A quick get-away
As often, the incessant itch to leave starts the week before our trip. The gear needs to be checked, everything about the ski area has already been read twice, and that new Ortovox backpack has been ordered. This year, however, things are slightly different. The snow gods have blessed the Alps with so much snow that several areas have been completely closed off. In our Whatssap group, endless photos of snowy rooftops in Pitztal are sent and 450 centimeters of snow are predicted. Just 320 centimeters of snow in the valley…
On the home front, hints are slowly starting to drop: “Conditions are bad, ”The avalanche level is high”, “Maybe it’s time to look into cancellation insurance?” It is time to leave.
Mittelberg in Pitztal
The destination is Mittelberg in Pitztal. Pitztal is a relatively undiscovered area for the Dutch, located near the much more famous Ötztal, with large ski areas such as Obergurgl, Sölden and Hochsölden. Asking around, we discover that Pitztal is best known among race skiers and people who used to go skiing in the area as kids. That is due to the Pitztal Glacier, dominating the valley at 3.440 meters high. This glacier is often used by ski teams who want to train year-round and by families in the winter when there is little snow in the lower ski areas.
To be honest, we probably would not have found this area by ourselves. Luckily however, we received an invitation from Vivian and Niels to come and discover this area for a few days. Niels and Vivian are the owners of Wanderlux, a new resort with 13 chalets and 13 apartments in the small town of Mittelberg. Their objective, to create the perfect location for people loving everything the mountains have to offer (in summer and winter), but who also appreciate the warmth and luxury of a spacious apartment or chalet. Outside, adventure. Inside, warmth, comfort and coziness.
On Monday morning we take the early flight to Innsbruck. Niels is waiting for us at the airport. Niels does not have a board with our names, but that isn’t necessary. With his nearly two meters, it is clear that this is not the standard Austrian pensioner. And our transport isn’t standard either. In the mighty 4×4 Toyota Hilux (indestructible according to TopGear), Niels drives us from the airport to Mittelberg in just over an hour. At the beginning of the ride we make jokes about large cars and the driver’s related complex but as we drive further into Pitztal, the choice for this specific car becomes a lot more logical.
As is often the case in the Tyrolean Alps, Pitztal is a joy to drive through. Meandering along the river, Niels drives us further and further into the valley’s depths. We pass small villages and at one of those villages we are informed that the last supermarket is located here. A good half hour’s drive from the resort. The valley gets increasingly narrower and the tree line increasingly closer. Everything is powdered white and, occasionally, we see the consequences of the meters of snow that have fallen in recent months: entire pieces of forest have been swept away by avalanches.
After a day of breathing in and enjoying all the pleasures that Wanderlux has to offer, we eagerly take the first lift up to the glacier the next morning.
This is also the main point of interest for the ski area Pitztal. The glacier is an important selling point of Pitztal. To get there you have to go up through an outdated mountain train. The train does what it has to do, but the dust-covered cabins are not quite what you expect from the main connecting lift between the valley and the glacier. Fortunately the journey lasts only 8 minutes and will take you to 2.800 meters high. And then you discover a typical glacier ski area: wide, expansive slopes, both flat and steep, modern lifts (with the exception of a little tow) and an unparalleled view. The weather is perfect and the snow is great. You understand why both competitive skiers and families like to come here, there is something for everyone.
An absolute special feature of this area is the possibility to drink a cappuccino at 3.440 meters high. This is courtesy of Café 3.440, located at the highest point of the area. From here you have a 360 degree view of the surrounding Alps. Normally, the most beautiful and steepest pistes of the glaciers also start here. Unfortunately, due to a dispute with the local government, the connecting slope was temporarily closed and we have to go down with the gondola again. But we are assured that it can open again at any moment ….
Fast pistes & quiet slopes
After a few hours we have tested most of the runs. That’s what you get with fast lifts and wide slopes, you race right through them. What also helps is that there are almost no people around. Not in the lifts, not on the slopes and not even in the cafes. Now, it’s not high season, but still: such peace & quiet! The resort felt like it was ours alone to play with.
We decide to descend via a so-called ‘Notweg’ (an unofficial track) to the other part of the ski area, the Rifflsee. The Notweg descent is beautiful and you quickly understand why it isn’t an official track. In less favorable conditions, this route through the steep mountain sides is very sensitive to avalanches. (Best to check with the local guides if it is safe to use!) Even better for us is that the end of the track ends in Mittelberg, only 50 meters before from the bar at Wanderlux. Again: Wanderlux’s location is ideal!
