Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Silvretta Ski Tour Trip Report ~ March 23-28, 2015

Robes Parrish and I scouted our Silvretta Ski Tour in the Spring of 2014 and I returned with Pete Keane in the Spring of 2015 with an enthusiastic group of return customers and their friends. In 2014 we found really amazing ski conditions, but were unsure if we had just got lucky or if the rumors are true that this is an area that holds powder longer than most areas. The range is tucked into a bit of a rain shadow, heavy on North facing terrain, and ideally laid out for touring, but it is also generally a bit lower than most of the other trips we run. In 2014 we were there in early March, this year we returned near the end of March. Bear in mind that these huts, unlike the huts on the Haute Route, open between late December and early February and then stay open all winter. 

Heidelberger Hut's Snowcoach, the quick and easy way into the touring terrain.
We tweaked a few things from the year before. 1. We decided to stay in Kappl (1258 M), just down valley from Ishgl. It was quieter and worked out well. 2. We entered the range using the Heidelberger Huts slowcoach as it would run us up the Val Fenga quickly and allow us a full-day of touring out of the Heidelberger Hut (2264 M) on day 1. Alternately you can use the lifts from Ishgl combined with some touring to get to the hut. Both Robes and I found the ski area a bit chaotic, but interesting.

The captain of our snowcoach, day 1 on Silvretta Tour.
The guy that showed up was friendly and efficient, strapped all our skis to the blade of the coolest snowcat I have ridden in and had us up to the hut in about 40 minutes, quick considering that you climb about 900 meters out of the valley. The snow coach was €25 per person and they picked us up in front of the Hotel Jagerhof near the police station in Ishgl.

Approaching the Heidelberger Hut in the Silvretta Region
If you are skiing in from the ski area, you roll into the Heidelberger Hut from the lookers left in this view. There is a relatively new tram that deposits you atop the Pix Val Gronda (2812 M) and then you can wrap down and around to the Fourcla Val Gronda (2752 M) or alternately ski more directly to the hut.  The more direct route has not looked good either time we have been here as it is south facing and looks pretty bony.  In general the snowpack here is much thinner as the range sits in a bit of a rain shadow, but it also seems to hold the cold better and as a result we generally find good powder skiing.

Good skiing off the Spi d'Ursanna - Silvretta
We had good skiing on the Spi d'Ursanna (2898 M) behind the hut. There was a nice little North facing bowl that held great snow in the top 300 meters and provided for several laps of varying steepness. It took about 2 hours to get to the main saddle up there from the hut. Our plan for the tour was to spend 1 night at the Heidelberger Hut, 2 nights at the Jamtal Hut (1265 M), and 2 nights at the Wiesbadner Hut (2443 M). Alternately you can add huts on the South side of the range and then end by heading out West to Huts like the Silvretta Hut and then cycle back to the area.  On our two visits the previous strategy has given us more options and provided for a lot more skiing, but I would one day like to do the entire circuit.

Signage at Kronenjoch in, halfway between Heidelberger and Jamtal Huts
On day 2, we toured up and over the Kronenjoch (2980 M) and then down to the Jamtal Hut for lunch.  The trip up to the Krinenjoch took 3 hours and then another bit down to the hut. In 2014 Robes and I hit some incredible shots just blow and skiers right of the Kronenjoch, but this year we had to drop farther into the valley before things softened up.

Jamtal Hut (2165 M) - Silvretta Ski Tour
The Jamtal is one of the truly great huts in the alps.  Four generations of the Gottlieb family has run the hut since 1882 with breaks during WWI and WWII when the area was declared a "prohibited zone." Lorenz Gottlieb (the 4th) has run the hut since 1995. The crazy structure on the left is an artificial ice climbing column, a popular spot for mountaineering courses. After lunch on day 2 we skied laps off the Augstenkopf (2972 M) again finding great snow on North facing slopes.

