Saturday, March 23, 2019

Our "Run of Fame"

The Ski Arlberg region in western Austria contains several interconnected resorts and villages that comprise the 5th largest ski resort in the world.  It includes resorts and villages such as Rendl, St. Anton, St. Christoph, Stuben, Zurs, Zug, Lech, Warth, and Schröcken.  Most of the region is above timberline and the acreage of off-piste skiing is enormous.  From Rendl to Schröcken is nearly 23 km as the crow flies per Google Maps.  For comparison, it is about 25 km across the central Wasatch from Cottonwood Heights to Park City.

Ski Arlberg advertises a "Run of Fame" involving an all-day, self-guided tour that they claim covers 85 km and 18,000 vertical meters.  I think those numbers include lift and trail distance and up-and-down vertical, but even at 40+ km and 9,000 vertical meters of skiing, it is quite a trip.

Andrea and I decided that we wanted to see and ski Zurs, Zug, and Lech and that our best option was to do our own Run of Fame.  We added a descent to St. Christoph, but skipped Stuben and a descent to Warth.  Our day is summarized below, with red identifying outgoing lifts from St. Anton near the bottom right of the image and black the return lifts, including rides to Kapall and Rendl when we got back to St. Anton and had some time to kill.   

It was a great distance to cover, but the diverse mixture of valleys and mountain views made for a very enjoyable day.  If my old-school accounting is correct, we rode 21 lifts and skied about 8000 vertical meters (26,000 vertical feet), which is not an unreasonable day.  We started and ended at the St. Anton train station, a 5 minute walk from the lifts, which is super convenient from Innsbruck so we didn't have to stay a night (which is a plus given the high costs of lodging and dining in the Arlberg). 

Our day began with an ascent of the Galzigbahn tram and then a ski down to the lovely village of St. Christoph. 

I stayed in St. Christoph during the 2001 Alpine World Championships and loved it.  It is a beautiful little village perched on the Arlberg pass.  

After riding a couple of lifts and descending a couple of terrifying low-angle runs due to the army of people of varying abilities who had similarly left St. Anton at the same time as us, we descended to the Zurs in the upper Lechtal (Lech Valley).  

We then rode a short lift above Zurs, which allowed us to get over to the Zursersee chair, pictured just right of the village in the photo below.  

After that, we hit the Madlochbahn.  This is a major bottleneck where skiers from St. Anton who are attempting the Run of Fame and thus far have ridden high-speed cable cars and chairlifts hit a fixed-grip double.  Abandon hope all ye who enter here. 

Once at the top of the Madlochbahn, we got a great view back toward Zurs, hidden away in the deep valley below.

The descent from the Madlochjoch to Zug was the most interesting run of the day.  There are no lifts in this area and few skiers. 

There are also some very appealing off-piste options, although they were well worn and refrozen on this day.  Combined with our lack of knowledge of the area, we stuck to the groomers. 

Eventually we glimpsed the village of Zug below.  If you look carefully, you can see the line for our next chair ride, the Zugerberg, rising through the trees above Zug.

We also spied Lech again, with a pass in the mountains above and left of Lech, just to the right of the triangular, relatively snow-free peak, our turn-around target for the day.

Zug is a small, picturesque village. 

There is only one lift in Zug, a fixed-grip double that takes you up to the Lech ski area.  Due to the bottleneck earlier, the line was thankfully manageable.  Although I complain, the reality is that I'd be sad to see these lifts go.  This is a tranquil area compared to the rest of the Arlberg and that will change when the high-speed lifts come.

ln 2001, I skied a few runs in the fog at Lech and couldn't see a damn thing.  Well, we could see plenty on this day, including the very appealing terrain around the Steinmahderbahn.  I wish we had time to explore.

We needed nourishment.  Given my solar-exposure challenges, we ate inside a mountain hut somewhere along the trail above Lech.  Like all the mountain huts in Austria, this one had a very attractive interior.   However, like most in the Arlberg, it was also very expensive.  We had a minimal meal.