We use the afternoon and the next day to get to know the rest of the area. The Rifflsee area is an area with a little more possibilities. More runs, more lifts and more cafes. It is also a bit busier here than on the glacier, but it could also be that we have been spoiled by the tranquility we met at 2.800 meters altitude. The Rifflsee, however, is a nice addition to the glacier area and ensures that the advanced skier can easily enjoy themselves here for a few days.
Winter sports at its best
The Rifflsee and the Glacier are not what we will remember most of our visit to Pitztal. The two activities that will stay with us the most are a night walk through the Schlucht and a freeride experience. The night walk because it is unique, the freeride experience because the area simply seems made for freeriding. It helps that we have local guides to guide us in both activities of course, otherwise you would never know where to go.
En toch zijn de Rifflsee en de Gletsjer niet wat ons het meeste zal bijblijven van ons bezoek aan Pitztal. De twee activiteiten die ons het meest zullen bijblijven zijn een nachtwandeling door de Schlucht en een freeride experience. De nachtwandeling omdat deze uniek is, de freeride experience omdat het gebied gemaakt lijkt voor freeriden. Het helpt natuurlijk dat we lokale gidsen hebben om ons bij beide activiteiten te begeleiden, want anders zou je niet weten waar je moet zijn.
There is a deep gorge directly in front of the resort, through which a river runs in the summer. At night, accompanied by local guide Freidl, we go on an excursion through this mysterious and impressive Schlucht. Geared up with torches on our heads, we walk through gorges of powdery snow to discover beautiful, large frozen waterfalls. You feel miles away from everything and when you see the traces of animals in the snow, you realize that this area is not often visited by people.
The freeride experience
The freeride experience is again of a completely different order. Pitztal organises the Pitztal Wild Face race once a year and you understand why people like to participate. From the glacier and around the Rifflsee, we are presented with endless possibilities to play in deep snow. The skier of our group unfortunately couldn’t join us due to an accident on the slopes. We, the two remaining snowboarders, feign sympathy. However, we quickly forget him altogether as we carve the first lines from the top of the Mittagskogel, all the way down into the valley. With a big smile on our lips, we thank our guide, Marco Beisteiner, and walk into the bar of Wanderlux to celebrate another day well spent. We try to downplay our experiences in order not to make our skier-mate feel too bad. We fail miserably.
We would have loved to stay longer to try out the other activities offered by the Wanderlux; ice climbing, winter hiking, cross-country skiing and ski touring… There’s plenty to do! Sadly though, it is time for us to head home.
These mountains are also a great place to go on holiday in the summer. Although we have not been able to see it with our own eyes, we are convinced that this place will be as incredible in the summer as it is in the winter. Even then, we recommend you check out Wanderlux. It is an ideal basis for all kinds of activities that you would like to undertake. Niels is an avid mountain biker himself and several hiking tours start right outside the door. And for those who want something a bit more rugged, mountaineering or rafting are also possible.
The Pitztal ski area is not big and if you really want endless kilometers of slopes, you’re not in the right spot. However, if you are looking to go off the beaten track (with a guide and safety equipment obviously), the Pitztal area is perfect, and Wanderlux is the perfect location to do it from. And not unimportant, the location of the resort at 1.730 meters makes it very snow-sure. It is also not just an area for powderheads. Thanks to endless outdoor activities and the resort’s luxurious facilities, this is also a great location for children or with people who want to take it easy. You must however love nature. Because it is there. All the time. Inside and outside.
Pitztal Tourism Association
6481 St. Leonhard im Pitztal
Tirol – Austria
Tel: +43 664 3842250
41 km pistes:
- 13 km blue
- 21 km red
- 7 km black
Other winter activities
70 km or cross-country skiing, winter rambling, many ski tour offerings, ice skating, snowshoeing, Austrian-style curling, ice climbing (in a glacier ice cave or at one of the frozen waterfalls), tobogganing, night walks with torches and lanterns, horse-drawn sleigh rides
Hiking (380 km), mountain biking (94.6 km), climbing, roadside biking, Nordic walking, rambling, mountain and peak tours, ice adventures at the glacier, climbing courses, rafting, canyoning, paragliding and tandem flights, bungee jumping, horse riding and Haflinger trekking, tennis, swimming, Kneipp (hydropathic treatment), archery.