Silvretta Montafon, AT 02/04/15


I'm now into the home stretch of this trip: three days in the region of Montafon located in the far southwest corner of Austria bordering Switzerland. It's only an hour south of where I was in the Bregenzerwald. Gotta love the proximity of everything here compared to the distances in North America. My headquarters is Schruns (pronounced "Shroonse"), the largest village in Montafon, which has a storied history as a favorite inspirational spot for the celebrated American author Ernest Hemingway. You can find all sorts of internet articles about his time here, which featured a sizable amount of earned turns (no lifts back in the 1920s).

Day 5: Silvretta Montafon
I spent today at the largest ski area in the region, Silvretta Montafon, which can be accessed via a four-minute walk from my hotel. Similar to (but far larger than) yesterday’s stop, Brandnertal, in that two separate ski areas were connected by a tram in 2008, resulting in 88 miles of marked trails, tons of off-piste, and a whole lot of continuous vertical.

Silvretta Trail Map.jpg

The story of how the ski area developed its own unique niche over the last few years is interesting. To differentiate itself from such well-known nearby ski regions as the Arlberg, Silvretta Montafon took its natural terrain assets and developed a tagline and ethos, “das sportlichste Skigebiet,” which translates into “the most sporting/athletic ski area” (it’s a lot catchier in German).

When I first saw that moniker while doing research for this trip, I figured that it was pure marketing speak; however, Silvretta Montafon really does earn the name by offering numerous scheduled “experiences” that are divided into categories: athletic (sunrise skiing, freestyle park tour, night sledding/rodeln, off-piste first tracks, freeriding, etc.), enjoyable (culinary, movies), and family-oriented. Some can be self-guided; some are done with guides; others include instruction. They've crowned the entire program with an inspired set of advertisements (hats off to the creative people who thought up and executed this).

Here's my favorite: "During ski vacations, my ex always wanted to sleep in."

The experience I tried yesterday is called Hochjoch Totale, a variation of the classic sunrise ski run, where you go out and get turns before the lifts publically open. What sets this apart from versions at other ski areas is its sheer size: 22 miles of trails covering 5,700 (!) vertical feet, the biggest continuous drop in Austria. I joined a few others at the hotel bus stop at 7 am:
bus stop.jpg

Arriving at the base at 7:15 am, you take a few gondolas to the summit and have a hot tea while admiring the sunrise...

Look out over a nice 2,000 vert drop:
scenic 1.jpg

Do some warm-up exercises:
leg exercise.jpg

arm exercise.jpg

Get ground rules from Raimond Köhler, who dreamed up and is in charge of the entire "experiences" program:

And then you and several dozen of your closest friends are set loose on the mountain:
running of the bulls.jpg

You can do the whole run at your own pace, take a break whenever you want, or for those with iron thighs, attempt to clean the entire top-to-bottom shot without stopping. After meeting at the bottom, everyone takes the lifts back up to a mountain restaurant, where a titanic breakfast awaits:

In addition to classic Austrian breakfast dishes, locals urged me to try the sweet regional favorite called “Brösel” in Montafon or “Riebel” in the rest of Vorarlberg. With a texture resembling cous cous, you eat it with applesauce -– and it’s fantastic:

Here's Walter Schifer, who gave me a local's tour of the ski area:
walter brosel.jpg

The rest of my day was spent trying to keep up with Walter and his World Cup skis. We managed to find a few nice knee-deep lines:

Watched a helicopter evac from the middle of a trail:

And then cruised in for an early-afternoon drink on the sunny deck of a hut (neither of us ate lunch due to still being full from the aforementioned breakfast).
Silvretta Montafon 4.jpg

Last edited:
jamesdeluxe":o87d6eh7 said:
Sorry for trotting out this disclaimer again, but it's a lot bigger than the trail map indicates.
The trail maps also do not convey well how steep/flat slopes are or their exposures. Google Earth is a useful tool to clarify these issues.

Eventually First Tracks will have a downloadable kmz file covering the Alps and other ski areas in the world besides North America. :stir: For those who are impatient to get the file sooner, send me a PM and I'll e-mail it as I did to james.

We in North America can envy james' timing of this trip. Clear weather with leftovers from a recent substantial dump is the ideal scenario for skiing in the Alps. Meanwhile in North America we are on track for the 3rd lowest snowfall ski season on record (74% of normal through end of January with little relief in sight) behind 67% in 1976-77 and 70% in 1980-81. A normal final third of the season would put us in the 80-85% range, similar to 2011-12.

Replies and discussion related to the thread drift of my last paragraph are here: viewtopic.php?f=2&t=11714