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Villgraten – A valley for tourers

Ski-mountaineers have always been among one another in the piste-free Villgratental. No, they haven’t missed out. They just didn’t join in when one village after another began building ski lift facilities. Today Villgratental is the only place in Austria to have snow metres-high and giant mountains, without the ski ‘circus’. “80 percent of our guests are tourers”, says Arthur Bucher from the tourist information office in Innervillgraten. 30 years ago when ski mountaineering was no longer trendy, pioneers turned a blind eye and went out on their skis. Guests still hold a high regard for traditional Innervillgraten, with its 1000 inhabitants and even more tranquil Außervillgraten with its 860 souls; their incomparable peacefulness and romance; exclusive adventures in the mountains; the secluded natural surroundings. The 25 best routes are described in detail on 104 pages in the ski touring guide – which is hot off the presses. The booklet, which also has lots of useful tips and information, costs 9 Euros.

“Getting around is actually quite easy”, explains Arthur Bucher, who knows the terrain like the back of his hand. There are generally hiking signposts which point out the route to tour destinations. Many of the routes in Villgratental are between 800 and 1000 metres altitude and are of moderate difficulty level. One particularly nice tour for beginners is to the Gaishörndl (2615 metres), which, incidentally, the locals like to head for on the night of a full moon. From Kalkstein – a hamlet which is part of Innervillgraten – proceed initially through the larch forest, climbing gently via the Alfenalm to the head of the valley; continue then in hairpin bends up to the summit, which you’ll get to after some three hours and some 1000 metres altitude. A superb deep snow run takes you back to the starting point and Gasthaus Badlalm. Gather here and enjoy some East Tyrol specialities, like ‘Schlipfkrapfen’, a type of ravioli, and talk shop with landlord Walder Gebhard, a keen tourer who has a certain feel for the snow.

Even when ski mountaineers are often individualists, “For safety reasons you should never set off by yourself”, stresses Arthur Bucher and points out that in Villgratental, if necessary, you’ll make friends fast: “Everything is still straightforward with us – you’ll find like-minded people quickly.“ For absolute novices in the valley of tourers, Bucher recommends a guiding day with the mountain school to familiarise yourself with the region’s special features. His personal favourite mountains include the Rote Kinkele (2763 metres), which tourers will get to in four hours after scaling some 1270 metres altitude. The start is at the beginning of the Almtal in Innervillgraten. Across the Lüfter- and Fürathöfe the route proceeds initially through the forest to the Kamelisenalm (1973 metres).

Just don’t follow the tracks made by deer, hares, foxes and the snow grouse – no doubt they’ll want to go elsewhere – rather, continue via the deeply snow-covered mountain pastures in serpentines up to the Rote Kinkele, “The 360-degree panoramic view across the South Tyrolean Dolomites, the Carnic Ridge, the Glockner and Venediger groups is indescribable”, raves Bucher. You will come across animals in the wild in East Tyrol’s mountains, indeed sensitive areas are even designated as conservation areas. “This is also respected by guests”, delights our expert. One really difficult tour is to the Gölbner (2943 metres).

Anyone who starts in Außervillgraten has to allow 4.5 hours and will cover an altitude difference of some 1450 metres – here too there is not just exceptional deep snow slopes, the huge sweeping view to the majestic three-thousand metre mountains is well worth it. Afterwards, the Reiterstube tempts you in to enjoy a hearty ‘Brettljause’. You’ll also have earned a ‘Pregler’– the father of all schnapps which East Tyrolean people have been distilling for centuries from pears and apples. Because Villgratental opted for tourism which was in keeping with nature 30 years ago, guests get to enjoy tranquillity and seclusion here and can dip into a real picture-book setting. This concept also includes small-scale accommodation, as opposed to big hotel chains, cordial genuine hospitality and of course the best infrastructure for tourers – from free car parking at starting points, to great sign-posting through to constant up-to-date weather and avalanche information.

Since many of the landlords get kitted out and head up to the summits themselves, they are well-versed and can share routes with you at breakfast time. For many holiday-makers the thought of maybe even eventually attempting a valley-crossing 3-day tour emerges – a circuit course which links Villgratental via Defereggental in East Tyrol with the Gsiesertal in South Tyrol and covers an tidy 3430 metres altitude. That all of East Tyrol is a ski touring paradise, is evident in the ski touring areas of Kals at the Großglockner, Matrei, Virgental, St. Jakob im Defereggental and the Lienz Dolomites, which provide superb views, the best snow conditions and indescribable natural scenes.

Villgraten ski tour guide

The ski tour guide contains the loveliest ski tours in the Villgratental, Lesachtal areas and the north-east Dolomites, whereby the focus is on the Villgrater mountains. 

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