Crossing the Alps on foot or by mountain bike has long been fashionable. In winter, on the other hand, a five-day ski tour from the Zugspitze through Tyrol to spring-like Merano is a lonely adventure with endless deep-snow descents.
By Stefan Herbke
“Clearly from north to south.” For Paul, the direction is set. “It just makes more sense because that’s when I move from winter to spring, or to put it another way: from the mountains to the ‘sea’. The route itself is open to discussion.” Paul Walser loves crossings lasting several days and is always on the lookout for unusual, i.e. lonely, out-of-the-ordinary tours. “Of course, a Haute Route or Venter Runde are also nice, but there’s nothing new here, everything is known there,” says the Ötztal mountain guide. “For me, the attraction of a Transalp is that you get to know new areas and places and travel off the beaten track.”
Start at Gatterl
From Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the Bavarian Zugspitzbahn takes you comfortably to the small ski area below Germany’s highest peak – and to the start of the first stage. In the past, when no one dared to do steep descents like the extreme classic “New World”, the variant over the Gatterl was something very special. But in the search for the extreme, the off-piste descent to the sunny side of the Zugspitze has been forgotten. And so, after the popular deep snow slopes of “Klein Canada”, we quickly switch to the real powder paradise. The powder snow holds perfectly under the walls of the Gatterlkopf, the gentle slopes are beautifully undulated – and there is more than enough space.
The question of how exactly the crossing from Platt to Gatterl runs, which was still open at the planning stage, was largely clarified when looking from the summit of the Zugspitze. And so we fell at an altitude of around 2020 meters under a prominent rock tower and climbed up in the direction of a large boulder. A short crossing, then we breathe a sigh of relief: the Gatterl can be seen diagonally below us, everything done right. So skins off, a few turns and we’re already in the saddle and looking ahead to the dreamy snow dune landscape below the Feldernjöchl.
A second snow bowl is hidden behind it, which enables the transition to the sun-kissed slopes on the south side of the Gatterlkopf. The ski area of the Ehrwalder Alm is only touched on the edge and you continue towards the Coburger Hütte. Initially on a groomed trail, then extremely lonely past the Seebenalm into the Mieming mountains. We pull to the right and trace across to the Biberwierer Scharte, behind which a steep descent into the Langlehn awaits at the end. Steep and shady, a cirque is hidden here under high rock faces, which in safe conditions becomes the skiing highlight and the crowning glory of the first day.
“The difficult thing about the Transalp is the search for a line that makes sense,” Paul summarizes the planning. “You need transitions that work. Ascent and descent are never identical, which of course makes the crossing so appealing, on the other hand you never know what the conditions are there, how exactly the terrain looks like, where the danger spots are.” With Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Meran, the starting point and destination were quickly found. Both places can be easily reached by public transport and can be connected with a line that is interesting for ski tourers. The plan: in five days from the wintry northern side of the Alps to spring, to Mediterranean Meran with its palm trees.
From Biberwier to the Inn Valley
Distances are short in Biberwier. Get out of the quarter, into the lift and up to the Marienbergjoch. For Paul, using the lifts is obvious. “Just for reasons of time. It doesn’t make sense for me to go up a ski slope. I’m not going for training purposes, I want to explore a tour and I don’t do that on a ski slope.” That’s basically how many people think, and that’s why you meet almost more tourers than piste skiers on the Marienbergjoch in the morning, who set off for the extremely popular Grünstein bypass. But on the Transalp we only touch this route briefly.
The crowd climbs over the sweaty, sunny slopes of the Höllreise into the Grünsteinscharte, while after the descent from the Höllkopf we pull up to the Stöttltor all by ourselves. The descent under the mighty walls of the Griesspitzen is terrific – in terms of skiing and landscape. Individual tongues of snow between the pines extend the descent, during which spring can already be clearly felt. Skiing is finally over at the Boasligbrücke, the only way to continue to the Mieminger Plateau is on foot. But that too is part of a Transalp.
From the Inn Valley over the main Alpine ridge
Spring is closer than winter in Obermieming, but opposite, on the other side of the Inn Valley, the snow-covered Stubai Alps are already enticing. The bus takes you via Innsbruck across the Inn Valley to Axams and the next day you take the ski bus to the snow-sure Axamer Lizum. The backdrop is gigantic, the freeride opportunities are awesome – and the Hoadl is also a good starting point for a ski tour. Surprisingly, we are alone on the scenic ascent via the Adolf-Pichler-Hütte to the Gamskogel, which may also be due to the thick fog. Visibility is almost zero, so we can only guess at the bizarre rocky landscape of the Kalkkoegel, which is reminiscent of the Dolomites with its towers and couloirs. Blind flight also on the descent from the Schlicker Schartl to the Schlick 2000 ski area, but thanks to snowmaking the snow easily reaches Fulpmes in the Stubaital.