Sarah, Taylor, and Curtis all smiles on top of the Gemspitze (3107 M)
On Day 3 the weather was starting to feel like it was falling apart a bit.  We reminded ourselves that storms are where fresh snow comes from and headed out on a full-day of touring that included summits of the Gemspitze (3107 M) and the Hinter Jamspitze (3156 M). Both feature not facing glacier ski runs that dump down onto the Jamtal Glacier and eventually lead you down the gut of the Jamtal Valley and the hut. The flat light coming off the Gemspitze was tough, but things improved slightly for the Hinter Jamspitze.

Skiers approaching the summit of the Hinter Jamspitz (3156 M) - Silvretta Ski Tour
The Jamtal Hut also offers a snow coach option and could easily provide the base for a 3-5 day ski tour with no need to visit adjacent valleys. Regardless we were excited to move onto the Wiesbadner Hut on the morning of day 4 as that area is rich with big lines and the forecast called for enough of a storm that we wanted to be up and over the pass before things got cranking too much.

Looking down the Jamtal Valley from near the Ochsenscharte.
On Day 4 we left the Jamtal Hut and headed up valley toward the Dreilanderspitze (3197 M). Our intention was to summit, but we opted out of the last 100 meters as it was going to be heavy on scrambling and offer no additional ski turns. The ski off this shoulder has produced both years for us. The photo above is looking back down the Jamtal Valley as we approach the Ochsenscharte on the Jamtal glacier.

Pete Keane dropping in on the Dreilanderspitz (3197 M) - Austria, Silvretta
We were pleased that the clouds lifted a bit while we were up on the Dreilanderspitze as it made for more relaxed turns on what are initially semi-steep slopes. That is Pete Keane making the turns with the Jamtal Valley in the background and the pass we came through down and to his right.

Nice skiing on the Vermunt Glacier above the Wiesbaden Hut - Austria
As you work your way down off the Dreilanderspitze you arrive onto Vermunt Glacier which faces predominately NW and offers a nice steep entry followed by low angled glacier skiing the dumps into the non-glaciated terrain just above the hut. You need to have a pretty solid idea of where the hut is as you work into this valley, which is big.

One of the many rich delights you can follow your hut lunch with!
We made the Wiesbadner Hut in time for lunch and of course a sweet dish or two. Perhaps the biggest challenge of any hut trip is physically getting up from lunch after sampling some delicacy and turning toward the pull of more powder.  

Jeff digging the "porch" at the Wiesbaden Hut - Hemingway visited here in the 1920's.
The Wiesbadner Hut has this great little covered outdoor patio that faces West and soaks up the afternoon sun.  It has a really good view of the Ochsentaler Glacier and Piz Buin (3312 M), the Signalhorn (3174 M), the Egghorn (3147 M) and the Silvrettahorn (3244 M).

Kari skinning up for the post lunch tour at the Wiesbaden Hut - Austria
After lunch we headed up behind the hut onto the Tiroler Glacier where we climbed up to a small pass and found good turns on NW aspects.  

Kari and Pete checking out the Piz Buin area and the cloud covered Ochsentaler Glacier
The tours immediately behind the hut are nice because they can easily be scaled for an afternoon.  The cloud deck moved up while we were out and we were appreciative of the fat that we had plugged in a few waypoints on the way up as it provided a much simpler route back down through what could quickly be problematic terrain if you were a bit off route.

The whole gang enjoying Austrian (or perhaps Russian) hot dog-pickle meat dish!
I think this particular meal was a highlight my season in Europe.  It was absolutely delicious, but the "meat loaf" was unlike anything I had experienced.  Somehow they had managed to cook entire pickles and something like a hot dog into what appeared to be solid meat and then sliced it. The hut is staffed by several very funny and slightly wild Russian women and meal times usually involved a lot of laughing and performing by the zany staff.

Looking for the ground so that we can make a few turns above the Wiesbadner Hut
On day 5 we woke up and things were absolutely socked in.  We began by traversing up and onto this very cool glacial moraine that can provide a back door onto the east flank of the Ochsentaller Glacier, but once we were up there the light was so flat that we opted to divert to the Vermunt Pass (2798 M). On the Moraine the few tight spots are short, but in true whiteout even a minor blip can compress the consequences.

