Saalbach-Hinterglemm/Fieberbrunn, Austria, Jan. 25, 2017

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Saalbach-Hinterglemm/Fieberbrunn, Austria, Jan. 25, 2017

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Jan 25, 2017 6:35 pm

Saalbach.png

After 3 days based in Brixen to ski the Kitzbuhel and SkiWelt areas, we moved to Saalbach Tuesday evening. James referred to Saalbach as the “Vail of the Tirol,” and that seems accurate in relation to the prior areas being more like Summit County. Saalbach slope maintenance seems a little better and the other resorts are more weekend concentrated as they are closer to Munich and Salzburg. Saalbach also gets more snow, though it too has a low altitude range of 3,000 – 6,600. However a 3-DAY lift ticket at Saalbach costs a very un-Vail-like 147 Euros. We are also staying at the 4-star Alpinresort for about $400/night, which includes all meals, wine with dinner and lavish spa facilities.

A couple of British skiers have commented on Austria being a better value with more amenities than the French resorts. We also see why many people say ski infrastructure in Austria is the best in the world. Most of the lifts are high speed gondolas or 6-pack chairs, a few with heated seats. When pistes take you to a gondola loading at a higher level there is often an elevator or escalator to get you there. And this is another huge ski complex with snowmaking coverage on most of the pistes.

Liz has some knee issues after numerous ski days, and the six consecutive in the Arlberg were pushing it. So here she decided to take a break after 3 days, with another 3 coming. Today was the 7th consecutive day of clear, calm weather. High temps were just above freezing up high but colder in the valleys with similar inversion as in the Kitzbuhel area. It is expected to remain sunny with temps warming more starting Friday.

It’s about a 5 minute walk to the Schattberg Expess gondola from the hotel. My first run was the #1 black piste to its mid-station, and I was pleased to see almost none of the slick snowmaking subsurface. I moved onto the Sprinter lift to Schattberg West. View down to Saalbach from there:
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View SW to Zwolferkogel, where I headed after a long run down to Hinterglemm.
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View across the valley to the broad south facing slopes from Hochalm to Reiterkogel.
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I skied 3 runs in the east facing Zwolferkogel area, including one on Saalbach’s last upper mountain T-bar.
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I then skied the long piste #14 down to the upper end of the valley, then rode up the other side to the Hochalm area. It was just after noon now and this area was quite busy, both on the slopes and in the 3 restaurants. In Saalbach the north facing slopes tend to be forested with just a few relatively long pistes cut through them. The south slopes are more wide open so there was plenty of room. At noon the snow was very forgiving, soft but not really a melt-freeze. South facing off-piste is an ugly mess, but the groomers were in great shape so it was easy to understand why Hochalm was popular. Here’s a closer view of Hochalm at left in this pic taken from the other side of the valley.
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Moving to the right in that pic there are 3 more high south facing lifts ending with Sunliner, which provides access to Fieberbrunn.

Fieberbrunn was a separate area but gondolas were installed in 2014 to connect the areas. Fieberbrunn is noted for its off piste, this face off the Hochalmspitze being a good example.
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Fieberbrunn hosts a Freeskiing Tour event in March.

There are several skiroutes off Fieberbrunn’s backside.
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Closer view in profile:
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At 2PM I hoped that the sun being on it all day would soften the snow, so I ventured onto skiroute 34.
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Only the short upper section, east facing and shaded by rocks, had decent chalk. The sunny slopes were only partially soft and not consolidated. In North America there would usually be a decent skier-packed line in terrain like this, but the terrain is so expansive and skier traffic is too low to pack down a decent line. Fortunately skiroute 34 has a zigzag narrow catwalk, so I bailed out to that about halfway down.

I went back up the gondola to ski into Fieberbrunn’s north facing front side. I skied F10 to a short connector gondola, then F1c to the base. The lower runs are like Sallbach’s north facing, cut through dense forest. The return lift out of Fiberbrunn was a pulse gondola similar to La Grave’s. There are 4 or 5 gondolas clustered together, and they come to a stop when loading and unloading like a tram.

It’s now close to 3:30 but the return pistes on backside Fieberbrunn and Sallbach to the hotel are still mostly in the sun. State of the art snowmaking extends to the remote backside of Fieberbrunn.
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This week at Saalbach is probably the ideal scenario for the average Euro tourist. The weather is nice, the sun is too weak to mess up the pistes, and they are all well covered thanks to both snowmaking and the two January storms. Off piste is no good unless skier packed and north facing. With not much of that I’m on piste 90+% of the time. The corollary of being confined to pistes is a lot of vertical. Tuesday at Westendorf/SkiWelt was 32,400. Today I skied 40,500, 8th day lifetime over 40K. The last 4 days have totaled a lifetime record of 125,700, breaking my prior record at Mt. Bachelor in April 2000.
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Season powder: 291K in 2011-12
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Re: Saalbach-Hinterglemm/Fieberbrunn, Austria, Jan. 25, 2017

Postby jamesdeluxe » Thu Jan 26, 2017 5:39 am

Tony's photos look like they were taken with an old Instamatic camera and scanned in. :x Here's a Saalbach TR from Alpinforum that gives a better feel for the topography.


Tony Crocker wrote:However a 3-DAY lift ticket at Saalbach costs a very un-Vail-like 147 Euros. We are also staying at the 4-star Alpinresort for about $400/night, which includes all meals, wine with dinner and lavish spa facilities.

Is $400/night per person or for both of you? If the latter, that's a deal -- once again underscoring the price/value of Euro vs. U.S. destination trips.
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Re: Saalbach-Hinterglemm/Fieberbrunn, Austria, Jan. 25, 2017

Postby jasoncapecod » Thu Jan 26, 2017 7:03 am

Why is there such a stark difference in photo quality ??
Not only Tony's pics..Admin's pics don't compare either..
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Re: Saalbach-Hinterglemm/Fieberbrunn, Austria, Jan. 25, 2017

Postby Tony Crocker » Thu Jan 26, 2017 4:14 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:Is $400/night per person or for both of you? If the latter, that's a deal -- once again underscoring the price/value of Euro vs. U.S. destination trips.

Yes for both of us. When you consider that for a couple you're paying $100 less per day for lift tickets than in the US and getting 3 or 4 course dinners included for that $400, the price/value equation is quite attractive.

For us westerners the Alps still have to clear a high bar with typically 15 hours of air travel time vs. the ability to drive to top US destinations. I only had two trips, both on one week package tours, before I retired.

But for the easterners like James, I find it a mystery why for most their ski travel is so lopsided to the American West vs. the Alps. It's not due to price, particularly at current exchange rates.
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Re: Saalbach-Hinterglemm/Fieberbrunn, Austria, Jan. 25, 2017

Postby Admin » Thu Jan 26, 2017 5:18 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:But for the easterners like James, I find it a mystery why for most their ski travel is so lopsided to the American West vs. the Alps. It's not due to price, particularly at current exchange rates.


As an East Coast ex-pat, my observation is that it fits one (or more) of three categories:
1. The need for a passport (for those who don't already hold one);
2. The fact that the snow quality in the western US is far better than it is in Europe (both in quantity and consistency);
3. Language familiarity.

And even though the exchange rates may be favorable now, that's not always the case. In addition, many European destinations are far more expensive than skiing in the western US, lift ticket prices notwithstanding.
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Re: Saalbach-Hinterglemm/Fieberbrunn, Austria, Jan. 25, 2017

Postby Marc_C » Thu Jan 26, 2017 7:44 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:But for the easterners like James, I find it a mystery why for most their ski travel is so lopsided to the American West vs. the Alps. It's not due to price, particularly at current exchange rates.

I'll add one more to Admin's list:
Even from the east coast, the flight - usually with connections - is 2-3 times longer. Add to that the possibility of a multi-hour train ride to actually get to your resort and it becomes a full day of travel. In contrast the 8:30q Delta non-stop EWR-SLC arrives at 10:30a MST. You can be at Alta before lunch.

Also, I'm not so sure that flights to the Alps from the east coast are cheaper than non-stop flights to the west, save for the occasional deals, but I really haven't checked.
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Re: Saalbach-Hinterglemm/Fieberbrunn, Austria, Jan. 25, 2017

Postby EMSC » Fri Jan 27, 2017 12:56 pm

Marc_C wrote:I'm not so sure that flights to the Alps from the east coast are cheaper than non-stop flights to the west, save for the occasional deals, but I really haven't checked.


Likely true, though that should be changing over he next few years as new aircraft com online that can drop the pricing even more to Europe.

I'll also add in that marketing works. Western resports market like crazy to east coasters, Euro's don't. so a huge number of folks would never even have it cross their mind to fly further east to ski (at least for themselves).
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Re: Saalbach-Hinterglemm/Fieberbrunn, Austria, Jan. 25, 2017

Postby jasoncapecod » Fri Jan 27, 2017 3:07 pm

From the NYC you can fly direct to Geneva . You can be making turns in about a 1hr to 1.5hrs at a number of major French resorts...
Try getting to Aspen/Big Sky/Telluride from the east coast..
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Re: Saalbach-Hinterglemm/Fieberbrunn, Austria, Jan. 25, 2017

Postby Marc_C » Fri Jan 27, 2017 3:28 pm

jasoncapecod wrote:From the NYC you can fly direct to Geneva . You can be making turns in about a 1hr to 1.5hrs at a number of major French resorts...
Try getting to Aspen/Big Sky/Telluride from the east coast..

