The meadows were brown as we drove into the Villgraten valley in East Tyrol, just north of the border of Italy near the Dolomite mountains, expecting lots of snow for our annual ski touring week with friends from Zurich, Bregenz and Vienna. This event had been canceled in the past two years due to COVID-19 shut downs, so we were high with anticipation of sunny snow covered peaks. Our excitement turned to reluctance until the following day, when we packed up and drove a few miles to Kalkstein, at the end of the valley. We were joined there by several other teams of skiers, that convinced us that there must be snow somewhere nearby. And we did find it, after 10 minutes of hiking, so finally our first ski tour began as we started to use the skins that we had attached to the bottom of our skies. My son Stefan joined us for the first time, it was a special pleasure for me to climb three mountains with him, as I don’t often get him all to myself for several days in a row.
Stefan and I ended up climbing the “Toblacher Pfannhorn”, a beautiful mountain towards the end of the valley on the left side. To our surprise we were the only guys with skies on the peak. As you can see in the video there wasn’t very much snow left, so the southern slopes were completely green. Many hikers came up from the Italian Dobbiaco (Toblach) on foot. The way down was an interesting quest for snow, we traversed along narrow bands, then found a steep gully to take us back into the valley where we started. The surface of the snow was very unusual, like small frozen ocean waves, sometimes breaking, sometimes not. If you fell it was very hard to get back up, there wasn’t much structure beneath you. A steep slope led through loose trees to the valley floor, with a creek to cross, then we were back on the trail that we started on. A 2663m mountain had been our catch, starting at 1640m in Kalkstein, a ~3000 ft climb in difficult terrain, not bad for a start. Our friends achieved a different peak, we all met back in Kalkstein for some beers. A wonderful dinner later on was our reward.
The Gannerhof, a hotel with a 4 (out of 5) Hauben restaurant, was our hotel of choice and was an unequaled luxury in the mountains. It offers a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere mixed with perfect service and food and drinks. The beautiful old buildings made us feel at home and the care given by the staff to accommodate the guests was really quite special
The 2554m Marchkinkele was our second day challenge and we started in Kalkstein again, but soon turned left to scale the 2554m Marchkinkele. Large bowls lead us to a narrow icy traverse, after which we had to take our skis off and climb up to the ridge, from where we had a mellow ascent to the peak. We stayed there until our friends arrived, then skied back the way we came. A moment of excitement was added by some guys starting a small avalanche directly above us, we made sure they all got down safely.
For the third day we got a tip from another group in our hotel. We needed a peak with northerly facing slopes, so we drove 20 minutes into the nearby state Carinthia (Kärnten) and set out to climb the Öfenspitze (2334m). We trekked on a forest road for a long time, then ascended into the forest following the summer path. There were more needles than snow, but once we left the trees we had solid snow conditions. Stefan and I took the steeper ascent towards Innerseeland, where you can skin all the way to the peak. The others took the longer route towards the west, where they deposited the skis and hiked along a ridge to the top. We were awarded with a fabulous view of the surrounding mountains and valleys before we skied down the big bowl and followed our tracks further down. This tour had been done by many skiers, so the run down was more or less like a typical spring ski piste at the end of a warm day. A beer at the Klammerwirt let us admire our peak and say good bye to this beautiful area.