Pete Keane greatly relieved to be out of the weather at the "Not" hut.
The tour up the Vermunt Glacier to this funky little thing called the Not Hutte (which is really, not, a hut, more a shed). The wind and snow were just cranking, so we dove inside and warmed up and then skied by braille back down to the Wiesbadner Hut for a hot lunch. We retooled and came up with a plan for the afternoon.

Wind sheltered pow below the Icecliff on the Ochsentaler Glacier
In the afternoon we were still pretty hot to work into the basin on the Ochsentaller Glacier. To get there we skied down from the hut to about 2300 M and then toured up  to around 2800 M where we were able to cycle incredible powder in a wind protected basin. 

video

When we got back to the hut we were feeling pretty happy to have pieced together good turns after a lot of sniffing around and we celebrated as only the Austrians can.

Day 6 - All our work pays off and the powder goods smile upon us - Silvretta!
On day 6, our last day, we woke up to no wind, tons of new snow, and good stability. The usual plan is to poke up and over the ridge behind the hut, ski a lap on the Tiroler Kopf (3095 M) and then drop out the magnificent 1000+ meter run down the Bielerhohe.  As we worked out way back in we quickly realized that this was going to transform into a nice, full day of powder skiing.

Amazing powder turns on the last day of the trip! - Silvretta Ski Tour
On our first lap we skied off the Rauhkopfscharte, and then we climbed back up to the Rauher Kopf and skied beautiful fall line to the skiers right.  The photo above is from that second run with Pete Keane skiing.

Yup. That was good.
We then dropped down valley a ways before cutting down and over to the skiers right and then climbing up the Bietal Glacier.  After a rough winter in Washington I can say without pause that the runs we found back in here (deep - stable) were among the best of the season.  We kept moving towards exiting and then deciding that something new was not to be missed only skin back up and get a bit more.

video

This was the last big climb and descent of the trip.  We skied down and hit the groomed nordic piste just below Bielerhohe and then glided and skated the 7-8 km to Wirl and the end of the trip.  

Thus far the Silvretta has not failed to provide mighty amounts of good skiing.....

Silvretta Ski Tour Logisitical Details:

  • Closest Airports: Innsbruck (1 hr 15 mins by car), Munich (3 hrs 15 mins by car). As we also work in other parts of the alps we often drive in from Zurich, Switzerland (also about 3 hours).
  • Maps: The best are the Swiss Topo Maps. the Tarasp Map is an actual ski map so it has the common ski lines marked, but has less detail.  The 1:25000 maps lack the ski lines, but have more detail and are better for precise navigation.  As a ski guide I prefer the 1:25000, but if unfamiliar with the area the 1:50000 is a nice addition that will point you toward the primary runs. From our experience, maps are impossible to find in the local area and are best ordered in advance.  There is a Kompass Map called Silvretta Verwallgruppe that is 1:50000 and will work in a pinch, but is less than ideal. After MUCH hunting we did find a copy of this locally.
    • Gross Litzner #1178, 1:25000
    • Samnaun #1179, 1:25000
    • Silvretta #1198, 1:25000
    • Tarasp (Silvretta - Scuol - Samnaun) #249S, 1:50000
  • Best time to tour in Silvretta: Most folks go late February through early April.  The Jamtal Hut opens in February, the Heidelbeger Hut opens just after Christmas, and the Wiesbadner Hut is planning to open February 20 for the 2016 ski season.
  • Feel free to call us at 509-548-5823 if we can assist with questions.

Many thanks to John, Alex, Peter, Jeff, Curtis, Taylor, Glenn, Kari, and Sarah (Oh my gosh!) for a fantastic trip.  It was a pleasure as always to work with IFMGA Pete Keane. We have one trip filled for 2016 from March 28-April 2, 2016 and are looking for folks for trips on March 7-12, 2016 and March 14-19, 2016.  Full trip details are here: Silvretta Ski Tour

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