint and rustic Patscher Alm. Always keep to the left and leave the ski run to the left shortly before reaching the mountain mid-terminal – and you have found a wonderful place where weary skiers can soothe their souls over mountain comfort dishes like Alpine pasture toast and cheese dumplings. The selection of food offered by innkeeper Heidi Kaltschmid is small but varied. A must-try is her homemade apricot cake. Yummy! Heidi and her husband stock up supplies for the cabin by car each year in fall. During winter, fresh ingredients are transported up the mountain by rucksack and skis. Patscher Alm is open until 9:30pm on Thursday nights, which makes it a welcome destination for ski touring enthusiasts.
3:30pm // Ski Like an Olympian
It’s time to get down to the base again. Pride of place at Patscherkofel Mountain is given to the famed 3-kilometer long trail on which the 1964 and 1976 men’s Olympic downhills were contested—and where Franz Klammer careened down the mountainside to claim gold in 1976 in what is commonly regarded as the most exciting, glorious, desperate, winning runs in Olympic history. I take it a little less ambitious and cruise down the mountain for some ten minutes. Having ticked the Nordkette’s and Patscherkofel’s box, I have had my ski fix for the day, so it’s time to get back home. The night is still young. Skiing in Innsbruck is so close to town that you can easily combine an epic day of skiing with an epic night out in town. I catch the bus back to Innsbruck downtown.
5:00pm and later // My Favourite Bars for a Night Out in Innsbruck
At home, I perform a quick costume change: off with the ski boots, on with the sneakers for a quick beer and a bite at “Moustache”. Or to “Kater Noster” to enjoy a decent “Innsbruck Mule”. Or two. You get really good Mexican food and the best burritos in town at “Machete”. These three of my favourite bars in Innsbruck are all located within a five to ten minutes’ walk. And it might well be that you’ll find swarthy young guys with windburn and unruly facial hair discussing the quality of powder at “Karrinne” or “Kofel”. That’s quite common here, as you know by now. After all, Innsbruck skis.
Photo Credits: Carlos Blanchard, Tirol Werbung