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Jagdhausalmen Alpine Pastures, Defereggen, East Tirol, Austria, Europe
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Oliver Stolle

The Best of the Region: Lizumer Hütte

Updated on 21.02.2022 in Sports, Photos: Frank Stolle

The Lizumer Hütte is run by two young guys with a clear vision. Regional produce and traditional values shape their philosophy. This commitment to sustainability covers everything from the meat and milk used in the kitchen, which travels just 150 metres to their door, to the wood used to heat the hut in winter. A real home from home in the mountains where ski-touring novices will find plenty of safe terrain to explore.

The Lizumer Hütte is the starting point for lots of excellent ski touring in the Tux Alps.
The Lizumer Hütte is the starting point for lots of excellent ski touring in the Tux Alps.

As we approach the summit of the Geier mountain, we glance over to the other side of the valley and see a group of men making their way up onto the Pluderer. Left, right, left, right – they progress onto the steeper slopes with almost military precision. Closer inspection reveals that this precision is indeed actually military – they are soldiers from the army training base at the end of the Wattental Valley.

We call over and ask if it is okay if we follow their tracks later when we make our own descent on the mountain. After all, we don't want to take any risks – neither when it comes to avalanches (some sections of the approach are steep and exposed) nor when it comes to orientation (some areas of the valley are reserved for military use and closed to civilians). Straightforward and to the point, their response is a friendly: "Joah, passt." Sure, of course we can follow their tracks.

 

The Lizumer Hütte lies in an area known as the Wattener Lizum, which in turn is part of the Tux Alps. It is here that the Austrian army has a major base extending from the baracks and quarters at the end of the valley into the mountains above. The Lizumer Hütte hut is relatively easy to reach in winter, yet it is much less crowded than more well-known huts in Tirol. It is mainly locals that you will meet here, with the terrain suited to novices with little experience of ski touring. Its high location means it offers good snow conditions from early winter through until spring. Ski touring is the main sporting attraction, but many also come to simply enjoy the natural surroundings and sample the excellent food.

Nearly there. In winter the approach to the hut can be made on snowshoes or simply with a pair of sturdy hiking boots.
Nearly there. In winter the approach to the hut can be made on snowshoes or simply with a pair of sturdy hiking boots.

A refuge in the mountains dedicated to the principle of sustainability.
A refuge in the mountains dedicated to the principle of sustainability.

Lukas Aichhorn, born and raised in Tirol, and Tobias Spechter, originally from Bavaria, are in charge of things at the Lizumer Hütte. They have a clear philosophy based on sustainability, regionality and seasonality. We have agreed to meet up with Lukas – a tall, wiry man of the mountains – at the Lager Walchen, the military base at the end of the road into the valley. From there his powerful jeep with heavy chains wrapped around the tyres for grip takes us up through the forest to the hut at almost 2,000 metres. It is owned by the Hall in Tirol division of the Austrian Alpine Club and can also be accessed on foot (skis, snowshoes or simply sturdy boots) by those who would rather walk up.

When we arrive at the hut, Lukas hops out of the jeep and heads straight to the wood store with its precisely chopped logs used to heat the hut during the cold winter months. As he collects the wood, he tells me how he ended up running a hut high in the Alps. After training as a chef he spent years in fine-dining restaurants before deciding to switch to a totally different field: social work. Any free time he had, he tells me, was spent out and about in the mountains. Rock climbing was for a long time his favourite outdoor sport. And the hut? It kind of just happened, he tells me. Looking back now, he adds, it makes a lot of sense: cooking, working with people, time in the mountains – there is no better way to combine these passions in life than by running a mountain hut.

Tobias Spechter and Lukas Aichhorn run the Lizumer Hütte. 
Tobias Spechter and Lukas Aichhorn run the Lizumer Hütte. 

Almost all the ingredients used in the hut's kitchen are sourced from the local region.
Almost all the ingredients used in the hut's kitchen are sourced from the local region.

15 good reasons to visit Lukas and Tobias at the Lizumer Hütte.
15 good reasons to visit Lukas and Tobias at the Lizumer Hütte.

"Regionality and regional produce are nothing new up here," he explains, adding that in the past there was often no other option than to use things nature had to offer. "It's really important to us that sustainability is more than just a buzzword. We want to live the principle of sustainability in everything we do. That means drawing on what the local environment offers us and being part of a strong community here in the valley. What could be better?"

