Sunday, February 24, 2019

Skiing Stubai Gletscher

With slim pickings for powder this weekend in the Innsbruck Area mountains, we headed up to the Stubai Gletscher ski area at the upper end of the Stubaital to see what the Austrian Alps look like from 3000+ meters.

Stubai Gletsher is Austria's largest glacier skiing resort.  It's a 45 minute drive from Innsbruck, or 75 minutes if you do the 590 bus as we did from the Innsbruck Hauptbahnhof (main train station).   The bus drops you off 50 meters from the base of the Eisgratbahn, an incredible 24-seat, 32 person cable car that whisks you from 1695 meters to 2900 meters (4280 vertical feet), dropping you in the center of the upper ski area.

Walk outside and your basically at the glacier.  

Another gondola will take you higher to the self-proclaimed "Top of the Tirol" at 3210 meters.

Despite the altitude, the vast majority of the skiable terrain is of the low-angle variety, ideal for beginners and intermediates.  Think Albion Basin and Sugarloaf on steroids.  Lots of steroids. 

There are some pockets of good off piste that might be entertaining on a powder day, but I suspect wind exposure here is high.  It would need to be the right powder day.

It's worth talking a bit about the lift system.  The Eisgratbahn is the longest tri-cable cable car in the Alps with a length of 4.7 km and cost 64 million euro.  Cabins seat 24, hold 32 total, and move 3000 people per hour.

Most people download at the end of the day, as we did at about 2 PM when cabins were empty.  Plenty of room.  We were catching the 2:30 bus and were able to swap boots for shoes and drop some layers in comfort on the ride down.

If you are interested, BlogTirol can give you a tour below.

The Eisgratbahn appears to be on firm bedrock, but the lifts elsewhere have to deal with glacier issues.  I don't know how lifts are engineered onto glaciers, but it is clear that they are going to huge lengths to conserve the ice around the lift towers in many areas.  Here you can see white covers that have been placed around one of the towers and how this appears to have reduced ice melt.  This one needs to be replaced as they are looking quite dirty and thus are not reflecting as much sunlight as they could.

I've been amazed at the number of avalanches that I see on south aspects when traveling around.  Most of these have broken right to the grass or ground.  Here are a few more that ran into the base parking lots at some point in the past.

Pick your parking spot carefully.

We were on the bus.  We've generally avoided cramped spaces while riding the buses here, but we found the Stubaital to be full of enthusiastic bus riders.

Unlike the ski buses in the Cottonwoods, there are many non-skiers riding the bus as this is the main line through the villages of the Stubaital and I felt a little bad for them, especially the older riders, of which there were many.  On the other hand, it was only a short stretch with a near-full bus and there were no traffic snarls to slow us down.  I haven't missed the red snake one bit while here.


  1. Austria has the most state-of-the-art ski lifts in the world. I have just ridden similar 24 seat gondolas at Val d'Isere last spring and at Avoriaz this January. But those had standard bench seats vs. the plusher design I see in your picture.

  2. Glacier skiing is often quite flat, Zermatt's surface lift area notably so. If they are not, you are likely to see crevasses, bergschrunds, ice blocks, etc. The Vallee Blanche in Chamonix is perhaps the most famous case, where the standard route is very mellow but you see a lot of the scenic glacial features not to far away. Smaller guided groups can ski the Petit or Grand Envers routes through some of the ice formations.

    The Grand Motte glacier at Tignes had better pitch for skiing. Hintertux has that reputation in Austria, so you should check that out while you are there.