The mountains of the Tyrol are not as high as the Swiss Alps, the Tyrolean cuisine is not as high as the French and Tyrolean wines are imported from Italy. Vermont takes better care of its snow, and Alta has a longer season. But in the skier's gazetteer, the Tyrol is both a remembered Eden and a promised land. For it was here just 40 years ago that modern skiing originated, in the now world-famous ski school founded at St. Anton by Hannes Schneider. His Arlberg method was the classic technique of skiing after World War I until 1953 when Stefan Kruckenhauser evolved the shortswing—once again in the Tyrol, this time at St. Christoph. In any year there are many reasons for a skier, of whatever grade, to visit the Tyrol. But this winter there is very special reason: the 1964 Olympic Games will be held at Innsbruck, in the entrancing setting shown in the color photographs on the following pages. Here one may feel that skiing is very old—until its brief 40 years are measured against such Tyrolean antiquities as the 12th century Schloss Matzen (opposite), which greets the pilgrim on the road from Innsbruck to Kitzb√ºhel.
MOGuLS AND FAST PISTES
Roman legions that slogged over the Brenner Pass in 15 B.C. to bivouac on the banks of the Inn would have found the skiing much better a day's march to the east or west. So will Americans planning to invade the Tyrol in 1964 for the IX Olympische Winterspiele. Innsbruck is a remarkable mountain-ringed city but a city nevertheless, complete with smokestacks, streetcars and a cruel—if temporary—shortage of both ski runs and beds.
Two of the best ski areas—Patscherkofel, site of the men's downhill competition above the village of Igls, and the vast new area at Lizum where the remainder of the Alpine events are to be held—will be closed to recreational skiers from January 20th until the races are over. The remaining slopes—at Seegrube, on the face of the Hafelekar directly above the city, and at Seefeld, a lovely resort village 18 miles away—are hardly inviting, the one because of its often icy abruptness, the other because it resembles the beginner's slope on Buttermilk Mountain as much as anything else. The place to go skiing in Austria is not Innsbruck but St. Anton or Kitzb√ºhel.
November 25, 1963
Fortunately, each resort is less than two hours from Innsbruck by train, and the Olympic Organizing Committee has arranged for a Tyrolean version of the 8:10 from Westport to make the two trips each day. Like any commuting schedule, it will be strenuous, but it will be a godsend for those unable to extend their visit long enough to ski Austria before or after the Games and willing to confine their Olympic spectating to selected events.
Not that everyone wants to ski in Kitzb√ºhel or St. Anton, of course. Kitzb√ºhelers would not be caught wedeln in St. Anton, and St. An on's idea of Va halla is a place where Kitzb√ºhel daily disappears beneath the snow. Even neutrals in this fierce rivalry occasionally prefer Zermatt or Val d'Is√®re or Aspen or Obergurgl. But St. Anton and Kitzb√ºhel are, in their distinct ways, both shrines of Alpine skiing, and how can you take sides until you have been there?
Located 60 miles west of Innsbruck just before one reaches the Arlberg Pass, the town of St. Anton straggles along the highway to Zurich, architecturally uninspiring, scenically drab. No wooded ski trails grace he great mountains that rise alongside; in this area, at 4,000 feet and higher, there are seldom any trees. But St. Anton has everything else: one of the great ski complexes of the Alps, endless open slopes of breathtaking beauty, a ski school without peer, the longest aerial cable car in all Austria. In St. Anton they are quite serious about skiing, and they cut visiting experts down to size rather fast. The area drips of Hannes Schneider even after all these years.
St. Anton's specialty is piste running—sweeping, miles-long descents down packed slopes which, for Americans, never seem quite packed enough. There is room for a Sno-Cat dealership in St. Anton, but so far no one has applied; instead the slopes are plowed by people, thousands of people on skis, and the result is a mountain full of moguls that would dwarf some of the town's chalets. It is this kind of skiing that produced such racers as Othmar Schneider, Tony Spiss and Karl Schranz, and the visitor leaves bearing either a superficial resemblance to one of the three or the scars to show that he tried.
There are approximately 60 routes down the two main mountains that comprise the St. Anton uplift, and it is comforting to know that civilization awaits at the bottom regardless of choice. On the one hand, there is St. Anton itself and, on the other, St. Christoph, now a picturesque cluster of modern hotels but also the site of an age-old hospice where they have been giving succor to the lame, the halt, and the weary for almost 600 years.
A two-stage chair lift rises 3,400 feet on the Gampen-Kapall area, offering a run of more than two miles back to the bottom. The Gampen mid-station boasts the best restaurant on the mountain, with a sunny terrace outside and huge picture windows, for late arrivals who find themselves forced to lunch in the dining room. A year ago the spectacular view from these windows included a tall girl who habitually completed her morning run each day with a somersault √† la Stein Eriksen. Since her flips were unintentional, it is probably too much to promise that she will reappear in 1964.