Back on the mountain, we have now left the dip in the landscape where we observed the soldiers a few minutes ago and have successfully completed the final ascent to the summit of the Geier, at 2,857 metres probably the most popular ski touring mountain in the area. The name of the mountain literally means "vulture", which explains the metal sculpture of a vulture gazing down from the top towards the mighty Olperer mountain on the Tux Ridge. We then follow the soldiers' tracks and enjoy a wonderful powder run descending 500 vertical metres back into the valley. Heaven!

After returning to the hut, we offer to help Lukas out in the afternoon. He asks us to come with him to pick up provisions from the local farm where he sources his meat. It is just a short drive to the farm a little further down the valley in Wattenberg, where today he is picking up large pieces of a mountain ox which was grazing only this summer on the lush pastures in the valley. With the expert eye of a trained chef he takes a close look at the cuts on offer – the plan is to make goulash and also take some meat for the classic Austrian dish "Tafelspitz". There is just time for a quick schnapps with the farmer out in the courtyard, offering fine views of the Inn Valley, before we head back up to the hut to prepare dinner.

This farm in the valley is where Lukas sources his meat.
This farm in the valley is where Lukas sources his meat.

The cheese is even more local – sourced from a dairy farm a few hundred metres from the hut. Lukas and Tobias also strive to use local vegetables wherever possible. We head into the kitchen and start work on dinner. I can see what Lukas means when he talks about "seasonality". Guests staying at the hut can tonight look forward to herb dumplings with potato and endive salad – a real winter dish. When it comes to the food at the hut, Lukas tells me, he tries to find a balance between tradition and innovation. "Of course we offer the classic Austrian and Tirolean dishes," he says. "But I also like to experiment." As we talk his hands form dumpling after dumpling on the work surface in front of us. Each contains a mix of herbs which have been finely steamed and almost caramelised. Looks delicious. "There are some things which grow all year round: cabbage, beans, radish. You can also use all of those to make a salad. It doesn't always have to be green and leafy," he explains.

The ox meat we picked up from the farm earlier is served in the evening as boiled beef – a perennial favourite. Lukas is particularly proud of the half-board he offers to guests staying the night at the hut. It includes a healthy and hearty dinner, freshly made and constantly changing, all for a really fair price. "We want to give guests the best this region has to offer," he says.

The next morning we are up early for a quick ski tour in the terrain around the hut. "In winter the Tux Alps offer good conditions for ski touring, with lots of mountains suitable for beginners. The season here begins early, in December, providing we have enough snow. The area around the hut is good for avalanche safety courses and introducing people to the sport of ski touring," he tells me. Some people, he adds, simply come up on foot to enjoy the landscape.

Our author inspects the surroundings. Where is the best descent?
Our author inspects the surroundings. Where is the best descent?

The area around the hut offers excellent hiking in summer and ski touring in winter.
The area around the hut offers excellent hiking in summer and ski touring in winter.

After the descent...
After the descent...

... now time to head into the hut!
... now time to head into the hut!

The Graue Wand and Torspitze mountains are two more peaks which can be combined in a single day of ski touring. Both have north-west-facing slopes where the sun shines in the afternoon. We cruise down through the powder fields and enter the forest, where we slalom our way through the trees until we reach the snow-covered road leading back down to the army base at the end of the valley.

The soliders on duty greet us with a friendly "Servus!", which we are more than happy to return. We will be back.

High and Mighty: The Winter Huts of Tirol

Tradition, seclusion and the power of nature. This series takes a look at the most beautiful winter huts in the mountains of Tirol.

Tirol will always be a place full of firsts for Oliver Stolle. The first mogul slope he skied down was at Thurn Pass in the Kitzbühel Alps. The first time he experienced a fear of heights was as a boy on the Hohe Munde, a 2,622-metre-high mountain near Innsbruck. The first time he tried "Graukas" cheese was at a mountain hut in the Zillertal Valley. And, despite being a native speaker himself, the first time he didn’t understand a word of German was at a carnival celebration in the Tirolean village of Feichten. He looks forward to many more firsts in Tirol.

Oliver Stolle
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