We then arrived at the "because it's there" part of the day.  Getting over to Warth–Schröcken involved skiing through one of the least appealing parts of the Lech ski area and then riding the Auenfeldjet gondola with no vertical gained.  The pass to Warth-Schröcken is center left below. 

At about 12:30, we arrived at the top of Warth–Schröcken at an elevation of about 2000 meters.  The view below is looking down the Bregenzer Valley.  This is one of the snowiest regions in the Alps due to the tendency for cold fronts to stall along the northern Alpine rim and exposure of the region to northwesterly to northerly post-frontal flow.  Ski Arlberg promotes Warth-Schröcken as the snowiest natural ski area in the Alps, with a mean annual snowfall of 11 meters (433 inches). 

Turning around we thought, "holy crap have we come a long ways."  The locations noted below are probably not perfect, but the Auenfeldjet gondola going back to Lech is right of center in the photo and the valleys containing Zurs, Lech, and Zug are evident, as well as the high-mountain area containing the Madlochjoch.  St. Anton is somewhere off in the far left of the photo, blocked by terrain, and more than 15 km away as the crow flies.

The return via the Auenfeldjet was a bit of a yawner, post lunch.  If I was a good napper, I would have been out like a light. 

However, the last leg was interesting.  Instead of having to switch to a chairlift, the gondola kept going and connected directly with the chairlift cable.  This was the craziest lift marriage I've ever seen.  We stayed on the gondola.  Two chairs slid out in front of us and joined the line between gondolas.  Then it was our turn.  Two chairs + one gondola = chondola. 

Lech itself is a lovely town (I could probably say that about anywhere in the Arlberg.  It was also the one place where we needed to walk between lifts, although it was only 200 meters to get to the Rufikopfbahn cable cars.  No biggie. 

Rufikopfbahn cable cars, plural, was not a typo.  There are two of them.  They run parallel up 3000 vertical feet from Lech to just below the summit of the 2363 meter Rufikopf.  If there is any doubt that this is an area of conspicuous consumption based on what I've written so far, I give you a Dom Perignon advertisement on the cable car.   

From the top, more views.  The valley at left in the photo below contains Zug.  Lech is below near center.  Oberlech on the mountain lower slopes at right. 

Below Oberlech at left with Warth–Schröcken in the distance.

We then skied back toward Zurs, which is deep in the valley below.  Our route was fairly straightforward, but involved riding a T-bar and one more chair before getting to Zurs.  I will add that I was also here in 2001, completely fogged in and with no idea where the hell I was.  It was absolutely terrifying skiing back to Zurs.  A clear day was way more fun!

We made our way to Zurs, and then St. Anton, and eventually to the top of the Kapall above St. Anton.  There, we decided the time had come for a germknödel, a dough dumpling filled with plum jam, and covered in vanilla cream sauce and poppy seeds.  This is a specialty in Austria, but sadly I didn't take a picture until it was half eaten, which is too bad as they are works of art.

It's rare for me to have a beer while skiing, but there are exceptions, and one was made on this day. 

After the snack, we had some time to kill before our train, so we took the Rendlbahn up to the Rendl ski area which is across the valley from St. Anton.  This is an easy area to overlook, but the resort is good sized and probably a great place to ski on a powder day.  It also provides a nice view back to St. Anton.   

This was probably a record post for the Wasatch Weather Weenies by length and if you are still reading, you deserve your own germknödel. 

1 comment:

  1. I realize your circumstances were different than my two visits to the Arlberg staying there for a week, but I do have a couple of constructive suggestions for those who might ski "The Run of Fame" or the shorter "White Ring" within Lech-Zurs.

    Since most skiers are based in St. Anton, that creates the big liftline you experienced at Madlochjoch in late morning. The Rufikopf tram mid-afternoon can be another choke point. By basing/starting in Lech you ski these areas opposite the traffic and avoid the lines.

    There is also a once an hour bus between Lech/Zurs and St. Anton. I have found that some of these lengthy routes in the Alps are best skied one-way, then taking the bus to return to one's starting point. This would have allowed you to ski into the Warth-Schrocken and explore areas like Steinmahder that looked interesting to you.