Ötztaler Ski Touring & Ascents

Dates
by private arrangement

7 days skiing

Maximum Group Size
6 skiers with 2 guides

Required skills

Booking info

Book as private tour

Guiding Fees

Equipment list

See also:
Ski programs overview
Valle Maira, Italy
Queyras, France
Albula, Switzerland
Ortler, Italy
Haute Route Verbier
Haute Route Plateau
Mont Thabor
Gran Paradiso
Zermatt to Saas Fee
Silvretta
Berner Oberland
Vanoise Haute Route
Stubai
Chamonix off-piste
Alps skiing advice


The Ötztaleralpen is a group of high peaks located about 60 kilometers southwest of Innsbruck, Austria. This heavily glaciated massif forms a curving arc along the border of Italy and Austria and is perhaps most well known as the final resting place of "Ötzi" the "Ice Man", a 5000 year old victim of foul play entombed in the glacier above the town of Vent. There are many high summits, and though they never attain the height of 4000 meters, many exceed 3500. The Wildspitze is the highest in the area at 3768 meters above sea level, and our last skiing and climbing objective!

Our tour follows the natural crest of the arc of the massif following a clockwise horseshoe-shaped route high above the Ventertal and the town of Vent. We start in the ski town of Obergurgl just a short way above the larger ski resort of Sölden. From here we continue for 7 days, finally descending back into the Ötztal valley at Vent.

Bill O'Conner, who authored the two volume guidebook set "Alpine Ski Mountaineering" and who's description we largely follow on our tour, says "In my opinion, it is one of the best ski tours of its standard in the Alps.", "....and can rightly be considered a classic."

There are many minor variations on this tour which can be used to adjust the difficulty and ambitiousness. We can divide the group as necessary to cater to the whims and energy levels of its members. Some of us may chose to climb on foot or ski some of the more demanding summits, while others can skip many summits in favor of a more relaxed tour. There are a few moderately strenuous days, however, such as the second day when crossing the Schalfkogeljoch, and good fitness is important.

 


The huts for the Ötztaleralpen are first rate, many of them have showers (a sure sign of an emphasis on comfort!) and they have been likened to mini-hotels. Those of you who have enjoyed the fine huts of the Ortler group, just to the south in Italy know the pleasure of great huts.

For a full ski vacation, you could also stay for a few days in the Ötztaler and enjoy good lift served skiing in either the Sölden or Obergurgl ski areas, or even make a trip to nearby St. Anton.


Looking north to the Ötztaleralpen in the distance from Cevedale in the Ortler group.
photo info

Ötztaler Ski Touring Itinerary
Day 0

Arrive in Obergurgl, Austria. Rendezvous is at about 6 pm in our hotel.

Obergurgl can be reached by train and bus connections from Innsbruck or Munich. Milan and Venice are also not too far away by train (over the Brenner Pass), and you could combine your ski trip with a taste of Italy if you like.

From Innsbruck, take the train west, towards St. Anton. About halfway between Innsbruck and St. Anton (perhaps 40 km from each) is the Ötztal station where the Ötztal valley leads south to Obergurgl. Bus service is available from this train station to Obergurgl. There are about 8 to 10 train departures daily which connect to the bus and the total trip from Innsbruck to Obergurgl takes about 2 to 3 hours.

If you are coming from the Munich airport, going to Innsbruck, there are train departures just about every hour, 5 minutes past the hour. The train ride to Innsbruck takes about 2 to 3 hours, depending on the connection.

You can also rent a car in Innsbruck or Munich and leave it at our hotel in Obergurgl or in the neaby garage while we are on the tour.

Day 1

This is a short and easy day. We start just on the edge of the ski area, but soon leave it behind as we cross the valley of the Rotmoostal and continue on to the Langtalereck hut at 2430 meters, where we will spend the night. The ski to the hut is short and we can either relax there, or do a day tour on the nearby Eiskögele (3228 meters).

Day 2

Our objective for the day is to reach the Martin Busch hut. This is a big day and we'll want an early start. First we descend a bit to the valley floor, then enter a nrrow canyon which leads to the Gurgl Glacier. After climbing a short way up the Gurgl Glacier we turn to the right and climb steeply up to the Schalfkogeljoch, a high pass at 3375 meters.

For the very ambitious we have the option to climb one (or both!) nearby summits of the Kleinleitenspitz or the Schalfkogel. Returning to the the Schaflkogeljoch we ski west down to a point near the Martin Busch hut. There are a few steep sections at the very beginning of this descent, so care must be taken! A short skin up leads to the hut at 2501 meters.

Day 3

On day 3 we climb up to the crest of the Ötztal at the Austria/Italy border to reach the Similaun hut at 3019 meters.

Once at the hut we can either choose to relax or, for the more ambitious, make an ascent of the 3600 meter Similaun, one of the bigger Ötztal peaks.

