Hochkönig, AT 02/08/19: "The King's Tour"


As mentioned at the end of my previous TR from Riesneralm -- during the previous five days all of the ski areas I'd visited on this trip fell into the category of "decent-sized for us (northeastern and even western Americans)/small to them." Day 6 at Hochkönig (meaning "High King") was the first and only expansive circuit of the visit that allows you to travel legitimate distances on skis. Google Maps says 11 miles across, which doesn't include the additional peak on the far right that's not connected to the main area:


To compare it to the biggest interconnected ski areas in North America: Vail, Park City/Canyons, and Whistler are all approx 6 miles wide; Big Sky/Moonlight is 5 miles wide; Mammoth and Killington are 4 miles wide.

Only a 50-minute drive from Salzburg, it's become increasingly popular, although not quite the world-renowned ski-tourist attraction of Saalbach-Hinterglemm just to the west. Approaching the region from the east, it was overcast in the valley following the four-inch dusting that had fallen overnight.


After paying $54 for a walk-up day pass (the most expensive on this trip/all of the previous tickets were in the $37-44 range -- and this was at a lousy exchange rate for the U.S. dollar), I took the gondola from the village of Mühlbach:

Five minutes later, I was relieved to see the bluebird panorama up top:

Hochkönig is the towering massif in the background here that you look at all day, not the mountain you actually ski. Judged by prominence, it's the sixth tallest peak in the entire Alps with the summit at 9,600 feet/2,900 meters. By contrast, the ski area itself is definitely in the lower-elevation category, topping out at 6,200 feet with a continuous vertical drop of 3,600 feet.

Throughout the ski area, there are playful callouts to the "king" theme, including the circuit's name "die Königstour": the King's Tour. For example, at the top of each of the five individual sectors are "kingdom gates" made out of trees, some of which have been used by eagles as nests as you can see in this pic:

Along with wooden thrones, popular as photo ops:


Since it was already 10:00 by the time I'd booted up at the car, a British gentleman in the gondola told me that if I wanted to cross the entire area and return before the lifts close, "you mustn't dilly dally!" (not to be confused with the UK expression "shilly shally," which means to be indecisive). Fair enough and always instructive to be reminded of expressions that never made it across the pond to our side.

They provide a lot of signage throughout the circuit to keep you moving in your chosen direction:


It's almost not worth posting the trail map because it's so compressed, you'd think you were at a comparatively small place like Sutton, Quebec:

By 11-ish, the school-break crowds had already chewed up the dusting that had fallen the night before on the groomers leaving steeper pitches scratchy in spots:

The smart thing to do was ski the offpiste baby bumps directly alongside the trails, which were soft as could be:

All but one of the main lifts in the entire area were high-speed detachables. Many had heated leather seats:

Gorgeous vistas everywhere:

In a few places, you had to take long connecting trails to cross to the next sector:

Going at full speed and not taking any real breaks, it took me almost 2.5 hours to reach the far side of the circuit, where I decided to stop for lunch:


What a life this rock-star cat has. He's accustomed to getting lots of attention. Everyone stopped to pet him, including me:


By the time I finished lunch, it was already 1:30 and I had to get moving back to my car. Unfortunately, this meant leaving a lot of skiable terrain on the table, including the extensive above-treeline Aberg sector on the far looker's right. This is the only remaining non-high-speed lift remaining in the entire joint. They've already installed the the towers for the new gondola to replace it this summer.

Due to the low elevation, most of the forests are too dense to attempt to ski. Moreover, there are species of mountain goats that burrow in the snow during the day and skiers have reportedly hit them. Hence these signs throughout, this one has an extended explanation of why you shouldn't ski in the woods and disturb the black grouse bird:


An industrial-sized hut at the top of two lifts:

With oversized pillows to relax on:

Snoozing in the sun:

A chapel with a view:

I pulled into Mühlbach at a little after 4 pm, pretty exhausted from how many miles I covered. One day was sufficient only for a quick overview. Moreover, there were some nice single-blacks in addition to all the intermediate-cruisers. I'd definitely go back for more.
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jamesdeluxe:11g56jeu said:
To clarify, Hochkönig is the towering massif you look at the entire time, not what you actually ski. Measured by prominence, it's the sixth tallest peak in the entire Alps with the summit at 9,600 feet/2,900 meters.

