In the mountains there is no 100 % safety – but you can reduce risks.
Klaus is a mountain guide, photographer, the mastermind behind SNOWHOW and initiator and founder of the SAAC Camps (snow and avalanche awareness) – a jack of all trades, so to speak. When you’re with him you’re in safe hands – or rather, you’re in ‘low-risk’ hands. “An element of risk always remains,” he warns with a grin. He opens himself a beer, sits down in my kitchen and tells me all about safety in the sport of ski touring. Klaus is my neighbour (translated from German).
Ski touring is a sport that is currently booming like no other in Tyrol and Innsbruck – which is understandable when you know how enjoyable and health-boosting it is. ‘Above all summits it is calm,’ as the poem by Goethe goes. And it is precisely this almost unnerving stillness, a stillness that we city dwellers don’t know any more, that awaits you up there together with the pristine white mountains, blue skies, Alpine choughs and other ski tourers. And your cardio-vascular system, your figure and your soul will thank you for it too! “But a solid, well-founded knowledge of avalanche safety is an absolute must,” stresses Klaus. “Without that you shouldn’t even think about it.”
The following points are helpful if you’re planning to ski tour:
1. Safety of slope inclines in relation to the avalanche situation
“Depending on the avalanche warning level, you shouldn’t ski on terrain that exceeds certain slope inclines,” he explains to me. “It may be ok to ski over a certain slope when there’s a warning level of 2, but not if the warning level is 3, for example.” The key parameters that every ski tourer should know are the following:
- Level 1: Theoretically you can tour on almost any slopes.
- Level 2: Do not travel on slopes with an incline steeper than 40 degrees.
- Level 3: Do not travel on slopes with an incline steeper than 35 degrees.
- Level 4: Theoretically you should not travel on slopes with an incline steeper than 30 degrees, but even better don’t go at all or stick to marked pistes.
- Level 5: Stay at home! Danger of avalanches descending even without any external trigger.
2. Choosing suitable terrain
Always steer clear of avalanche paths/run-out zones: “It may well be that the steepness of the slope you’re on is ok in relation to the warning level, but that’s of little use if there’s a danger of avalanches above you or below you.” Experience plays an important role here, experience that you need to gain together with mountain guides and other ski tourers.
3. Standard precautions in Alpine terrain
“I like to think of these as a ‘set of rules’ which must be adhered to,” emphasises Klaus. I would even say that these are practises that create a distance between yourself and the danger, i.e. an avalanche and risk of death:
- Never go alone.
- On terrain with an incline steeper than 30 degrees, keep a distance of 30 metres between one another.
- Travel one at a time over terrain with an incline steeper than 35 degrees.
- Wait for one another in safe meeting points well clear of any avalanche paths or run-out zones.
4. Emergency equipment: Shovel, probe, transceiver
“If you don’t have all three of these things, then you simply don’t go,” says Klaus. “Unfortunately there are an awful lot of people who go ski touring without any of them!” You need the shovel to dig someone out, the probe to penetrate the snow to pinpoint a possible person buried underneath, and the avalanche transceiver (also known as a beacon or beeper) to find a buried person quicker. “An air-bag rucksack is recommended nowadays too.”
5. SNOWHOW freeride app
There seems to be an app for basically everything these days – so it comes as no surprise that there’s also one for ski touring, which also includes freeriding. Klaus Kranebitter is the creator of the free Snowhow app, which offers the following information:
Maps with terrain profiles
GPS location determination on your Smartphone
Slope inclines along your planned route
Avalanche conditions report
Result: reduced risk of avalanche accidents
Further details: www.snowhow.info
So, if you fancy undertaking a ski tour with SNOWHOW, then download the app of the same name now! It provides valuable information that can enhance YOUR safety in the mountains. In addition, SNOWHOW also offers freeride camps: www.snowhow.info/freeride
A challenging favourite
Klaus doesn’t want to reveal his favourite tour. “I don’t have a favourite,” he claims in his no-nonsense, matter-of-fact manner so typical of mountain guides. “The Karwendel range offers some fantastic challenges. I also like the Sellraintal valley and am there quite often.” But there is one mountain that appeals to his adventurous instincts again and again – the Lüsener Villerspitze. “The route up to the exposed terrain above the tree line is fascinating in itself. Orientation and selecting the right terrain are crucial. The assessment of the avalanche situation offers a permanent challenge. The last few metres to the peak, which is only accessible without skis, require absolute sure-footedness,” he tells me, his eyes lighting up. And everything that applies to the ascent, applies equally to the descent. “And, what’s more, you need to be really fit.” So, not a tour for Sunday skiers!
I, on the other hand, am quite happy to divulge my favourite ski touring routes. Here are three of them:
Mutterer Alm/Pfriemesköpfl – 1,801 m (piste tour)
This tour is really popular with the locals; it’s safe as regards avalanches, moderately steep and is perfect for newcomers to the sport. It involves 380 metres of elevation alongside the piste and 550 metres of elevation through the woods.
Nearest valley village: Mutters
Starting point: Leisure centre in Mutters (892 m), car park (charges apply)
Elevation difference: 909 vertical metres
Duration: 2 ½ – 3 hours
Total distance: 4.6 km
Refreshment stops: Mutterer Alm (1,608 m), Almgasthof Nockhof (1,228 m)
Grünsteinscharte – 2,272 m
This tour doesn’t take you all the way up to a summit, but it rewards you with a beautiful view and it can be extended up to the Stötterltörl saddle (2,036 m)
Nearest valley village: Mieming/Obsteig
Starting point: Gasthof Arzkasten (1,151 m), car park (charges apply)
Elevation difference: 1,169 vertical metres
Duration: 3 – 3 ½ hrs
Total distance: 6 km
Refreshment stop: Gasthof Arzkasten (1,151 m)
Zischgeles – 3,003 m
This is one of the most popular mountain summits for ski touring enthusiasts in the Sellraintal valley; in fact, it’s really ‘in’ to tour here! There are no sections where walking is required – you can do the whole tour on skis, right from the car park and all the way back again.
Nearest valley village: Sellrain/Praxmar
Starting point: Praxmar (1.687 m), car par (charges apply)
Elevation difference: 1,345 vertical metres
Duration: 3 – 3 ½ hours
Total distance: 4.6 km
Refreshment stop: Alpengasthof Praxmar (1,687 m)
Further ski touring suggestions can be found on the Innsbruck Tourismus homepage. 
About Klaus and Innsbruck
Klaus always has a grin like a Cheshire cat on his face, a face that is somewhat weathered by the sun. He’s been a mountain guide since 1998. He only became one because a friend said to him, “Come on, we’re going to sit the entrance test.” “And after that there was no turning back,” he says with a roguish laugh. At some point he discovered a second passion, that of photography. All the pictures in the article were taken by Klaus. For him Innsbruck is more than just his home; it is where his roots are. And, hardly surprisingly, he says exactly what I repeatedly say and never tire of writing, “Innsbruck is a Mecca for ski touring enthusiasts. The combination of city and sport is unique here; there’s nowhere else like it in the world.” Living in a place like this inspires inventive ideas – such as SNOWHOW! When asked what Innsbruck means to him, he replies with a laugh, “Do you want me to say something advertising-friendly, or do you want a statement from a professional?” He gave me an honest statement. Klaus is my favourite neighbour, no doubt about it!