“The most beautiful thing in the Stubai is the view of the Ötztal.” At the mountain station of the Schaufeljochbahn, Ötztaler Paul cannot resist this little dig. Basically, he could ski down here and almost be home. But today’s key stage of the Transalp is much more interesting for him. Crowds of ski tourers start from the Stubai Glacier to the Zuckerhütl, the highest peak in the Stubai Alps. But we leave the hustle and bustle on our side and climb up to the Gamsplatzl.
Quietly, we make our way over the increasingly steep glacier flank under the Hoher Eis and finally trudge over flat snowfields to the ice cap of the Sonklarspitze – watched curiously by a chamois, which apparently is also looking for solitude. The neighboring Zuckerhütl is within reach and yet there are worlds in between. Whoever joins the wide track there follows the herd and can assume that they will reach the summit. On the neighboring Sonklarspitze, however, ski touring shows its original side. Not a trace far and wide, the terrain is steep and prone to avalanches, the route is not clearly defined. Only on site does it become clear whether the ascent over the steep flank next to the hanging glacier is possible or alternatively whether the detour via the Siegerlandhütte should be considered. “Especially on a tour like this, you have to be very flexible,” explains Paul, “and definitely have a plan B.”
On the stage over the Sonklarspitze everything works as planned. Slowly we swing along the ridge to a cairn and thus to the beginning of the rock step that separates the summit snow field from the huge Böseltalferner. On foot we climb carefully along the summer path over the east ridge until a tongue of snow allows us to exit onto the wide glacier surfaces. With a view of the Wilder Freiger and out into the Ridnauntal, we circle the Sonklarspitze and change flat over to the Schwarzwandscharte – and thus to the start of the great descent over the Timmelsalm. We swing out of the valley over an almost endless series of great slopes, change the side of the valley depending on the snow and only stop 1300 meters further down on Timmelsjochstraße, where we change to a taxi to Pfelders.
From winter to spring
The end of the world, that’s how you could describe the first impression of Pfelders. Nevertheless, the place has a small ski area, but it appeals more to people who are looking for peace and quiet away from the crowds. A few ski tourers start from here into thefalsnal valley in the direction of the Schieferspitze, but as on the last stages, we quickly leave the tracked terrain. We calmly enjoy the untouched powder snow glistening in the sun and the unmistakable backdrop of the three-thousanders of the Texel Group. The stage shows once again how fantastic a ski crossing can be, where you leave the known and make your way into the unknown. And when you reach the Spronser Joch and look south, you think you can see the Mediterranean Sea in the haze.
The ultimate ski book: The magic of gliding through the snow
Of course, that’s a huge exaggeration, and yet it feels that way. Also because Meran is a logical end point. “It’s over in Meran, you’re by the palm trees and drinking a glass of wine,” says Paul. “If you were to move from south to north, then it goes into the mountains and you stop somewhere in the Alps, at a place where you could definitely add a few more tours.”
But before the wine comes the descent over the Spronser lakes. A very popular hiking area in summer, but nobody strays here in winter. The landscape is more than fascinating: the sea eyes in the middle of mighty rocky ridges are covered in meters of snow, the descent over the beautifully hilly landscape is a dream and the snow is surprisingly good despite the south-east orientation – at least if you cleverly include the northern slopes.
At the latest below the Bockerhütte in the dense forest is the end of the skiing fun. We are changing from winter to spring, from the cold to the warmth of the south. The hiking season has long since begun in Meran, so that we are curiously admired as exotic animals with skis, touring clothes and rucksacks and can answer plenty of questions about where they came from. And finally enjoy a large sundae and South Tyrolean flair in almost summer temperatures – the perfect end to a five-day Transalp.
Slightly shortened version from: “Dream tours – 25 extraordinary ski traverses in the Alps. With Transalp, Haute Route and Tauerncrosss“ by Stefan Herbke. Published in Tyrolia Verlag, 224 pages; 294 illustrations, price: 35.95. There you will also find the extensive service section for this tour.
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