Ötztal Ski Tour - Hut Skiing in the Austrian Alps
We have long wanted to run a tour to the Ötztal Alps located in Austria. In the spring of 2013 Olivia did a scouting tour in the area with friends and put together the ideal trip. The ski objectives are fantastic, but were were also attracted to the history of the area. In 1991 mountain travelers discovered Ötzi, the iceman, a 5300 year old hunter that was found in the Schnalstal glacier near the Finelspitze, one of our summit objectives. Otztal is the name of a 65 kilometer long valley in the Austrian State of Tyrol that divided the Stubai Alps in the east from the Otztal Alps in the west.
The huts are first-rate, offering hot showers, beer on tap, and both small private rooms and dormitory style accommodations. The terrain is big and alpine, but peppered with summits that can be reached with no real technical challenges. We have put together a circuit that samples some of the nicest huts and culminates in an ascent of the Wildspitze, Austria’s second highest mountain.
John & Olivia Race, IFMGA/UIAGM certified guides and AMGA certified ski guides, will be your trip leaders for the Otztal ski tour. We are available to help you train for your this trip and are always happy to spend time discussing the program with you to see if this is a program that makes sense at your current ski ability.
Ötztal Ski Tour Itinerary
Ötztal Ski Tour Day 0: Meet in Vent, Austria
On the afternoon before your trip we all rendezvous in the small ski village of Vent, Austria to go over the plan for the week and organize our gear before the tour. Vent is 1.5 hours by shuttle from the Innsbruck, Austria Airport or 3.5 hours from Munich, Germany. Our office can help with your travel arrangements to Vent. We spend the night at a nice hotel with a pizzeria right in town. As a group we will go over the plan for the week, do an equipment check, and get packed up for the first day of our tour. Vent is at 1896 M (6220') allowing everyone the opportunity to begin to acclimate comfortably. Those flying in from the US can arrive this same day, or may choose to arrive a day early to get over any jet lag.
Ötztal Ski Tour Day 1: Vent 1896 M (6220') to Martin Busch Hut 2501 M (8205')
We will have breakfast together as a group at the hotel, store items not needed for the week, and then tour up valley to the Hut. The trip to the hut takes about 3 to 3.5 hours. This puts us at the hut in time for an early lunch and the walk in gives us time to work out any issues with our equipment and get used to moving together as a group. We have the option to climb the Kreuzspitze 3457 M (11,342') in the afternoon. This tour climbs 956 M (3136') and usually takes about 4 to 4.5 hours if we do the entire tour. Many will choose to only do a portion of the climb in order to limit their total vertical for the day and ease into the week. We will spend the night at the Martin Busch Hut. Like all of the huts on the tour this hut provides a very nice set menu diner served family style and has hot showers and beer on tap.
Ötztal Ski Tour Day 2: Martin Busch Hut 2501 m (8205') to Similaun Hut 3019 M (9905')
We generally get up early and have breakfast around 6 am. After some good strong coffee, and a simple breakfast we head for the Similaun Hut with a side-trip to climb Similaun 3606 M (11,831'). Weather and group interest will dictate whether or not we drop gear at the hut before the climb as the hut is slightly out of the way enroute to the summit. The tour to the summit takes between 4.5 and 5.5 hours depending on snow conditions and then add another hour or so to get down to the hut. On each of these days we need to make it to the hut by mid afternoon if we want to have access to the full lunch menu, but there will be days when we decide to take a pack lunch from the previous hut, skip the hut lunch, and spend more of the day on the tour. This evening will be spent at the Similaun Hut.
Ötztal Ski Tour Day 3: Similaun Hut 3019 M (9905') to Schone Aussicht Hut 2842 M (9324')
This is one of the more spectacular days and will require decent stability and some visibility to make happen. Our objective for the day is to reach the Schone Aussicht Hut located just over the border in Italy where it is called the Mountain Refuge Bella Vista. We begin with a short descent from the hut and then turn to the west and skin up 360 meters to the Tisenjoch, which is where Ötzi, the iceman, was found and there is now a monument. From here we tour over to the Hauslabjoch at 3276 M (10,748'). From the Hauslabjoch we have the option to climb the Finailspitze 3516 M (11,535'). Like most of the ascents in the area this involves a short scramble at the end over easy terrain that looks a bit improbable at the beginning. The descent to the Schone Aussicht Hut generally has great snow as the glacier faces north and provides really moderate skiing. The Schone Aussicht Hut can also be accessed from the ski area in Kurzras, Italy and is very nice and has spectacular views. This night is spent in the Schone Aussicht Hut, with the Hochjoch Hospiz reserved as an alternate. We would generally make this decision at the start of the trip if we see an issue with the weather forecast.
