Snowboarding the Austrian Alps

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That feeling of being on top of the world…it’s amazing, and you can certainly feel it when you are in the Alps.  Between Christmas and New Years, I planned an amazing trip to the Tyrol Region of Austria that included snowboarding, hiking, and a day trip to Innsbruck.  Last year, I was able to snowboard in Austria outside of Vienna, but the clouds were so thick that day that you couldn’t even see 20 feet in front of you.  However, I was lucky enough to have amazing, clear weather, and even fresh snow on my first day up.

The trip itself was a lot to organize, especially when you are attempting to travel on a budget.  In the end, it was a complete success, and I would love to share tips with anyone who is interested in doing the same.  I was able to rent someone’s ski pass (lift ticket) for 20 euro/day, and the snowboard rental was 30 euro/day at the base of the mountain.  So, for two days of snowboarding in some of the most impressive mountains I’ve ever laid eyes on, it only cost me 100 euro, a price of which I’ve paid for 1 day of mediocre snowboarding back home on the east coast of the US.  The mountains are huge, and the slopes so long that some require a few breaks to make it down.  In order to get down from the top of the mountain to near the base where I was staying with my couchsurfing host, it was about a 30 minute journey down by snowboard/skis!

Specifically, I snowboarded Hochzillertal, a ski resort located above the town of Kaltenbach, Austria (where I stayed).  This was just one of many locations scattered throughout the Zillertal Valley, an amazing place for skiers and snowboarders – I can’t recommend it enough!  It is easily accessible by train from Munich and Innsbruck – both of which you will take a train from to Jenbach, which connects you to the Zillertal Valley via its own train, the Zillertalbahn.  There are many other towns in the Zillertal Valley, the largest and most popular being Mayrhofen.  I stayed in Mayrhofen the last night in a house with 30 other young skiers and snowboarders, an awesome experience that gave me a glimpse into how the Seasonaires live.  As everyone is there to have a great time, you can expect many people crowding the local bars looking to have a fun night out, maybe more so than they would at home.

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Before I show you more pictures of the mountain top views, I want to back up a bit to the first glimpse I got of the Alps.  Sitting on the train from Hannover to Rosenheim, I was constantly staring out the window, wondering when the peaks that I had seen so many photos of would appear. But, for the time being, I only saw the never-ending fields that I was accustomed to, living in Northern Germany.  And then, all of a sudden, there they were, massive mountains protruding out of the flat landscape, their snowcapped peaks out of view above the clouds.  I had envisioned a transition from a slightly hilly landscape to the mountainous alpine region, but this was not the case.  After Rosenheim, the subsequent trains to Kufstein, Jenbach, and Kaltenbach all worked their way through the winding valleys of the Tyrol region.

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Most likely, you will be staying at the base of the mountain, as there didn’t seem to be an abundant amount of accommodation at the top.  I took this photo on my 5 minute morning walk to the slope from where I was being hosted as a couchsurfer (an amazing experience/situation).  Every morning of my stay, there was an intense fog blanketing the valley.  I took the same picture about 30 seconds later and you could barely make out the shape of the house!

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View of the blanket of fog/cloud cover snaking its way through the Zillertal Valley – amazing how it completely covers up the entire towns and villages below.  It usually cleared by late afternoon, allowing beautiful panoramic vistas to the villages below.

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This was a beautiful ski lodge located just below one of the highest points of the Hochzillertal region.  Just an amazing scene – the “mountain house” architecture utilizing the combination of timber and stone, with the incredible peaks in the background.

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A view off of the back porch of the lodge.  I’ve stared at this picture for awhile and still cannot figure out how the railing made a shadow like that, I thought the ground was flat but maybe not…

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After not seeing snow for 2 years (I’m not counting the layer of ice we got last year in North Carolina), I was completely blown away by the snow covered peaks.  They seemed to go on forever with no end in sight.

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As I sped down the slopes on my board, it was hard to pay attention to where I was going when there was so much beautiful scenery to take in.  Many times, I boarded over to the side of the slope and sat down for 10 minutes at a time, taking in the amazing surroundings.

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Another one of those times…

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And one more.  Snowboarding these mountains has definitely been one of the highlights of my stay here in Europe.  Whether you ski or snowboard, it’s an exciting, freeing feeling that you have as you make your way down the slopes, one I hope that everyone gets to experience.

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Early morning sun and shadows created an awesome scene of the slopes with more peaks in the background.

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Another aspect of the region that I loved were the Après Ski Parties (After ski parties).  My favorite place that I came across was Kristallhütte, located in one of the corners of the Hochzillertal area.  It was a bar/lodge that had many amazing amenities such as outdoor beds, couches, beanbags, live DJ, and these beach chairs overlooking the valley below.  I think you can even rent out a room for the night there as well.

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After a day of skiing or snowboarding, it’s awesome to grab a delicious beer or hot chocolate and take in the amazing scenery surrounding the bar/lounge.

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The DJ was playing great music and everyone was in good spirits as they enjoyed their Après Ski drinks.  We even got a quick sun-snow shower while I was up there!

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Just a fraction of all the comfortable furniture that Kristallhütte had for its guests.  Order a beer, a warm bowl of soup, and snuggle up under the warm blankets on these beds that were oriented to provide the view of the mountain peaks.  You can see the DJ too in this picture – I couldn’t believe all of this was on top of the mountain at nearly 2500 meters!

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A shot of the valley outside of Mayrhofen at sunrise.  It was interesting to me how the valley was entirely flat, and then all of a sudden on the edges the mountains rose up out of nowhere.

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A river also flowed through the valley; it didn’t seem to be more than a foot deep in most spots, but was crystal clear.  The water had the blueish glacial tint that all of the rivers and lakes in the Alps seem to have.

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Another shot of the valley, with cars off in the distance on their way to the town of Mayrhofen.

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It was an amazing moment when the clouds finally cleared from the valley, and I was able to see the villages from above.  Most of the houses were concentrated in the valley, but you can see a few ambitious ones climbing up the bases of the mountains.

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You can see the river in this shot, winding its way through the Zillertal Valley.  I couldn’t get over the fact at how flat the base of the valley was, and then how quickly on the edges it changed to the upward slope of the mountains.  I stayed in one of the houses that was located on the slope of the mountain rather than the bottom floor of the valley.

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After four days in the Zillertal Valley, I headed to Innsbruck for the day to see what a large city located in the heart of the Alps was like.  The Capital of Tyrol did not disappoint – with its beautiful architecture and scenic backdrop of the mountain peaks, it’s a can’t miss when you’re in the area.  Innsbruck could also be used as your home base for skiing in the region, as the slopes can be seen from the city center.  These particular buildings just west of the city center were lining the beautiful alpine Inn River that wound its way through the city.  I love how this picture turned out – my camera doesn’t have a panorama mode, so I combined three separate pictures for this photograph.

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The city center of Innsbruck.  I was there on Dec. 30 (2 days before New Years) so the streets were full of people, and there seemed to be a few booths left over from the Christmas markets selling local foods and drinks.

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Me trying to be artistic: a beautiful reflection in the windows of a building on the other side of the river.

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