Inn-to-Inn Across the Alps: Austria Cross Country
If Olympic credentials are any indication, the Austrian town of Innsbrucknamed for the bridge that once united the north and south of Europe in Roman timesmay lay claim to some of the best terrain ever covered by snow; the city has hosted the Winter Games twice (in 1964 and 1976). Today, its reputation is decidedly more scenic than extreme, a place of cross-country perfection where Nordic skiers can undertake an invigorating exploration of the surrounding villages or backcountry, using Innsbruck as their start point.
The Buchen Loop is a popular trail that extends beneath the enormous, 8,800-foot Hohe Munde and onto a plateau overlooking the whole Inn Valley. A good multi-day trip from Innsbruck explores the foothills of the Karwendel Alps. Head down the Leutasch River Valley to the town of Scharnitz, then cross into Germany by car and ski back across the border to the Austrian town of Hinterriss. If you still have some energy, hop back in the car and make for Lake Achensee, where you can wind down with a refreshing 30-mile circuit through the valley.
Cross-country skiers will enjoy gliding between the villages dotted along the Brixental Valley, about 40 miles east of Innsbruck. The first village in the valley, Kirchberg, is a mere 20 miles from Brixental and has 100 miles of cross-country tracks. From Kirchberg, several towns lie across a valley that stretches to Kitzbühel and its 50 miles of cross-country tracks. The town of Seefeld, meanwhile, has over 200 miles of groomed trails through fairy-tale pine-tree forests and meadows.
In the opposite direction from Innsbruck, the Lech Valley skirts the western end of Tirol and has a plethora of backtrack routes. Skiers consider the track from Lech to Zürs fairly easy, but from Zürs to St. Anton a more difficult, longer expedition. Set amidst smaller villages, St. Anton resides directly below the summit of Valluga, a terrific vantage point with a track uninterrupted by valley clefts.
Lodging information, maps, and route suggestions are all available from the U.S.-based Austrian National Tourism, and the Tirol Tourism Office in Austria can provide up-to-date conditions once you're in-country. Finding a welcoming, inexpensive place to stay is seldom a problem, and dropping airfare prices to Europe makes this option more affordable than ever. But, always check with established outfittersthey commonly have access to otherwise-unavailable discounts.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication