SkiBike Tour 2015-16 - 4 Glaciers Express

Posted: Wednesday, 9 December 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,


There are some people who says things just to be polite and then there's people like Timo. We met at an indoor ski centre this summer, but he wasn't that impressed with the facilities, because he has a selection of skibike friendly glacier resorts just a couple of hours drive from his Munich home. So when he said that I should join him for a pre-season ride around these glaciers, he wasn't just making polite conversation, he really meant it.

Timo - "come to Munich", not just polite conversation, he really meant it

Over the Autumn we evolved an ambitious plan to hit four of these glaciers over a four day long weekend. For my part all I had to do was to arrive at Munich airport and bring my toothbrush, which is precisely what I did.

Day 1 - Kaunertal

In order to get in some skibiking at Kaunertal I had to arrive in Munich around 09:00. The flight's duration and time zone differences meant that I had to leave home so early that it was pointless even going to bed. But after years of working on touring road shows, my body still remembers how to grab power naps in planes and vans.

We made excellent time on the road and even managed to check into our base camp, the charming and super good value Haus Venetblick guest house, before continuing on to the Kaunertal glacier just an hour or so away.

Kaunertal lays claim to being the Tyrol's youngest glacier, an odd claim but I suppose each place has to differentiate itself by being be number one in some unique way. It is just 100 km from Innsbruck and 190 km from Munich.  The ski area is not very conveniently located and even with Timo's rally-cross driving style, it is still a good 30 minutes drive up a rough track to the parking area and chairlifts. We were lucky that this was an off-season weekday, as this road can get very congested at peak times.

We arrived in the afternoon and allowing time for a quick bite to eat, it was going to be a short day. But to be fair none of us were in top form and this tour was going to be more of a marathon than a sprint.

Kaunertal offered a surprisingly good selection of steep and narrow trails

My experience of glacier riding in the past had been of the Pisaillas Glacier above Le Fornet by Val d'Isere and La Grande Motte above Tignes. I recalled these being rather gentle and somewhat boring in character, whereas Kaunertal offered a surprisingly good selection of steep and narrow trails to choose from. My ride for this tour was a Scott mountain bike with a Gigantic Professional conversion kit and Mantrax skis. These skis made for a hairy ride in the somewhat icy conditions and I was able to swap them out for an excellent pair of Sporten Stringer skis which proved to be much better attuned to the snow conditions.

Day 2 - Pitztal

Our second port of call was the Pitztal glacier which lays claim to be the Tyrol's highest glacier. It was a pleasantly short and easy drive from our lodgings, but our good fortune was short lived as huge crowds had gathered to queue for the funicular railway, the sole way to reach the glacier base station.

The attitude of the other visitors was very disciplined and patient in spite of the 30 minute wait, if this had been France there would have been a scrum. Up on the Pitztal glacier, the high altitude literally takes your breath away at first. A variety of runs fan out across the bowl and there were no further issues with congestion.

Long queues - if this had been France there would have been a scrum

The infrastructure at Pitztal was very modern and well maintained, there was still the odd T-bar surface lift which gave Timo and Helmut the chance to put their SledgeHammer Liftguard system to the test. This simple but well thought out device, provides a much better interface between the T-bar and skibike, our testers made it to the top of the run without any problems whilst I had to bail out half way up the lift.

Pitztal Glacier - the snow was excellent

The weather remained bright and sunny and the snow was excellent, especially considering how early in the season it is. Sadly our day passed very quickly and all too soon it was time to head back to the van. We took the funicular railway, but in the high season this can also be accomplished with a selection of off-piste itineraries right back down to the car park. Something I would very much like to return to Pitztal and try.

Day 3 - Hintertux

Our third glacier we visited was Hintertux, its name literally reflecting its position at the top of the valley "behind" the town of Tux. It is open the whole year round, offers a massive vertical range of 1743 m or 5300 feet and is only a short drive from the motorway.

Thanks to an abundance of cable cars and chairlifts at Hintertux, there were no issues with congestion at any point. Some lifts were a little old and small which only allowed one or two skibikes to be squeezed inside.

Gentle and sunny runs could be found at the highest altitudes, whilst there were steep, icy and challenging runs leading down to the valley floor. It was possible to descend from the top right down to car park level even this early in December thanks to artificial snow making at Hintertux.
I really wanted to make a grand descent, but my co-riders who weren't as experienced preferred to stick to the safety of the cable car. At least this gives me an excuse to return and complete unfinished business at a later date.

Hintertux - Zermatt scale riding on a Flaine budget

I was very impressed with Hintertux, it offers Zermatt or Chamonix scale riding for those on a Flaine budget.

Day 4 - Stubai

The Stubai glacier was to be our last stop before heading back to Munich, this should have been an epic day, but lady luck had thoroughly deserted me. It's a long haul from the public car park to the base station, there are shuttle buses but you have to wait, then there are two sets of cable cars to get up to the centre of the glacier.
It is all very efficient at Stubai, but its still 45 minutes from top to bottom. In order to navigate the shuttle buses and cable cars as efficiently as possible we ascended with our skibikes in pieces, then assembled them at the top station. So when the quick release on my rear adapter went into spontaneous disassembly mode, shooting it's guts in all directions, I was not pleased. To replace the missing parts necessitated returning to the van, a 90 minute round trip at best; I left Timo and Helmut to play and went for a ride back down.

It was gone midday by the time I touched the snow, I was furious with myself for being so ham fisted, lunch was out of the question, half the day was gone. You should never ride when you're angry, although it was so much fun to run on a parallel track with the slalom racers as they went through their poles trying my very best to match their speed and coming close.

I smashed through the off-piste, riding in short swings down the fall line under the chairlift, finding hidden gullies and treating them like a half-pipe, feeling like I owned that mountain...a skibiking god.

Stubai - feeling like I owned that mountain

But on the next run the skibike stopped in a heartbeat, but like superman I kept going, head first into the snow. This was the first crash that didn't hurt, it didn't hurt because I couldn't feel much of anything, and I couldn't move, it was both serene and terrifying in equal measure.

Timo poked, prodded and massaged my extremities and after what seemed like an eternity, sensations and some motor control began to return, I guess Windows 65 (sic.) was never the fastest operating system to boot up, especially one with so little space left on the hard drive. Although I could hardly stand or walk, somehow together we managed to get my mangled remains onto my skibike and ride out to safety, how exactly that was possible remains an enigma to us both.

Don't ride any faster than you're prepared to crash

It was a tough salutary lesson; don't ride alone off-piste, don't ride off-piste so early in the season and don't ride any faster than you're prepared to crash.


In conclusion these Tirolean glacier stations offer excellent riding opportunities when normal resorts have yet to open. The quality of snow this high is in a different league, it's the squeak under your feet that lets you know you're going to have a good day's riding. When the sun is out, the views are breath taking. It can feel somewhat lunar as you're way above the tree line and not a good place to be in poor weather. Here is a quick graded summary:

Kaunertal 6/10:

For - good value, un-crowded, variety of runs, very natural wild riding and unspoiled by over development.
Against - poor access from the trunk roads, a small area.

Pitztal 7/10:

For - good vertical range, modern infrastructure.
Against - appalling bottle-necks from the car park to the glacier base station.

Hintertux: 9/10:

For - massive vertical range, excellent infrastructure, good off-piste.
Against - some lifts are small and old.

Stubai: 8/10

For - massive vertical range, excellent infrastructure, good off-piste.
Against - it takes a long time to get to the riding and watch out for those snow snakes, they make you crash.