Re-routing to Obergurgl in search of snow

11th December 2014, by Tanya Booth

Tanya Booth saw green fields in Lech but found great snow in Obergurgl

Tanya Booth saw green fields in Lech but found great snow in Obergurgl

I always like to get a pre-Christmas ski in if at all possible. I usually have a look at the snowfall around early November, and in combination with historical snow records, plan accordingly. So thanks a lot Foehn, for throwing my best laid plans into the air!

Usually a source of joy, resort webcams became a not very funny joke, as the lovely early whiteness around my intended destination of Lech turned brown and green. So what’s an ardent skier with withdrawal symptoms to do? Get busy with the search engines and a short time later here I am in Obergurgl, way up at the top of the Otztal Valley.

Despite misgivings from the transfer coach as we passed green fields and a Sölden distinctly lacking any whiteness at resort level, the slopes of Obergurgl and Hochgurgl are in excellent shape, following three days of snow and a determined effort with the snow canons.

The two linked areas may not be the largest ski domain, but the generally high speed lift system means getting about is efficient and mainly queue free, so it is easy to make the most of early season crowd-free slopes. There is even enough cover for a couple of the off-piste ski routes to be open, enabling a more challenging way down from Hohe Mut towards the homely Nederhütte, where the hot chocolate really does warm you through (other restorative beverages are available, of course!). The quality of the grooming is such that it is a genuine pleasure to repeatedly ski the Festkogl slopes, with the odd happy deviation into fresh and powdery side country to test out my new Line Sir Francis Bacons. Quirky name, but a great all rounder, coping easily with powder, chopped pistes, and harder groomers, and having a surprisingly short turn radius they feel much more nimble than their size might suggest. And no, they don’t fit in the gondola slots, (pet irritation alert!).

Over on the Hochgurgl side I had an absolute blast down the Wurmkogl slopes, again delightfully empty, and a perfect combination of solid groomer topped by fresh dry powder. I also found plenty to amuse on the next hill over, off the Schermerbahn gondola. In addition to the wide sweeping red, a traverse immediately off the lift to skier’s right gives access over a small rise to a gently sloping valley, leading eventually back to the piste. There are also a large number of side country opportunities above Schirm, and a number of mini-bowls easily lift accessed for getting re-acquainted with the ungroomed stuff.

Great conditions on the Hochgurgl side, too

One of my favourite huts, the Kirchenkarhutte, is over on the Hochgurgl side, at the top of what feels like the worlds longest T-bar, the Kirchenkarbahn. This is a small and rustic mountain hut, with fleeces to cushion the wooden seats, and a satisfying line in simple mountain food. The good news is that there are plans to replace the T bar with a new 10-person gondola, along with a new table service mountain restaurant and development at Timmesljoch, scheduled to open 2015/16.

The one drawback of the Obergurgl and Hochgurgl terrain is that the same height that has kept such lovely conditions means the slopes are mainly devoid of trees, so when the clouds close in, it can get a bit tricky to navigate, or even see the piste markers. Still, one of the joys of early season skiing is coping with the rapidly changing conditions, and given the delayed start in many areas, I prefer to make the most of my good fortune where the snow is concerned. And when eventually my legs tell me enough is enough, the fabulous Hotel Crystal wellness and spa is there to steam, sauna and float away aches and pains, leaving me all the more ready for the next day’s sliding. As far as luxury hotels with direct lift access go, The Crystal takes a lot of beating, and I’m here thanks to the effects of that aforementioned Foehn. Always a silver lining!”

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