So the winter that never really started is drawing to a close. However, following several weeks of baking sunshine and temperatures in the high twenties, yesterday we awoke to a garden full of snow and a rather chilly shock of -1 outside. Just when we were about to let out a big sigh and put away our skis whilst tut-tutting but cheerily back slapping about how we’ve done our best to make the most of a poor winter, the almost forgotten winter seems to have staged a rather dramatic comeback. So the touring skis will stay out for a little while longer, and we will remember April as the month of surprises.
But before the rather bizarre and unexpected snowfall, we managed to get out and enjoy some cracking spring snow, and all under a big blue sky. At this time of year it’s important to stay as high as possible, mainly due to the distinct lack of snow lower down, so we decide to head to Ischgl, in the west of the country. Skiing off the back of the resort down to the Heidelberger Hutte not only provides a great lunch spot but also opens you up to a whole world of touring possibilities. With a number of peaks hovering around the 3000m mark and a ski track all the way back out to rejoin the resort at the end of the day, it was difficult to find any fault with the plan from start to finish. We opted for the Mottana Peak, around 750m height gain from the hut. We were the sole summiteers all day (it seems most Austrians just do the same tour as everyone else and ignore the alternatives!) so fresh spring skiing tracks all the way down and an uninterrupted view to rival most views. Not bad all round.
As I mentioned last time, my most recent eastern European ski jolly was to Romania; not a country renowned for its skiing, but somewhere with mountains nonetheless, plus with the added bonus of being a fascinating country, steeped in history and therefore with lots a exploring to be done. Unfortunately it has been a fairly dire winter across the whole of the European continent, and Romania was no exception, but despite the pretty minimal snowpack and obvious recent wind affect, with a bit of imagination and some searching, we managed to have some superb days out.
We were staying in the tiny village of Busteni, which does have a cable car, but no ski area. Theoretically the lift is for hiking and sightseeing only, but with a little internet research and a lot of map studying we discovered that there was a beautiful ski tour across the plateau at the top, with a potentially adventurous and exciting descent through a vast gully back down to the valley. It did indeed turn out to be quite an adventure, and we were slightly wary about the prospect of waking one of Romania’s hibernating bears…! But we had the place to ourselves all day in fairly wild country, and found some great skiing.
Despite day passes being disproportionately high in Romania (around the equivalent of €35/€40), one-way ski tickets are outrageously cheap (€5), leading us to wonder why anyone bothers buying a day pass, given the fairly limited lift-served skiing! So we generally got a lift bump at the start of the day, in neighbouring Sinaia and Azuga, and spent the day exploring with the skins. The weather was wonderful all week, so we may not have found powder heaven, but we saw some spectacular views and thoroughly enjoyed exploring and discovering some new mountains.
The weather in the European Alps is never boring. It’s never just sunny, or simply raining, it’s always varied and interesting and often provides you with something you’ve never seen before; an incredible rainbow stretching across an entire valley, or a cloud formation so unusual that it appears the mountain peak is wearing a fleecy hat.
Every now and again you look out the window at a seemingly dreary day and find it difficult to muster the enthusiasm to get out skiing. But when you’re sitting on the chairlift, rising up through the thick cloud, and suddenly you burst through into a perfect sky, complete with blue sky and sunshine, you grin and quietly thank Mother Nature for the wonder that is a cloud inversion…
So I hear that North America is getting a huge amount of snow at the minute, however sadly this is not the case here in Europe. Winter teased us back in November and as ever the snow canons were blasting 24 hours a day, a few meagre pistes were opened and skiers hit the slopes in their droves. But since then we have had literally no precipitation, just bright blue skies, sunshine and well below freezing temperatures. So I can’t complain, this weather is gorgeous, and we have been determined to make the most of what we’ve got.
Those in charge of the ski areas have done a superb job of getting resorts open, and the cold temperatures have helped the manufactured snow stick brilliantly, so with zero off-piste or back-country touring potential, why not make the most of the magnificent sunshine and the spectacular ‘half Autumn half Winter’ scenery and hit the pistes?!
Yes it’s here, I clung on to autumn for as long as I could, but I have finally given in and embraced winter! Although at this time of year the nights are closing in, the temperature plummets, and the sun retreats into hibernation, the wonderful thing about a place like Innsbruck is that with winter comes SNOW! Last weekend we dusted off the skis and had a fun blast round the busy pistes followed by a superb (and considerably quieter!) ski tour.
A great star to the winter and exciting to be back on the skis. Watch this space…
Me! Traditionally I have always associated November with grim, rainy, grey weather (growing up in England didn’t help!) The sun has gone into hibernation, the rain arrives, it’s cold. But this November in the alps has proved me wrong. With a few exceptions (!) we have had perfect cold, crisp sunny days, and the beautiful autumn leaves have really held their colour. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed still being able to run on the forest trails around Innsbruck, and couldn’t resist taking my camera out this week to capture nature at its best.
The snow is creeping closer, and skiing is not far away, but for now I want to hold on to autumn for as long as possible.
Despite Autumn faithfully and predictably arriving every year at the same time, it still never ceases to surprise me how beautiful it is, possibly because each year it seems to sneak up and blow you away with its seemingly impossible colours. The summer months are always wonderful, and living in a place which has the 4 distinct seasons makes the transition from hot, carefree summer days to dark, short winter days so much more bearable by easing us in to it slowly. Now I must admit a winter with snow and skiing is a great deal more tempting than a rainy, grey one, but it’s still always a challenge to let go of the summer regardless of what’s around the corner!
Every year I cherish the Autumn and make sure I stop to appreciate just how unique and stunning it is, even on a grey day…!