Ötztal Ski Tour Day 4: Schone Aussicht Hut 2842 M (9324') to Hochjoch Hospiz 2412 M (7913').
This is a great day and by now we are building to pretty solid touring days in an effort to see as much of the terrain as possible while maintaining a relaxed, fun trip. Up early, again we will head off to climb the Weisskugel 3739 M (12,267') the third highest peak in Austria and the second highest in the Ötztal. Just to complicate things more, its name in Italian is Palla Bianca. The ascent of the Weisskugel begins as a 300+ meter climb to the saddle between Hintern Eis 3270 M (10,728') and Egg 3219 M (10,561') followed by a 300 meter descent to the Hintereis Glacier. We the ascent this glacier for 900 meters to the summit. We climb the south ridge of the Weisskugel. After a good day of climbing we descend 10 km and 1327 M (4350') to the Hochjoch Hut. If we complete the entire tour it usually takes 7-8 hours. If folks are looking for something a bit less aggressive, we can offer an abbreviated tour for a portion of the group. Night is spent at the Hochjoch Hut.
Ötztal Ski Tour Day 5: Hochjoch Hut 2412 M (7913') to Vernagt Hut 2755 M (9039')
Today we begin by skinning up behind the hut to summit the Guslar Spitz 3126 M (10,255'). Following this we ski down to the Vernagt Hut at 2755 M (9039). This makes for a nice short day for those looking to rest after our ascent of the Weisskugel and prior to our ascent of the Wild Spitz on the final day. Once we reach the hut and have lunch there is an option for those who are game to climb the Fluchtkogel 3500 M (11,483') after lunch. This afternoon tour usually takes about 4 hours round trip. Historically it has been possible to grab the Fluchtkogel on day 4 when coming from the Hochjoch Hut, but recent changes in the Kesselwand Glacier have made that more challenging over the past few winters. Many folks will choose to rest up for our final objective, The Wild Spitze 3744 M (12,283') Austria's second highest peak and the highest peak in the Ötztal, which we hit on the final day.
Ötztal Ski Tour Day 6: Vernagt Hut 2755 M (7913') to Vent 1896 M (6220')
This is the last day of our trip and is comparable to the last day on the Haute Route with regard to the length of time it takes to complete the tour. We begin by crossing the Grosser (bigger) and Kleiner (smaller) Vernagt Glaciers enroute to the Brochkogeljoch 3423 M (11,230'). We glide out onto the Taschach Glacier and skin up around 300 meters to the ski depot about 90 meters below the summit of the Wild Spitze. The final climb to the summit requires crampons with a couple of easy rock moves to the airy, yet comfortable summit. This is a really popular objective and on a sunny day we will generally be sharing the experience with plenty of other people. Once back down to out skis, we ski a short distance to the Mitterkarjoch 3470 m (11,385'). Below this is a steep section where we use a combination of lowers and fixed cables to get down to the Mitterkar Glacier and the final 1500 meter (4921') ski descent to Vent. We are able to ski to within 2 blocks of the hotel. This day usually takes a good 8 hours with the goal to be in Vent by mid-afternoon. We will grab a beer and some pizza and celebrate our week out in the mountains. Those flying from Innsbruck may choose to move onto Innsbruck this night, others will opt to spend one more night in lovely Vent.
Ötztal Ski Tour QualificationsSki Ability: The Ötztal ski tour is not designed to be an extreme ski route in any way. Participants must, however, be decent skiers. You should feel comfortable skiing with a backpack, skiing the wide variety of snow conditions possible in the mountains such as powder, breakable crust, wind crust, and corn, and climbing and descending 3500-4500' on skis each day for a 6 days. It is not advised to undertake the Ötztal without any backcountry ski experience. You will want to do some AT skiing in advance of the this and should show up having used your boots in the months leading up to the trip.
It is not uncommon for people to develop blisters if they do not tour in advance of the trip. You should be able to descend black diamond runs efficiently in most ski areas. Again, you do not need to be an extreme skier to do this, but there will be spots where it is best not to fall, and you need to be able to efficiently link turns in a wide variety of snow conditions. You should also be aware that skiing on a glacier is much different from skiing in bounds at a ski area. Real hazards exist in these mountains and none are marked. Prior to your trip you want to focus on skiing in control and being able to ski for long periods without falling. You do not need any previous mountaineering experience to do this, but it is nice to have some level of familiarity with the climbing harness, crampons, and ice axe. We use these items very rarely, but you will be more confident if you show up with some level of comfort with them. None of the summit objectives involve very extended climbing, but a few are a bit exposed and require careful movement. Most can be skipped while the others climb if you prefer to stick to the skiing.
