Things still move at a different pace here. Slowly. Friendly. Somehow different. Everyone knows each other in the small valley that belongs to Austria but is only accessible through Germany. Clemens Paul from the Crystal Ground Snowpark is an old friend of Heiko Möller who owns the M&M Bar and in turn knows Marco Heim, who is head of a communication agency and managed to get Quiksilver and Rossignol to sponsor the park. And of course they all know Heinz Schuster, boss of the local strip club who almost daily can be seen on the panorama terrace up on the Kanzelwand…
By Melanie Schönthier
The Kleinwalsertal is completely surrounded by mountains, so it shouldn’t be a problem to find the right terrain. Stark rock faces (with countless hidden chutes and cliffs) and wide slopes (with faces that could pass as little Alaska) rise up to 2230 metres and normally guarantee a lot of snow from December to middle of April. Especially at the end of the season, the Kleinwalsertal is a real insider tip: the tourists have already departed and the locals are tired after a long season. Therefore you can still find many untracked north faces even if the last dump was a week ago! With your day ticket you can shred Kanzelwand, Walmendinger Horn and Hohen Ifen, and also the Fellhorn that belongs to Germany and is accessible through Oberstdorf on the other side of the mountain.
If you are based in Riezlern, the first village in the valley, you should start with the Kanzelwandbahn that takes you up to more than 2000 metres. Then just keep your eyes open and you will find hundreds of possibilities for powder runs. You can either try your luck straight under the gondola and be rewarded with chutes of varying severity or you can hike for the real diamonds (tip: have a look at the area around the Fellhorn summit). It is a good idea to get yourself a coffee in the Crystal Ground snowboard shop (directly at the Kanzelwandbahn) in the morning, have a chat with the guys working there and ask for some advice. If you are satisfied with your morning crop of runs, take the shuttle bus from Riezlern to the Walmendinger Horn in Mittelberg (about ten minutes’ drive). What may seem sleepy, due to the many south-facing slopes and families, will emerge as a real gem (tip: if you hike up to the slopes that run down to the Schwarzwassertal, you will find several north faces that are really challenging). But also a ride from the summit of the Walmendinger Horns can boost your level of adrenaline. A run through the woods and you are at the Hohen Ifen with its distinctive rock plateau. Here, the legendary Banked Master through the Kellerloch (‘cellar hole’) takes place every year, and the following party is almost as famous as the contest. If you get off the lift at the summit station and follow the loop hiking trail, you will reach the so-called Gottesacker (ask a local about the story behind the name that literally means ‘God’s field’!) – you shouldn’t ride here without a guide as many sinkholes lurk under the surface. Besides the sinkholes, Gottesacker offers a real backcountry playground with its reams of natural jumps and quarters. The vibe in the Kleinwalsertal is very relaxed, and also if you only make it up to the mountain around lunchtime, you will still find some untracked lines.
Located at the Kanzelwandbahn in Riezlern, the Crystal Ground Snowpark (www.crystalground.com) now heads into its third season. You can let off steam on three rail lines and a kicker line – with any lift ticket (but the T-bar next to the park is for sure more comfortable than a hike). Beginners start at the boxes, advanced riders hit the kinked box and the wall ride, and almost-pros can try the nine-metre-long down rail or the high rail. The wooden terrace at the bottom of the park or the internet access inside the Crystal Ground shop are good alternatives for those who want to chill. You definitely shouldn’t miss the yearly Iron Night (this year it already took place on 16 February), an official TTR stop – the park can be hit by anyone who wants to show their skills! Last season, investment went into new snow cannon to avoid the closing of the park, as unfortunately happened last year, before the official end of the season. And if things turn out well (and sponsors stay generous), a fixed floodlight construction will be installed soon. At 1700 metres, the Fellhornpark is also worth a visit and offers you corners, S-box, double kinks, picnic tables, rainbow box, some rollers and a park solely for kids (with kickers and rails in mini versions!).
Located right in the centre and with the best equipment, the Crystal Ground Shop at the Kanzelwand gondola in Riezlern offers everything you need on the mountain. After a long night out, you can wake up to a cup of strong coffee or check the weather and snow conditions on the mountain.
Crystal Ground Shop, valley station Kanzelwandbahn, +43 5517 3685-40, daily 9am –12.30pm and 2–6pm, www.crystalground.com
After shredding the locals, meet in the M&M Bar (Walserstr. 78, daily 5pm–2am) in Riezlern. Heiko, the owner, runs the bar every day (except Sunday) by himself and mixes the best cocktails in the valley; sometimes he offers his guests a jigger of his latest creations for free. You also shouldn’t miss the Heustadl, the best (and probably only) table dance bar in the Kleinwalsertal (Walserstr. 21, Monday to Saturday starting at 10pm). Riezlern also has a casino and if you are over 18, the poker tables are waiting for you – all in! The Walserhaus in Hirschegg (Walserstr. 64, +43 5517 511 4466, 5–10pm, www.walserhaus.at) is not really a party place but a restaurant with an experimental kitchen.
The place to be for going out is Riezlern. To avoid long cab rides, you should book one of the many guest houses or B&Bs there. A real treasure is Das Kleine Berghotel (Westeggweg 6, +43-5517-53380, www.das-kleine-berghotel.at) with indoor pool, which is not too expensive, offers you the best breakfast I have ever seen and is directly located next to the slope. From here it is only a short hike to the next bar. In Hirschegg and Mittelberg the nightlife is much quieter but here you can find some youth hostels that offer shared rooms with full board starting from €23 (information: +43 5517 5449, www.alpintreff.net).
The Kleinwalsertal is located in the corner of Germany, but belongs to the Austrian state Vorarlberg (Lech and the Arlberg are only a few kilometres away as the crow flies, but from the Kleinwalsertal they are only accessible through a huge detour via Germany). From Munich you have to drive about 180km, or 160km from Innsbruck.
Road: From Munich, take the A96, direction Lindau, then follow the A7 until Oberstdorf. After 10km you are in Riezlern.
Rail: The nearest train station is Oberstdorf. From there you can take the bus which stops in all villages in the Kleinwalsertal.
Air: The nearest airport is in Memmingen (85km from Riezlern). From there you can take the train to Oberstdorf.
Highest lift: 2224m
Season: December to April
Km of runs: 120
Lift ticket prices:
Week (6 day pass): €164
Tel: +43 5517 51140, [email protected], www.kleinwalsertal.com