Freeride Heaven anyone?
Tirol delivers untracked snow and unlimited terrain options from open powder bowls to the tightest – and we do mean tightest – and gnarliest chutes and couloirs. Just check out where the talented Neil Williman (aka Skiing Human) gets into below.
The ex-pat Kiwi/UK free skier is a former FWT competitor, who came to Innsbruck in 2012 while working in the UK and got hooked. Cheap direct flights from London to Innsbruck soon had him coming back for more. So who better to ask why it’s so good.
Now he’s based in Axamer Lizum, and an ambassador for the area which has become a Tirol freeride mecca in a region blessed with numerous freeride alternatives. It’s just 19km from Innsbruck. He also won the FWT Open Faces qualifier event here in 2014.
“I like Axamer Lizum because it’s just how a ski resort should be” Williman told us. “It’s sheltered from the wind and there are lots of shady spots so the snow stays good, super fun off-piste terrain, not too crowded, and you can ski down to any of 4 sub-valley systems to a bus stop at the end of the day.”
“I’ve had some of the best skiing of my life there and there’s definitely still more to discover!”
He made an excellent short movie, Working Volks, with the crew from MidiaFilm to introduce it to the World.
Be warned, you can’t watch this without wanting to hop on the next flight yourself..
So what will you find if you do?
Axamer Lizum freeride offers 300 hectares of dedicated freeride terrain, with countless north-facing slopes offering the best conditions for powder fun. Beneath the dramatic serrated backdrop of the Kalkkögel range, the altitude also usually means quality powder snow.
You don’t need to ski at Neil’s level to enjoy yourself. You don’t have to hike either, there are routes accessible from the lifts with avalanche transceiver checkpoints. Five dedicated routes offer 10,000m vertical. The longest is the 4.6km Axamer route with a 1260m vertical.
Unless you have local friends with a lot of experience and knowledge going with guides is the smart thing to do. Guides from the Freeride Division can introduce you to the whole area, with some spectacular skin and split board options to go higher. While you don’t have to hike, it sure does reward your efforts..
Just 35km from Innsbruck, 40 minutes by car or better use the free bus, Kühtai is a great option for those who love big open alpine powder riding.
It’s all above tree line here, with the base Austria’s highest ski village at 2,020m. The lifts top 2,500m.
Ski in/ski out to 41km of pistes and 400ha of freeride. It’s mostly north, north east and westerly facing, so you can move around and find the best snow through the day.
There is a designated route and avi transciever checkpoint next to the Kaiserbahn. A lot of the terrain is easily accessed off the side of the pistes so it’s a great choice if your partner/friends are not so keen on freeriding – the verticals aren’t massive so you can keep in touch.
The Stubai Glacier
As the largest glacier ski area in Austria, it’s not surprising Stubai offers a vast amount of freeride options.
They are very well organised to let you get at it, with a choice of 13 designated off-piste runs for all levels.
The maps are available on a downloadable map with GPS data. You can pre-plan online, then update on the glacier with ‘Powder Department’ with their two checkpoints at Eisgrat and Gamsgarten.
Route plans, weather forecasts, and snow and avalanche reports are all available from the checkpoints, ensuring serious powder pleasure with maximum safety.
Safety is paramount. Free SAAC Avalanche Camps are available, along with weekly training courses in the use of avalanche transceivers and other training camps such as the Kästle Powder Department Ladies’ Day.
The ORTOVOX STATION at Gamsgarten mountain station is a compact facility for practising beacon searches. It can be used daily free of charge with your own equipment.
All the essential gear – transceivers, probes, shovels, helmets and the increasingly-popular avalanche airbags – can be hired from the sports shops at Stubai Glacier.
Qualified mountain and ski guides can show you the best of the vast area available to suit your skills, fitness and prevailing conditions. Check the link here for contacts and more on freeride safety in the Stubai area.
Downtown Freeride: Nordkette/Hafelekar
Last but definitely not least!
Test yourself on one of Europe’s steepest official freeride routes, the Karrinne with a gradient of 70 percent. This has to be the closest serious freeride terrain to any city in the World: it’s accessed directly from downtown Innsbruck via a funicular from town plus succesive cable cars up to Hafelekar at 2250m.
The views are amazing from the rugged peaks all the way down to Inn River and the city so close below.
Stop at the Seegrube station sun terrace on the way after conquering the Karinne. There’s a restaurant, party igloo and the Nordkette Skyline Park, billed as the world’s only “in-city” snow park with lots of kickers, rails and obstacles.
You can ski on down to the top of the funicular at Hungerburg for a 1400m descent. Or try some more lines of the Hafelekar summit. More on Nordkette here
Tirolean Mountain Rescue Emergency APP
One for all freeriders heading to Tirol to add to their smart phones, this APP has been developed for emergencies in the alpine area. With a click on the APP your location (GPS coordinates) is transmitted to the Tirolean coordination centre in case of an emergency. At the same time a telephone connection is established. The required emergency rescue teams are alerted and dispatched. The app is available for IOS or Android.
You can ski all the freeride areas above and 9 more with the Innsbruck Stubai SKI Plus CITY Pass on the link.
Packages including hotel nights are on offer as well – check all the options on the link.
Austrian Tourism info (including latest updates on COVID-19 restrictions etc) here