Weekend is just around the corner and with it the question, where to go next for a new bike adventure? From my home base Innsbruck it is basically a wide open field. But how about Kühtai? A small winter sports resort in the Austrian Alps of Tyrol around 40 kilometers from Innsbruck, with little more than ten permanent year-round residents. The village is situated on a mountain pass at 2020 meter that connects the Ötz valley with the Sellrain valley.
The name derives from cow alp, an alpine pasture farm first attested in 1288, once a favorite hunting ground of Emperors and Earls. Not exactly the place people would choose firsthand for their bike trip in mid of October, too tempting are the stunning Dolomites, one of Europe’s most acclaimed UNESCO world heritage sites. Especially when the weather forecast shows plenty of sunshine for the next days and mild temperatures even in high altitudes. Nevertheless, why seek far afield when the good things could no be closer by. Let’s go Kühtai!
As Austrias highest ski resort with a snow guarantee, Kühtai is already well established amongst the winter sports crowd, while for mountain bikers, the terrain surrounding the little village is still a very well kept secret. When the snow has melted and the fragile alpine flowers appear in bloom, the crowds have disappeared and a remarkable network of hiking trails emerge, ideal for first class bike adventures away from the trodden paths. Only, you will have to be prepared to hike your bike for some parts to access the unbelievable high alpine landscape and be rewarded with what you can call „trail-tetris“.
According to the etiquette of a proper Austrian ski resort we were personally greeted by „Mrs Holle“, the snow queen, and a thin fresh white blanket over the mountains. The next days were forecasted sunny and late summer temperatures, so it did not cross our minds at all to pack long pants and warm boots. What we had in mind was more like mellow autumn, yellow grass rocking softly in the wind, refreshingly clear air enriched with alpine spices, clear mountain lakes mirroring majestic summits. Well, everything turned out very close to our expectations, except that the yellow gras was buried underneath a quite significant snow cover. Anyways, our optimism trumped the snow situation, and we got going in shorts under a pristine sky.
With every meter of elevation gain, the snow got deeper and deeper, and with every step our dry bike shoes effectively captured the snow, slowly melting into water, turning them wet and sloppy cold. Trying not to look too phased by such little annoyance, we trodded on, our bikes on our shoulders, up towards the Finstertaler Scharte at 2780m. Some pain, some gain, every now and then our routine was interrupted by a more or less violent curse, whenever one of us broke completely through the snow, down to the knees, followed by the inconvenient procedure of retracting the leg, accompanied by more snow being captured by the shoe. But nothing really could stop our ascent, not even the steep rock crag just under the saddle, which we only negotiate by tediously hoisting the bikes up individually, in relay, one after the other.
And finally we stood at the top, absolutely astonished at the panorama of the surrounding majestic, white summits, but also a little at our drive and grit. Now it was about time for a Tiroler Jause, the hearty alpine snack. The smell of the goat camembert enriched the mountain air, as well as our soggy socks, which seemed to need some fresh air too.
And then the fun part, the downhill could commence. On the other side of the ascent, the trail even peeked out of the snow here and there, snaking down the autumnal slopes. Often, we had to dig deep in our skill set treasure box to master some tight technical corners and steep boulders in the alpine terrain. The clouds in the dampened light turned the sky ever more mystical, the temperatures still pleasant. The dirt got dryer with every turn and the trail on the final section through finest pine forest could not possibly have been laid out more elegantly by the trail goddess.
After some incredible 1750m down the hill, we greeted the valley floor with grins as wide as our handle bars. What a descent! BUT this isn’t it quite yet, this only the first part of the „trail tetris“. From here you relax a bit and pedal along the valley towards Ötz to take the bus or the Acherkogelbahn back up, and return via the trails through the Knappental back down to Ochsengarten. Of course, you could fit in some laps down Ötztal in-between if you feel the need for it, just have a look at the hiking map. We cannot wait until next season, to play another round of this enticing game. Let the Tetris challenge begin!
Include how to get there, where to stay, best time of year, coolest things to see in the area etc.
- by car from Innsbruck: take the highway towards Arlberg, leave the highway shortly after at the exit Kematen-Sellrain. From there, it’s about 25 km (approx. 30 min.) to Kühai.
- by train from Innsbruck main station to Ötztal station, continue to Kühtai either by bus or by taxi.
Where to stay:
- if you like a remote place, stay in Kühtai e.g. in my favorite place: Appartements Kühtai www.kuehtai.net
- if you are more the party tiger, stay somewhere in Ötztal
Best time of the year:
July to September (the view is especially spectacular in July, then the alpine roses bloom and shine pink, purple and red or end of September…)
Coolest things to visit in the area:
- Sölden Bike Republik
Don’t forget to pay attention to the Mountain Bike Trail Rules:
- Ride only on trails.
- Do not leave any tracks.
- Keep your mountain bike under control.
- Respect other nature users.
- Be considerate of animals.
- Plan ahead.
Text: Sylvia Leimgruber
Pictures: Andrea Kohlendorfer