Ski Skills Assessment - Ötztal Ski TourIt can be difficult to determine where different people are in terms of ski ability without skiing with them in advance of a program. As we don't always have the opportunity to ski together in advance of all trips we have provided the following list so that potential customers can evaluate their ski skills and choose the most appropriate program.
Advanced Ski Skills
- Able to ski fall line in most snow conditions (powder to wind affected snow).
- Able to make parallel or stem-christie turns on 35° groomed or firm snow.
- Able to side-slip on firm slopes up to 35°.
- Able to ski moguls in soft snow.
- Able to do kick turns facing in or facing out on 30° slopes.
- Able to skate on level terrain.
- Able to ski fall-line in tight radius turns in good conditions.
- Able to ski black diamond runs at ski areas efficiently and in most snow conditions.
Physical Condition Evaluation for SkiingSki touring requires a certain basic level of physical fitness to minimize risk and be enjoyable. In addition to a solid base of aerobic conditioning you need to have the basic core strength to ski in a variety of conditions while carrying a ski pack. The best training you can do for ski touring is ski touring. It is best not to go into any extended trip without finding the time to get in a few days of touring in advance to make sure that your feet are conditioned to your boots.
Very Good Physical ConditionFull day tours with 3000-4500 feet of elevation gain while carrying a pack weighing between 20 and 30 lbs. on tours lasting 3-6 days
Getting to/from VentVent, Austria is located at the head of the Ötztal valley. It can be reached by car, or public transport. It is about 1.5 hours from the airport in Innsbruck, Austria, 3.5 hours from Munich, Germany, or 6.5 hours from Zurich if traveling by car (6.5 hours by public transit.) Prior to your trip we will work with you to organize transportation. If several team members are flying into the same spot we may want to organize cost-sharing travel such as a rental car or private shuttle.
How do the huts work?Most of the huts on this tour offer both small room accommodations and dormitory style housing. We try to get small rooms where possible, but sometimes need to use larger rooms. even with small rooms, you will generally share the space with other skiers. The huts are generally a step down from a hotel and a giant leap up from carrying and sleeping in tents. Most nights we are in bed by 9 p.m. and most mornings we are up by 6 am. Most people staying in huts sign up for the dinner and the breakfast option, which is called half-pension. Dinners are things like pasta, meat, potatoes, a desert, bread, and soup. Breakfast is generally a very simple affair consisting of bread and jam, coffee or tea, and cheese and is designed to get large numbers of people fed and out the door. You purchase water in the huts and it can be surprisingly expensive. In general expect to spend about $4.25 USD for a liter of water. You can often buy boiled water (made from melted snow or collected rainwater) for about half this. Huts connected to ski areas tend to be more lavish and huts away from the ski area are generally resupplied by helicopter, thus a bit more simple. Many of the huts in Austria have electricity, making it possible to charge your cell phone. Wi-fi is not usually available, but many of the the huts are located in spots where you can pick up data on your smart phone via cell signal. We cover the night in the hut, as well as the standard dinner and breakfast. You cover lunches, drinks, and any extras.
What do we do in the huts?At the end of some days (particularly sunny ones) people often stop in the hut for lunch and then after lunch go back out to ski. On some days we may decided to nap, play cards, or read in the afternoon prior to dinner. Usually after dinner everyone puts in breakfast orders, we settle our bill with the hut manager, and retire early in preparation for an early start. Your guide will manage the bill each night. If we are all able to pay for drinks and extras as we take them it is a lot easier to settle the bar bill, as required by the hut, at the end of the night.
Insurance ConsiderationsThere are several different types of insurance to consider. Travel insurance can protect all of your non-refundable trip expenses (i.e. guide fees, airline reservations, etc) and in some cases might also provide some rescue insurance. NMS does not carry rescue insurance for its guests. We do carry commercial liability insurance, but you are responsible for the cost of your evacuation if injured.
There is huge variability between insurance policies and providers, and even within policies depending on your residence and citizenship. All of the information provided in this document is only meant to help you start to educate yourself about insurance. It is your responsibility to select the products that provide the amount of coverage that you are comfortable with.
Once you have purchased travel insurance please pass this information on to the NMS office. Also make sure to CARRY YOUR PROOF OF INSURANCE DURING THE TRIP.
Travel InsuranceIn addition to providing you with protection should you have to cancel your trip unexpectedly, some travel insurance policies can cover many other aspects of your trip itself. Examples of possible additional coverage include search & rescue for accidents, medical expenses while traveling, and allowances for lost or delayed luggage.
