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Oliver Stolle

A Refuge for Everyone: Amberger Hütte

Updated on 21.02.2022 in Sports, Photos: Frank Stolle

Hidden away in a remote valley, accessible via a glacier, the Amberger Hütte in the Stubai Alps is an alpine hut in the traditional sense of the term – a solitary refuge providing food, shelter and a warm welcome.

A home in the snow: the Amberger Hütte in the Stubai Alps.
A home in the snow: the Amberger Hütte in the Stubai Alps.

"Above the old forefield of the Sulztalferner glacier, now long overgrown, stands this hut on the banks of a stream rushing down from the mighty Sulzkogel offering fine views of the glacier itself and its surroundings ..." - There are no better words to describe the location of the Amberger Hütte hut than this description I found in an old guidebook on one of the wooden shelves in the wood-panelled dining room.

As you reach the hut, you feel transported back to a time when visitors to the mountains still described nature with wondering eyes like a great play being performed before them – especially in winter. Apart from this one building, there is no sign of civilisation here in a south-eastern valley of the Stubai Alps. And yet there is indeed life up here, something we see from afar as we make our way on skis across a frozen stream covered in snow. With vigorous pole strokes we complete the last kilometre through the deep white stuff. As we glance towards the hut we see a figure hard at work clearing away the fresh snow from the terrace where we will later sit.

 

In our search for the most spectacular winter huts in Tirol, we deliberately chose places that require a little effort to reach. Of this, the Amberger Hütte is a fine example. It is a little further away than the most-visited huts in the Stubai Alps, which extend from Innsbruck to the Ötztal Valley. This chain of mountains is home to a surprisingly large number of huts open in winter, most of which are more accessible than the Amberger Hütte. Most people come here for ski touring, though we also meet tobogganers and snowshoe hikers. The approach from the Ötztal Valley is relatively easy and leads along the same flattish route that most ski tourers take up from the valley.

While some insist on completing every metre on foot, we are here to enjoy ourselves. The gondolas and ski lifts up onto the Stubai Glacier ski resort, which enable a magnificent descent to the Amberger Hütte, provide quick and easy access to the hut for those with the skills and knowledge required to ski open terrain. From the top of the Daunjoch chairlift at 3,000 metres, we descend 850 metres in altitude down to the hut.

The easiest way to reach the Amberger Hütte is from the ski resort on the Stubai Glacier. The classic approach is from the Ötztal Valley.
The easiest way to reach the Amberger Hütte is from the ski resort on the Stubai Glacier. The classic approach is from the Ötztal Valley.

From the Daunjoch ridge up to the Hinterer Daunkopf peak. The reward is 1,000 vertical metres of wonderful skiing down to the hut.
From the Daunjoch ridge up to the Hinterer Daunkopf peak. The reward is 1,000 vertical metres of wonderful skiing down to the hut.

If conditions are good, you can also walk up the short ascent to the top of the Hinterer Daunkopf (another mountain above the magical 3,000-metre mark) and then ski down 1,000 vertical metres of north-facing, perfect terrain. What a way to start your stay! A huge S-curve to the north and west down to the Sulztalferner glacier. One could hardly wish for more a splendid experience on skis or snowboard. The views from the top of the Daunkopf are, as you would expect, amazing. Everything below looks so tiny, like a miniature landscape with a toy house at the centre of it all: the Amberger Hütte.

The man who is clearing the terrace moves like a brown bear. At the same time, he radiates great calm and composure – and when he laughs, which he often does, it comes from deep within his mighty chest. Serafin is his name. While he is still checking everything is safe around the hut, his wife Lydia brings us beer and schnapps. We already feel at home in this corner of the Stubai Alps! We tentatively ask if we could maybe have something to eat. "Of course!" comes the friendly reply. Excellent. We are famished.

Picture perfect! Located in the snowy Sulztal Valley, the Amberger Hütte offers hearty food and a warm bed for the night.
Picture perfect! Located in the snowy Sulztal Valley, the Amberger Hütte offers hearty food and a warm bed for the night.

Simply by watching the couple, we can tell that this is not their first winter in the mountains. Serafin tells us about the important technology needed to run a hut like this: power station, sewage treatment plant, solar panels – all essential for a self-sufficient building like this: "It has to work. You need enough drinking water, you have to make sure that nothing freezes. After all, some parts of the hut are more than 130 years old." Meanwhile in the kitchen, Lydia rolls dumplings with expert precision. She is making the three classic flavours: spinach, bacon and cheese. The soup is ready, she tells is, and omn the meun tonight is Wiener Schnitzel. Heaven!