Geneva is about a 7.5 hr flight (I've done it, returning from Zermatt). 8hrs of travel is about what it took us in 1996 to go to Big Sky - drive from central CT to EWR, connect in MNP to get to Bozeman, then the van shuttle to the resort.

For Aspen from the EC, I'd look in to flying to Grand Junction rather than Denver. Probably do the same for Telluride.
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Re: Saalbach-Hinterglemm/Fieberbrunn, Austria, Jan. 25, 2017

Postby Admin » Fri Jan 27, 2017 3:31 pm

Marc_C wrote:For Aspen from the EC, I'd look in to flying to Grand Junction rather than Denver. Probably do the same for Telluride.


For Telluride, you can fly non-stop from NYC into Montrose aboard United (4h 15m). Flying NYC to Aspen can be done in 5h 25m, but requires a connection.
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Re: Saalbach-Hinterglemm/Fieberbrunn, Austria, Jan. 25, 2017

Postby Tony Crocker » Fri Jan 27, 2017 4:28 pm

You're not skiing the same day in the American West as your flight from the EC anywhere other than SLC, maybe Loveland or A-Basin. James usually skis a half day after landing in Zurich or Geneva.

admin wrote:1. The need for a passport (for those who don't already hold one);

Sad but true, considering that a 10-year passport costs about the same as a one-day lift ticket to an American ski area. This is also one of the reasons so few Americans ski in interior B.C.
admin wrote:3. Language familiarity.

Maybe in some for the obscure places James visits (partially for that reason), but in the big places, no. Recall that the Brits are major clientele for most big-name resorts in the Alps.

My original comment should have been phrased better. It's not that many easterners have tried the Alps and mostly decided they prefer the American West. It's that lots of then have taken tens of trip West and never tried the Alps at all. Admin's reasons 1) and 3) above are undoubtedly the primary reasons for this, though in both cases the perception does not reflect the reality.

As far as snow conditions are concerned, the perception falls short of the reality here too, and I plead guilty to this perception myself. In 2007 I was asked to provide a Top 20 list of ski area snowfalls, included none for the Alps and hypothesized that east-west oriented mountain ranges in Europe would fall far short in snowfall of north-south oriented mountain ranges in North America. I also assumed that if anyone in the Alps got as much as 400 inches/10 meters of snow per year, surely they would be touting that fact.

Fraser Wilkin of weather-to-ski.com and James have disabused me of the latter notion. Annual snowfall is not part of the marketing message in the Alps. As far as actual numbers are concerned, most European areas tend to measure lower down because it's very difficult to measure above tree line due to wind and snow safety issues. Colorado areas with trees to 11,000 feet have no such problem. So the perception of snowfall in the Alps vs. western North America is that the latter gets twice as much snow as the former, while the reality at actual ski elevations is probably a ratio more on the order of 3 to 2. Both the Alps and North America have many ski resort microclimates that deviate substantially from the overall averages for their region.

But at any rate the average American ski consumer does not plan ski trips using optimal expectations of snow as much of a priority. There's a long list of popular North American resorts that average in the ballpark of 250 inches annual snowfall: A-Basin, Breckenridge, Copper Mt., Aspen/Snowmass, Crested Butte, Purgatory, Telluride, Taos, Killington, Sugarbush, Park City, Deer Valley, Big Sky, Big White, Kicking Horse, Sunshine Village. Compare to say, Verbier, which averages 220 inches at 7,200 feet but the terrain rises to well over 10,000.

No question the best of North America gets more snow than the best of the Alps, but many more destination visitors take the middle-of-the-pack snow conditions of Park City over the best-in-the world conditions of LCC/BCC. Of course the response is that Park City has the superior resort ambience, apres-ski amenities, etc. But if you make that argument for Park City, the argument is even stronger in favor of many resorts in the Alps.

There are a couple of aspects of snow conditions which appear to be better in the Alps. The first, often cited by James, is powder competition. If the probability of powder is 50% more in a US resort but that powder will get skied out in ~2/3 of a day vs. lasting 3 days or more in the Alps, which area has the greater powder potential for a visiting skier?

The other issue I've discovered this week is snowmaking coverage. This is a fairly lean year so far in the Alps, yet nearly all the pistes are open, I'd say at least 80% of them have snowmaking and the British tourists are raving about how good it is. When western North America has a bad year like 2014-15, skiing is far more restricted than during a low snow year in the Alps.
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Ski Records
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12
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Re: Saalbach-Hinterglemm/Fieberbrunn, Austria, Jan. 25, 2017

Postby jamesdeluxe » Mon Jan 30, 2017 4:20 pm

Tony Crocker wrote: British tourists are raving about how good it is.

Two colleagues from Holland just returned from their traditional week at La Clusaz (Jan 28 was their final day) and were likewise ecstatic about conditions, especially at nearby Grand Bornand, which they'd never bothered to check out until I recommended it to them. Thus underscoring that recent snow isn't a necessity for many ski tourists.
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