We are a provider of Travelex travel insurance. The following link will take you to the page on our website which deals with this Travelex insurance information »
Our Location Number is 47-0108. You can purchase insurance from another company but we picked Travelex because they seem most well represented by other mountaineering and ski companies. We have also had customers successfully receive compensation for trips interrupted by family emergencies. This sort of insurance has eased the process for both our customers and ourselves as it seems reasonably priced, and takes much of the financial risk out of the equation for you and for us. In order to be eligible, this insurance needs to be purchased within 21 days of the day we receive your application & deposit. The main site for this insurance is: www.travelex-insurance.com
Please make sure to speak with a representative of Travelex to ensure you select the correct coverage. Some of the policies have exclusions for backcountry skiing or mountaineering so you need to make sure these activities are covered. As we understand it the Travel Select Plan with the added adventure pak is probably what most of our customers will need.
Rescue InsuranceIf your travel insurance does not provide rescue insurance you may need to consider adding some other policy to cover this. The list below is by no means comprehensive but should give you a starting point for looking into this. In Europe the cost of rescue is payable on the spot (unlike the US), and can be very expensive.
Outdoor Recreation Insurance: ORI provides a personal accident insurance through the AMGA's group policy. As a client of an AMGA certified guide you are eligible to buy into this group policy. This accident insurance provides activity-specific (you select from snow, mountain or paddle categories) benefits. This policy can also cover deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance payments that are not covered by your standard health insurance. This insurance is between $75-85/year. Follow this link to read more about this insurance: www.amga.com/resources/ORI.php.
There is also a Swiss service called REGA, which provides very good rescue services: www.rega.ch. You can become a patron of REGA online. This service will only cover non-Swiss citizens during the time that they are on Swiss soil. If you are in Switzerland and need to be rescued this should be the most seamless service.
Members of the American Alpine Club (AAC) are automatically enrolled in Global Rescue (GR). The cost for an AAC membership is $75 per year or $125 per year for couples. Follow this link to learn more about Global Rescue. This seems like a good way to go as they have evidently dropped a requirement that Global Rescue be called first in the event of an accident and they raised the payout from $5000 to $10000. We recommend joining the American Alpine Club simply to get this additional insurance. Be sure to bring your card with you on the trip as you will need it if you need to be evacuated or assisted.
Austrian Alpine Club: This provides a good rescue insurance option. Most American's that go this route purchase their insurance through the UK branch of the Austrian Alpine Club. Cost for 2013 was £43.50 for those born between 1953 and 1987, £33.50 for those born before 1953, and lower amounts for people born from 1994 onward. There is also a family membership. Last we checked this covered you in Austria for the year enrolled as well as worldwide up to 6000 meters.
We generally advise folks to cary Travelex for their primary cancellation or trip interruption insurance and then back this up with one of the Alpine Club memberships. Please note that while we work hard to provide good advice here and in our pre-trip information it is ultimately your responsibility to obtain insurance, understand the policy, and decide for yourself how much insurance you need. As we have gotten older and are now parents we have noticed that we prefer to carry more insurance than we used to.
Want to ski before or after the Otztal Ski Tour?
It may be possible to arrive a day or two early and ski with one of our guides in preparation for your trip. In this case, we would charge our standard custom rates for your days of skiing. This may provide you with an opportunity to become more familiar with your gear, hone skills that may have become softer since you last skied, or simply relieve any stress related to skiing with a group. Our guides move around a lot during the Europe ski season and may not be available prior to the trip, but we generally have one guide coming onto each trip fresh with a few days to spare and we can set you up with them. Please contact our office to discuss any ideas.
Maps for the Ötztal Ski Tour:
For ski touring in Europe you generally want 1:25000 maps. Ideally you want the ski touring version that has common ski routes marked on the map. The maps for Austria are produced by the German Alpine Club (DAV). The names below are given in German. As of Fall 2013 you could order map 30/6 and map 30/1 as ski maps, but map 30/2 was out of print and only available as a hiking map. It is possible to order these online, but it was so complicated that we opted to simply buy the maps in Austria. They are readily available in Solden, enroute to Vent.
These three maps will cover the entire tour that we advertise.
- DAV Karte - 30/6 Ötztaler Alpen - Wildspitze Skitouren, 1:25000
- DAV Karte - 30/2 Ötztaler Alpen - Weisskugel Skitouren, 1:25000
- DAV Karte - 30/1 Ötztaler Alpen - Gurgl mit Skitouren, 1:25000