Untracked celebrates the places you may, or may not, be aware of. The places where snow falls in abundance and crowds are rare. Want to ride pow? Here’s where to go.
It’s difficult to make a call when it comes to the question of where the snowiest place in the Alps is. Several spots are probably in the running for the accolade; Damuls in Austria claims to be the snowiest village in the Alps, although I’ve heard Braunwald in Switzerland claim this title also. If you’re looking for the place where it snows most frequently I suspect Andermatt would be difficult to beat. The Swiss town is a great place to head to for anyone banking on pow, especially when booking a trip well in advance – Andermatt and its immediate surroundings are in an unmatched position for catching storms from most directions.
There’s a tiny resort tucked away on the western side of the Arlberg Pass that I would also add into the mix. Stuben Am Arlberg is a timeless village that’s linked to the mighty Arlberg ski area. It has access to some incredible terrain and an ambience that just oozes Austrian mountain culture.
Stuben is situated in the Vorarlberg region of Austria – an area that is well-known for receiving heavy snowfalls. The nearby villages of Zurs, lech and St Anton are all renowned for their abundant snow. The valley that Stuben sits in though is a veritable snow maker. It opens out towards the west and gradually steepens and narrows until the village is reached, right at the end of the valley. Energy coming in from the west is squeezed allowing snowfall intensity to build and build until the mountain barrier is reached at the end of the valley. Clouds are often trapped around the lower slopes above the village and are forced to ‘snow out’. Orographic uplift, combined with the perfect topographical shape of the valley and the fact that storms from the west are usually heavily laden with moisture means it can snow prodigious amounts in Stuben and on the surrounding mountains. In fact winds from south-west all the way round to north-east can produce snow in this area and even during a southern storm these mountain can get a surprise dump due to a northern ‘kickback’.
The snowpack in the village itself is often ridiculously deep. Black and white photos from the winters gone by adorn the bars in Stuben – huge cornices overhanging the buildings and piles of snow line the tiny streets.
Snow depths at mid mountain on Stuben’s local ski hill, the Albona, are regularly amongst the deepest in Europe, with over 4 metres being common. Bear in mind that’s at an altitude of just 2000 metres above sea level too. After the big storms that Hurricane Andrea brought back in 2012, the depth of snow on the Albona was 5.5 metres at the end of January. That equates to somewhere in the region of 15-18 metres of snowfall. That’s a lot of snow, even when compared to Japan or the west coast of North America, with most of the winter still to come.
However, the reason Stuben gets its own Untracked entry isn’t just because of the snow. Stuben, along with the greater Arlberg area, has some of the best terrain in the world. And although it’s a popular area you can still find quiet corners where tracks are rare – especially in and around Stuben and on the Albona.
For all but guaranteed fresh tracks take the top Albona lift and skin or hike to the top of Maroikopf where there are multiple options for descent. The classic route follows rolling terrain down past a waterfall and into the forests above Langen where you can catch the bus back up the road to Stuben. In the opposite direction are the endless wide slopes that eventually lead down to Restaurant Verwall and a taxi back to St Anton. Directly ahead are the spines and steeps of Albonaska – a mini Alaskan-like playground for expert riders.
Stuben is a brilliant place to be when the clouds are down and it’s snowing hard. Lapping the rickety old 2 man chair lift out of the village is super fun. Cutting off the piste to find fresh, weaving between the avalanche barriers, popping off natural features – it’s the quintessential storm day lift. Plus the soup at the Berghaus Stuben restaurant at the bottom of the lift is a steal at less than five Euros – the perfect shred lunch stop.
For more info on the backcountry around Stuben check out Andy Thurner’s essential guidebook to the area. It features all the classic routes in the wider Arlberg area including those in St Anton, Lech and Zurs – home of some incredible powder right off the lifts, as well as the secret spot that is Sonnenkopf.
Getting to Stuben
Fly into Innsbruck, Zurich or Friedrichshafen airports. From Innsbruck take the train to St Anton followed by bus from there. From Zurich and Friedrichshafen the Arlberg Express coach is quick, cheap and easy.
Accommodation in Stuben
There are a few options but it’s hard to beat Haus Flexen. The rooms are clean and a reasonable size plus the bar downstairs run by local legend Willi is awesome.
Stuben Mountain Guide
More Info on Stuben and The Arlberg