Day 4

On day 4 we continue our east to west direction to the Schöne Aussicht hut, located on the Italian side of the border at 2842 meters. Not far from the Similaun hut we pass very close to the area where "Oetzi" the Ice Man was found, just south of the Hauslabjoch, a high pass that we cross.

There are two routes to the Schöne Aussicht hut. The higher route stays close to the crest and offeres an opportunity to climb the nearby Fineil Spitze. The lower route takes less energy, however, and is also preferable if conditions are not ideal.

Day 5

On this day we will ski to the Hochjoch Hospiz, down in the valley towards Vent, at 2412 meters. There are a number of ways to get there, and our choice (as usual) depends on energy levels, weather and conditions. The easiest is to ski striaght down the valley to the north. Except for the 120 meter skin up at the end, this route is virtually all downhill.

The most ambitious route includes a climb of the Weiskugel, a 3738 meter summit and one of the more important in the Ötztal. To get to the peak we must cross the high ridge west of the hut, then descend a bit to the Hintereis Glacier. From here we climb to the high pass of the Hintereis Joch at 3460 meters. The last 300 meters are up a snow ridge, where, if conditions are good, we should be able to ski most of it.

On descent we retrace our steps to the Hintereis Glacier, then a long, occasionally gentle descent to the Hochjoch Hospiz.

Day 6

The Vernagt hut is our goal for the day. There are a number of options for reaching this hut. One option is to traverse the Guslar Spitze just west of the Hospiz. This involves a 650 meter climb to the 3073 meter joch just next to the summit. A good north-facing descent follows, with a very short skin up to the hut at the end.

Alternatively, for the more gung-ho, the higher 3500 meter Fluchtkogel offers another route.

Day 7

On our last day of the tour we will eventually end up in Vent. On this day we have an opportunity to climb the Wildspitze, at 3770 meters, the highest peak in the Tyrol. From the Vernagt hut we traverse the Grosser Vernagt Glacier and cross the high pass of the Brochkogeljoch at 3423 meters. We pass under the west face of the Wildspitze, reach a saddle in the Sw ridge and follow this on foot to the summit.

For the more ambitious the high Wildspitze requires crampons and ice axe, as likely the use of the rope as well. After our climb we descend to the Mitterkarjoch a very steep gully which requires "technical aids" to negotiate. A bit of real mountaineering here.

For those less ambitious, there are a number of other options, the easiest of which is a simple descent to Vent.

We will finish our tour with a descent to the small town of Vent. From here we catch a bus back in the direction of Sölden, then up to Obergurgl.



Skills Required

This tour requires a high level of fitness and very good to excellent skiing abilities. There are a number of days where the total elevation gained is over 4000 feet. In order to have enough remaining energy to manage the long descents which follows (it is great fun as well!) you need to be in good shape.

Skiing skills need to be at an advanced to expert level. The reason for this has more to do with the conservation and expenditure of energy over a long day than the absolute technical difficulty of the skiing. There are a few steep sections, but for the most part the slopes are not overly steep. The challenge comes in managing poor snow conditions (heavy wet snow, crud or breakable crust) and not losing too much energy in the process. Great skiers look like they are hardly working, and this is in fact the case. If your skiing is not up to par you will spend far, far more energy than a better skier.

Ski skills required;

  • Ability to turn comfortably through the fall line in difficult deep, heavy snow, or bad breakable crust.
  • Ability to execute hop parallel turns or pedal-hop turns on 35° firm snow.
  • Ability to ski the fall-line with short-radius, rhythmic parallel turns in deep light snow.
  • Ability to side-slip, both forward and backward, on firm 40° slopes.
  • Ability to skate on level ground.

Skiers who regularly enjoy black or double black runs in most western American ski areas should do fine. If you like to get off the piste and into the crud, ski the trees, and in general look for the steeper shots, you'll probably have a great time on this tour. If you tend to stick to the groomed slopes and find the wild untracked a bit intimidating you should think twice about this option. We will likely encounter all different kinds of snow, from the best to the worst, and you need to have sound energy efficient strategies to cope with them.

A good gauge of you ability is found in mogul skiing. If you are good in the bumps and seek them out, then you most likely have developed the rhythm and balance needed for steep or difficult snow. You must be able to ski fairly steep bumps in good conditions, skiing rhythmically and fluidly, following a line near the fall line with good speed control. If you have any doubt about your ability to manage the skiing on this classic route, please join us in the Alps for a shake-down training session.

You need to be able to do quick and easy kick turns, facing into the mountain.

Previous mountaineering skills are useful, but not required. If you are an expert skier, you will not have difficulty picking up these new skills, as you will already be comfortable on very steep slopes.


Kathy Cosley & Mark Houston
UIAGM Internationally Licensed Mountain Guides

AMGA Certified • SNGM members
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