James McKnight and Alex Evans hit up the Austrian Tirol.
Words: James McKnight.
THE AUSTRIAN TIROL
Including the Zillertal and Oetztal valleys.
I first visited the Tirol area of Austria for Dirt #113, a visit that took me to the Zillertal valley to ride with Alex Ganster, a local guide. Inspired by the sky-high peaks and endless descents that Alex showed me, I was keen to return at the first available opportunity. Earlier this year I met up with Becky Horton and Holger Gassler from the tourist board and began planning a return to the Tirol…
Although I had already been to the area, I still felt I knew little of it and and evidently I had only just scraped the surface of a vast region. Before long, thanks to the help of Becky and Holger, I was on my way once again to the Austrian mountains with Morzine resident Alex Evans and film maker Mark Huskisson.
And so the adventure started.
Part 1: The Zillertal Valley with Gunther ‘Raw’ Burgsteiner
This time around we unfortunately were not able to ride with Alex Ganster as he was otherwise engaged, and so we came to meet up with one guide I will remember forever. Gunther Burgsteiner is a nutter, this became apparent within moments of meeting the man, his glare says it all. What we weren’t told by his ‘look’ we were told over a dinner, he gave us a brief of his credentials; solo bike rides around Europe, world record for altitude gained on skis in one day, a devotion to mountains and adventure. Gunther is a placid, level yet deeply interesting guy. It took us a day or so to fully understand his ethos but one thing is for sure and that is his absolute knowledge of the mountains that surround the town of Mayrhofen, an area called the Zillertal.
Although not a through-and-through mountain biker, Gunther was able to point us in the direction of all the right trails. Bikes are officially restricted to the ‘Almdudler’* Freeride Trail above Mayrhofen (on the Penken hill), just as they were when I last visited. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, as it is one of the longest official ‘bike park’ trails that you will find and is varied enough during its meandering descent of the vast mountainside to keep you happy for days. It certainly kept us entertained for two days.
We enjoyed the ‘trail centre x10’ upper slopes with their bermed turns and sustainable design, but we revelled in the long and technical lower section of trail, which can sure throw an unexpected punch. More akin to a natural track and reminiscent of something that could be found in Les Arcs, France, the fifteen minute single-track flows its way over fast sections of roots and rocks, carves its way down steep forest slopes and has the odd encounter with old-fashioned mountain life (we saw families out harvesting the hay by hand who waved hello each time we passed). Definitely worth at least a day of your time if in the area.
McKnight’s article from Dirt magazine issue #126
Across on the opposite side of the valley sits another cable-car and a mountainside that is a whole lot less frequented by summertime tourists. Pedalling away from the lift you enter a time warp and venture into pastures old, with traditional farming techniques still apparent to this day. A gnarled old man served us a fine elderflower cordial, made with flowers from just next to his perch high up above Mayrhofen, before we began another almighty descent.
After a couple of days enjoying the high mountains and watching huge evening storms from the comfort of the swimming pool at our fancy hotel we cruised on to our next destination…
* Almdudler is Austria’s answer to Coca-Cola…
Style of riding: Trail/ All-mountain
Number of trails: Officially 1, divided into two sections
Opening times: May – October
Rating/ verdict: 7/10. The official ‘Almdudler’ trail is fantastic for all styles of rider, but the area is behind times with respect to trail access for mountain bikes. With some of the huge mountainsides and their endless single-tracks open to two-wheeled traffic this could be one of the better Alpine valleys for all-mountain riding.
+43 664 271 8558
(Alternatively try: www.seasonality.eu)
Hotel Woescherhof, Uderns, Zillertal
How to get there:
There are two direct flights weekly from Gatwick to Innsbruck airport. From Innsbruck it is a forty-five minute transfer to the Zillertal valley.
Alternatively, there are many more airports offering services to Munich airport, from where it is less than a two-hour transfer to any of the locations we visit in this two-part series.
A big thank you to Becky Horton, Holger Gassler and Gunther Burgsteiner for their help in organising the trip.
Finally, thank you to Life Cycle (www.life-cycle.eu), Production Privee (www.production-privee.com) and 4Guimp (www.4guimp.it) for helping me on my way.
More coming next week in part 2….