Spire Measure corresponds much more to visual impact than Prominence.

There are two versions of Spire Measure, one from 2004 and an update in 2009.

This page from 2004 details the Spire Measure Values for the 50 Most Prominent Peaks in the World, listed both ways: http://www.peaklist.org/spire/lists/prom-spire-50.html

For the Alps, here are the top 25 calculated in 2004: http://peaklist.org/spire/lists/alps-25.html
One of the Dents du Midi (where James got a closer view from the Swiss side than we did from the French side of Portes du Soleil) is #12 on that list.

Top 10 in the Alps calculated in 2009: http://peaklist.org/spire/lists/alps-10.html
There are 3 Dolomite peaks on that list, none of which are visible from the most famous ski terrain, the Sella Ronda and Cortina. But note this comment I made from Alleghe on the First World War Tour:
While it is modest in size Alleghe is no slouch when it comes to its panoramic views from the top
After reviewing Google Earth, I'm confident this is #10 Monte Civetta.

#6 Monte Antelao is probably obscured by clouds at upper right here:

Austria is less represented on the Spire Measure lists than the other alpine countries.

In the US lower 48, only Mt. Rainier would crack the top 10 in the Alps, though I would personally say the #2 Grand Teton is the most Alps-like peak in the lower 48.
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Agreed that spire (I was never aware of that term) vs. prominence is almost apples and oranges. Comparatively, Hochkönig is merely impressive -- especially compared to most anything in North America -- while the spire leaders are often mind-blowing.

Regardless, reclining on one of these pillows, a tall Franziskaner in my hand, with the Hochkönig to my left and this long-distance panorama straight ahead and to my right was quite memorable. As Spalding Gray called it, "a perfect moment."


What's sad is how photos don't necessarily capture what you experience live. I remember at the Espace Diamant in France, there's a well-known spot where everyone poses for a money shot with Mont Blanc seeming to tower right over you; however, the resulting photo didn't look like much. Same with the North Wall at Grindelwald:


I remember being almost speechless when I took this pic -- it seemed like this beautifully pitched groomer went right into the North Wall behind my wife -- but the pic is merely OK. I'm sure that a high-quality camera with a much wider lens would've helped.


OTOH, even with a cheapskate camera, pix of the St. Lawrence at Le Massif in Quebec often manage to convey the OMG drama you experience in person.
Interesting. I've never heard of spire measurement.

As for pics, you can certainly compress the foreground vs background and blur backgrounds or etc... for more dramatic views, but even pro cameras will flatten the pitch on most ski pics.

Coppers new Flyer 6 pack is a 'sofa style' bubble chair (without the ribs seperating each seat). Unfortunately the plush back feels like its pushing you out of the chair. So despite its ridiculous cushioning its not that comfotable to ride since you have a feeling of slipping out the whole ride.

BTW, enjoyed reading your whole Euro trip series.
EMSC":qloz9yrz said:
Unfortunately the plush back feels like its pushing you out of the chair. So despite its ridiculous cushioning its not that comfortable to ride since you have a feeling of slipping out the whole ride.
Interesting. Sometimes I see people not taking large backpacks off while on a chair; looks really uncomfortable. I assume that wasn't the issue with you.

EMSC":qloz9yrz said:
BTW, enjoyed reading your whole Euro trip series.
Much appreciated. I likewise read all of your CO reports but don't always post comments.
That North Wall of the Eiger is essentially tied with the Matterhorn for top spire measure in the Alps.

I think the picture is excellent, but the viewer has no way of knowing that the sheer vertical rock face is 5,000+ vertical. Fitzroy is the only vertical face I've seen personally that's comparable.

The Jungfrau region was a candidate for the last few days of our January trip. But when weather turned unsettled, there was no point as we might miss that North Wall view.
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Tony Crocker":w98pvrea said:
The Jungfrau region was a candidate for the last few days of our January trip. But when weather turned unsettled, there was no point as we might miss that North Wall view.
That was prudent to save the Jungfrau for another time. We scored nice weather for the two largest sectors (Grindelwald/​Wengen and Schilthorn/Mürren) but unfortunately missed the First sector -- which some people on Alpinforum claim to be not as interesting from a skiing perspective but the most scenic of the three -- due to poor visibility.