As we watch the situation develop, we’re all at home wondering if we’re going to make it out to the mountains this year. We remain hopeful, but of course if any travel is to take place it must be safe to do so. In the Austrian Tirol – like everywhere else – winter tourism will be influenced by Covid-19, and there is no denying that it will have to be run differently this year. However, the Tirolean regions have already done a lot of preparatory work to ensure the safety for the winter season 2020/21, if resorts are able to open.
People have been escaping to the mountains of the Austrian Tirol for centuries, and after the year we’ve had, escaping to the mountains, escaping intense jobs, Zoom calls, buzzing phones and busy lifestyles, whether that’s this season or next, will be more important for our physical and mental health than ever.
Tirol doesn’t have purpose-built high-rise ski resorts that might remind you too much of city life artificially transported to the mountains. The villages here are real communities, some a thousand years old or more, with traditional chalet-style architecture housing enticing cafes, restaurants, shops and hotels. The perfect place to immediately feel at home and relax.
The downhill skiing is there as always of course, and Tirol was one of the first regions to re-open its lifts and successfully operate its high glacier ski slopes back in September and October. But the way the world is, this could be the winter to try something a little different and find even more space when it will be possible and absolute safety can be guaranteed.
Ski touring – hiking up into the mountain on your skis – has been gaining popularity in recent years, so could this be the winter to try it? Already seen as good for the environment and for your fitness, it’s now also the perfect fit if you’re looking for complete social isolation. Mountain skills and special equipment are needed, though, so it’s important to start on something straightforward and follow the advice of a local backcountry guide.
The Tirol has thousands of acres of epic backcountry skiing terrain for all abilities and the efforts of hiking up are rewarded with stunning views of the snow-capped peaks and not another soul in sight.
If you’re looking where to start, tours of the Urgtal Mountains in the Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis Region are great for those looking for their first ski touring experiences. You can sign up for a guided introductory tour, such as the Smuggler’s Tour that departs from Fiss-Ladis with descents towards the Samnaun Valley over the Swiss border.
Another good choice is Innsbruck’s Sellrain Valley, where an interpretive ski touring trail winds up towards the Lampsenspitze Peak (2,875m). Six discovery panels have been installed along the trail, providing information and practice on ski touring skills.
Snowshoe walks are another great way to get away from it all – this time without quite so much exertion, and indeed something skiers and non-skiers can enjoy together. You can again escape the pistes and lifts and once more it’s sensible to hire a guide to reach the best locations safely. Most resorts in Tirol offer snowshoe tours, again with options from complete beginners to experienced experts.
The romantic winter landscapes of the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena are a beautiful area for the perfect snowshoe hike, always with a view of the impressive mountain panorama. Far away from any hustle and bustle, you’ll immerse yourself in the enchanted winter world of Zugspitz Arena, once in a while spotting the picturesque towns of Ehrwald, Lermoos, Biberwier, Berwang, Bichlbach, Heiterwang am See or Namlos in the distance.
In Innsbruck, there’s free guided snowshoeing with the Welcome Card offered to visitors. Everyone from six-year-old children to the grandparents are welcome to join in.
Another way to get away from it all is cross-country skiing. Again, if this is something you’ve wondered about trying for years, this could be the winter to give it a go!
One of the best all-round aerobic exercises there is, and no lifts required in many locations, cross-country skiing can again be tried at various levels of intensity, from full power to a gentle glide between cosy huts in the forest, with regular stops for hot chocolate and cake, or just take a picnic along with you. Simply travel at your own pace through the Alpine wilderness.
Tirol has some 4,000km of well-maintained trails for classical and skate skiing. Complete beginners to experts are well looked after with the option to head off on your own if you know what you’re doing, or take a lesson with a certified instructor.
Almost every village in Tirol has excellent cross-country ski facilities. But an example for those looking for something undemanding, the “Claudia Circuit” is a perfect cross-country ski run near Kühtai, just over 2km in length and ideal for a short circuit between stops.
You can, of course, head out on a hike without strapping snowshoes on. A winter hiking trail in Tirol is officially defined as “a trail laid out in the snow that is marked, maintained, monitored and secured to guard against alpine hazards”. There are thousands of kilometres of trails in the region and almost all resorts have several and often offer guided hikes. The trails all have to be sufficiently wide, only moderately steep and not exposed, even in bad weather and snowfall, relatively safe and easy to walk with suitable footwear.
The Mieming Plateau is a popular choice for a winter hike, where there are four designated trails. Sunglasses and sunscreen should be part of your basic equipment as you’ll be hiking in one of the sunniest regions in Tirol.
Alternatively, in the Mountaineering Villages in the Sellraintal valley, peaking at the resort of Kühtai (2,020m), you may be hiking in the high mountains, but the going is still gentle. Safe, well-groomed trails lead you through a unique mountain landscape with the imposing scenery of the Stubai Alps all around.
Whatever you opt to do and wherever you choose to visit in the Tirol, whether that’s this season or next, you’ll love your escape to the space and beauty of the Alpine wilderness in the Austrian mountains.
For more information: www.tyrol.com/most-visited-places-in-winter
Featured Image © Innsbruck Tourismus / Christian Vorhofer