The Glungezer and Lizumer Alpine lodges are both located in the Austrian region of Tyrol, but in winter the path between them becomes so forbidding that they may as well be separated by a planet.
They sit in the middle of a trail linking Munich and Venice. In summer, the trail is filled with hikers. But I wanted to cover the distance on skis, as a hardy group of skiers do each winter.
My guide was 3o-year old Benedikt Purner, who was to lead me through the south side of the Inntal valley. First, we needed climbing skins on our skis. These days, mountain skiers no longer stick seal pelts drenched in fish oil to give their skis enough friction to cling to rocky surfaces. Instead, they use the modern versions made of mohair.
The valley soon disappeared below a blanket of clouds as we embarked on our trip. Benedikt opted not to take the normal route to the Glungezer lodge, but he was still able to tell me the history of legendary mountain refuge as we ascended the steep incline. At 2,677 meters, the area has been a popular ski area for over a century, with one of the longest slopes in Tyrol. Boards were placed over the spot where the lodge now stands to help control avalanches.
But the structure was hidden from view, like much of the landscape during the day. An unrelenting wind had blown off the snow cover, creating an icy crust that kept my skis slipping constantly. Fortunately, it was still possible to make Telemark turns.
video: ski trip in Tyrol.
Eventually, we made it up, pulling open the door to see just one other guest speaking with a lodge employee about dogs. That’s all the action to be had on such a day.
Unfortunately, none of that was visible, as wind and blowing snow obscured the panorama and sense of direction
They told a story of how Buhl Hermann, the former mayor of Innsbruck, once trained for a Himalayan trek by schlepping a 70-kilo sack of coal up to the mountain to the lodge - twice a day.
“Gimme another one,” said the sole guest in a thick Tyrolean accent. The barman, who was missing a few fingers, tapped another beer.
The lodge owner Gottfried Wieser displayed his homemade walnut bread, even though far from all of the 30 beds would be filled that night. In summer, it’s often booked out by hikers travelling along the Munich-Venice path.
“Yes, in summer we mostly have foreigners here and in winter only locals,” he said.
Ski tours in the region are far more taxing than hiking. But it’s all relative. As I rested my aching muscles, my guide Benedikt blithly told the owner, “I was happy to have a day to recover today.”
Tucked into my lodge sleeping bag, I hoped to rest enough to make the journey to the Lizumer lodge the next day.
At breakfast, Benedikt said the crossing was “incredibly beautiful,” wild and empty with amazing views. Gottfried the lodge owner added, “It’s like Canada up there - a fantastic ski area.”
Unfortunately, none of that was visible, as wind and blowing snow obscured the panorama and our sense of direction.
“Crossing over makes no sense today,” Benedikt said, politely not mentioning the fact that I would simply have no chance of making it along the challenging mountain ridge.
We headed back down into the valley and drove part of the way to other lodge before getting out near a military testing ground. We started the ascent to the Lizumer lodge in the forest, passing a strangely deserted village – the base camp for the Austrian army – before we made it to our destination.
Inside the lodge, a boisterous Dutch group claimed one table. Visitors from Dortmund sporting the neck pouches of foreign tourists occupied another.
The mood there was completely different: Whereas Gottfried from Glungezer lodge spoke quietly but eloquently with his guests, Anton Nigg from the Lizumer lodge was openly grumpy, leaving it to his Asian wife to be friendly with visitors.
He did, however, tell us that some 3,000 guests arrive each summer, most of them from Germany.
But in the winter, the hiking paths are all but deserted. One Munich man, who attempted to cross the path in snow shoes a few years ago, perished in an avalanche.
The next day, we climbed up to a gorge. The weather was so beautiful that the aches and pains from the previous day were quickly forgotten. As the sun beat down on us, we carved our way back down into the valley through a blanket of virgin snow.
This article originally appeared in Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: [email protected]