Nearly everyone flips sooner or later coming down from Valluga, which rises almost 4,800 feet above the valley floor and is reached by a two-stage cable car through the Galzig mid-station. Skiing the powder down the Walfagehr valley deposits the less daring (there are no real cowards on Valluga) directly into St. Christoph via the Ulmer Hut; the more ambitious turn south, circle the Schindlerspitze and find themselves facing the moguls of one of St. Anton's steepest runs. At the Feldherrnh√ºgel, base station for perhaps the longest T bar in the world, there is a fascinating array of lift-studded alternatives: on down into St. Anton; back up to Gampen and Kapall; up the T bar to Galzig and then down either the original Arlberg-Kandahar racecourse or across to the equally testing Maienwasen run or over to St. Christoph. For those who want to try it all in one day and to heck with the muscles, this is the time to go to St. Christoph and catch a bus for the 15-minute ride to Zurs and Lech.
Zurs and Lech are actually part of the neighboring Vorarlberg and not in the Tyrol at all, but they are too near—and too good—to miss. Lech is social, sophisticated, gay, a hangout for the international set; Zurs is a friendly, sunny, workaday Austrian village with a holiday atmosphere. Four main lift systems serve the two areas, and the runs, while charming and scenic, are never so testing as those above St. Anton—which may account for their popularity.
After-ski life around St. Anton centers on the Hotel Post, where a subterranean three-ring circus called a tea dance takes place every afternoon at 5. Those not crushed on the Post's 15-foot dance floor usually find their way to the Valluga Hotel bar after dinner, where their internment is virtually guaranteed. In the event that other methods of resuscitation fail, St. Anton has a sauna establishment featuring a his and a her masseuse and masseur, respectively, the former a 21-year-old blonde cupcake with a no-nonsense approach to aching muscles.
Kitzb√ºhel is located 55 miles the other side of Innsbruck from St. Anton on the road to Vienna; spiritually it is halfway around the world. Kitzb√ºhel is a jewel in an Alpine setting, a fairyland in the snow, a swinging town. There is a medieval atmosphere about its narrow, winding, flag-draped main street, a 21st century atmosphere about everything else. With 5,000 regular inhabitants—7,500 in the high season—Kitzb√ºhel and the neighboring villages of Kirchberg, Westendorf and St. Johann boast more than 200 pensions, inns and hotels, fine restaurants, nightclubs, bars, even a casino. People go to Kitzb√ºhel to ski but they also arrive in search of fun. It is a short search.
An area that has produced such racers as Toni Sailer, Anderl Molterer, Christian Pravda and Ernst Hinterseer hardly considers skiing a sideline, however. Almost 2,000 feet lower than the village at the Arlberg Pass, Kitzb√ºhel is located in a natural snow pocket from which two major ski areas rise abruptly, one on either side of town. The terrain, although less demanding than that surrounding St. Anton, is infinitely more varied; a system of spurs and ridges branches down from Kitzb√ºheler Horn on the north and from the Hahnenkamm on the south, offering a choice of steep or gentle runs over sunny or shadowed slopes and trails. The upper slopes are generally steep and open; the mid-slopes pass through wooded glades; the lower slopes tilt gently across meadowland to the valley floor. One long, winding run frequently covers all three types of terrain.
Kitzb√ºhel's pride is the Hahnenkamm ski "circus," a vast and, for the newcomer, often confusing network of ski runs and lifts ranging over, across and between half a dozen peaks and ridges with mispronounceable names: Steinbergkogel, Blaufeldalm, Ehrenbachh√∂he, Streifalm, etc. But pronunciation is not so important as direction, and even if you happen to arrive in Kirchberg for lunch when you had an engagement in Jochberg it is not really so bad. A small boy will come arunning to help you take off your skis and, for 25¢, provide you with a bus ride back into town. Whether the little boys have any official connection with the bus lines no one has ever found out.
For the Olympic visitor with unlimited time and no reason to become involved in the St. Anton-Kitzb√ºhel-Innsbruck commuting rush, the post-Olympic dates are by far the more desirable for Austrian skiing. For one thing, the high season at both St. Anton and Kitzb√ºhel begins, conveniently and coincidentally enough, one day after the official closing date of the Games, on February 10. In addition, the new Axams-Lizum area will be open to the public once the races are completed, and skiers who have been to Squaw Valley will immediately notice a striking resemblance between these two widely separated Alpine competition areas: Pleissen and Hoadl, the latter site of the women's downhill race, are in the same shoulder-to-shoulder relationship as Squaw Peak and KT-22; Birgitzkopfl, upon whose lower slopes the two slalom races will be held, is the Austrian equivalent of Little Papoose. Lizum, because of its proximity to Innsbruck, lacks the charming isolation of a Kitzb√ºhel or St. Anton, but then there is a certain fascination about being able to go over the back side of Birgitzkopfl and ski 18 miles directly into the downtown shopping area of a city of 100,000 people.
Of the thousands of Americans who will visit the Tyrol next year there undoubtedly remains a handful with unlimited time and a yearning for little-known places well off the track. For these there is Obergurgl.
Obergurgl has more to recommend it than isolation or even the name, which alone is quite good enough. Located just 55 miles from Innsbruck by a road that usually requires chains or four-wheel drive, Obergurgl is tucked into the highest extremity of the √ñtz Valley and at 6,266 feet takes pride in calling itself the highest Kirchdorf (village with a church) in all Europe. Obergurgl not only has a church, it has 22 glaciers surrounding it, and it is so cold that hardly anyone bothers to venture up there until the first of March. After that and on into the summer, the skiing is marvelous, the six lifts never crowded, the powder snow is deep and untracked, and prices remain low. Obergurgl is, in fact, like the rest of Austria: it gets better the farther you go.