The welcome we receive at the hut is as friendly as you could wish for, but at the same time Serafin and Lydia know that the Amberger Hütte is first and foremost a mountain refuge, not a hotel. So what's the difference, we ask. "It's a difference like night and day. We offer basic services here. I's a hut not a spa hotel. We try to do what we do well, but we're not here to entertain people. A hot meat, a warm bed - that's what it's all about."

The Amberger Hütte is open in summer and winter, but those who have been up here during the cold months of the year will agree that there is a special atmosphere in winter. "When it's stormy, when you're snowed in, when you have to help out and do things you're not really here for, then you really know what hut life is all about," Serafin explains. "Pople make friends, take an interest in others – because the hut brings them together."

Lydia and Serafin Gstrein have decades of experience running huts in the mountains.
Lydia and Serafin Gstrein have decades of experience running huts in the mountains.

The Amberger Hütte may not offer the creature comforts of a hotel, but the food is healthy and hearty.
The Amberger Hütte may not offer the creature comforts of a hotel, but the food is healthy and hearty.

Serafin clears fresh snow from the terrace.
Serafin clears fresh snow from the terrace.

Serafin tells me that living in the mountains and running a hut is bascially all he has know from childhood. He grew up at the Hochjochhospiz, one of the very high huts in the Ötztal Valley, which his family ran for 45 years. "I spent my first ever summer down in the valley when I was 20," he says. "I swore to myself I'd never set foot in a hut again." Then he met Lydia. A few years later they decided to take over the Pfeishütte in the Karwendel Mountains. It was there that their own daughters grew up. And because the couple didn't want to make their daughters wait until they were 20 years old to experience their first summer in the valley, they decided to swap the very remote Pfeishütte for the more accessible Amberger Hütte, where in summer the journey down into the valley takes just 45 minutes.

Spoilt for choice! The Amberger Hütte offers a huge range of options for ski touring enthusiasts.
, © Tirol Werbung / Frank StolleSpoilt for choice! The Amberger Hütte offers a huge range of options for ski touring enthusiasts. © Tirol Werbung / Frank Stolle

En route to the Kuhscheibe, a 3,000-metre-high mountain above the hut.
En route to the Kuhscheibe, a 3,000-metre-high mountain above the hut.

Below the summit of the Kuhscheibe mountain.
Below the summit of the Kuhscheibe mountain.

This summer road is maintained in winter and provides access to the hut, but the Amberger Hütte lies in avalanche-prone terrain. Serafin shows us an example in the early evening. On the west-facing slopes above the road, a large slab of snow has broken loose in the warm afternoon sun. We drive a few hundred metres in the snow groomer and soon see that the avalanche has covered the road, cutting off access to the hut. It several hours of work even with the powerful diesel engine, heavy snow plough and wide tracks of the snow groomer to clear the road again.

The approach to the Amberger Hütte leads through steep-sided mountains. Visitors should check the avalanche situation before setting off.
The approach to the Amberger Hütte leads through steep-sided mountains. Visitors should check the avalanche situation before setting off.

Serafin clears the road connecting the hut to the Ötztal Valley.
Serafin clears the road connecting the hut to the Ötztal Valley.

Anyone who wants to visit the Amberger Hütte should therefore be aware that these mountains can be dangerous in winter. With good preparation, however, there is no reason why skiers, tobogganers and winter walkers shouldn't enjoy this landscape. Call ahead to the hut to check the current avalanche situation and make sure you have all the safety equipment with you (beacon, shovel, probe). Especially in spring we recommend setting of early before the sun warms the snow on the western slopes.

The Amberger Hütte is close enough to walk up and toboggan down in one day, but why not take your time and spend the night? "Which is your most most beautiful room?" I ask Serafin. He thinks for a moment. "Lots of people like the small, simple rooms in the old building, but I would take the six-bed Kuhscheibe room. It has such nice big windows facing south." South, in this case, means towards that snow-covered stream, the Sulztal Valley and a never-ending mountain panorama as far as the eye can see.

The most beautiful room in the Stubai Alps? Maybe. Serfain certainly says it is the most beautiful room he has at the hut.
The most beautiful room in the Stubai Alps? Maybe. Serfain certainly says it is the most beautiful room he has at the hut.

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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