A Perfect Holiday in Grainau: Ski Tour to Stuibenhütte Chalet & Avalanche Rescue Training

 // by Polina Peskovsky
A Perfect Holiday in Grainau: Ski Tour to  Stuibenhütte Chalet & Avalanche Rescue Training
Monday, 15 November 2021

This ski tour is a popular easy winter hike in the Garmisch Classic ski area. It's a perfect tour for beginners, and you can go this route on snowshoes as well. A visit to the Stuibenhütte can also be combined with a day on the slopes in the Garmisch Classic ski area or with longer winter hikes.

Die Stuibenhütte (1640 m)

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In winter the Stuiben, a small mountain range below Mount Alpspitze, offers numerous opportunities for ski mountaineering. The Stuibenhütte Chalet was intended as a base camp for winter hikers, therefore it is only open during the winter season. Because the tour is so easy, the route is extremely popular and can be very busy, especially in fine weather on weekends. You can optionally spend a night at the chalet (advance reservation required).

The ascent to the Stuibenhütte starts at the Bernadein run, so for this tour you need a Garmisch Classic ski pass (if you intend to spend the rest of the day on the slopes) or a Bernadein ski pass for backcountry skiers. The latter only includes one uphill ride on the Alpspitzbahn and one ride on the Bernadein T-bar lift. The ticket is not publicly listed, so just ask for it at the Alpspitzbahn ticket office.

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To reach the start point, ski down from the Alpspitzbahn (Station 'Osterfelderkopf') towards the Hochalm until you reach the Bernadein run. Here you turn right and just ride downhill until you see the ski lift in the distance. The route starts to the right approx. 100 m before the ski lift - watch out for the hiking sign "Stuiben-Bockhütte-Reintal" on the right side of the slope. The path is signposted, the traffic on the route is sometimes very busy. From the start point you need to ascend some 200 vertical meters to reach the Stuibenhütte Chalet.

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Even if this tour seems to be easy, for the descent you should be well on your skis: backcountry skiing is a very different experience compared to normal alpine skiing on prepared slopes, no matter if you are confronted with deep snow, limited visibility in the fog, a snowfall, or lack of snow at the end of the season. When crowds are high, the short downhill track back to the Bernadein ski lift becomes bare and icy in no time.

Warning: Alpine Dangers

In winter, hikers in the Garmisch Classic ski area must stay on the designated winter trails and observe local regulations (e.g. restricted areas). Away from the prepared ski slopes, it is essential to wear avalanche equipment. On winter tours everyone should assess the risk for themselves, even if the tour is rated as avalanche safe. If you don't have any experience with winter tours or backcountry skiing, read our safety tips:

The Badersee Blog: The Alps "For Dummies" - Safety in Alpine Terrain for Beginners in Winter


Reaching Stuiben On Ski Tour

For me, just like for so many others in Garmisch, the Stuibenhütte Chalet was my very first ski tour I did to try out this sport. Since then I've visited the chalet at least once or twice per winter season, as you can easily reach it on many winter tours. Of course the tour to the chalet and back is very small, so we normally extend it a bit: today we make a detour to Mount Mauerschartenkopf and Mount Stuibenkopf.

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8:40 am: On a fine winter day like this one, the parking lot at the Kreuzeck gets full very quickly. We still manage to get one of the last parking spaces - and there we are to board on the first cabin to Osterfelderkopf. The morning is still gloomy, but it should get sunny afterwards. As the cablecar approaches the Osterfelderkopf Station, we admire the enchanted winter landscape below. In summer this area offers amazing hiking tours, but it's completely closed in winter due to avalanche danger.

9:15 am: Up at the Osterfelderkopf we put on our skis and head towards the Hochalm. After the so-called "breakthrough", where you go through a narrow passage between the high rocks, we reach the Bernadein run just a few moments later. We take the downhill run to the right and go down until the ski lift comes into sight, here we slow down and watch out for the route sign on the right side. Now it's time to put on the skins.

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9:45 am: After we test our avalanche transceivers, the tour starts. The first kilometer takes us through the snow-covered mountain forest. At this early hour there's no oncoming traffic on the narrow path, which is normally very busy during the day.

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10:30 am: Shortly before the chalet, we make a right turn. This section goes uphill and takes us to a plateau that offers perfect conditions for our today's avalanche training.

Avalanche Rescue Training

At the beginning of the winter season it's always good to refresh your knowledge once again. So today my fellow tourers pack an avalanche transceiver into a backpack and then hide it in the deep snow. Now it's my turn to find the backpack - with the help of my avalanche transceiver, avalanche shovel and avalanche probe. I should get it out as quickly as possible, at the latest within 15 minutes, since this is the maximum time you normally have before the buried person runs out of air. I switch my beeper in search mode and there we go.

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The best thing for training would be a real avalanche, like some old snow sled from the rocks, but today we haven't found any here on site. Also, the "victim" must be hidden as deep as possible in the snow - to give you a clear feeling of how much force you need to shovel away the snow in emergency. Of course the fresh powder snow on the plateau is much lighter than the dense avalanche snow mass, and the search goes much easier on the plain than on a steep slope. However, walking in deep snow is quite challenging. Right at the start I have to run a few stripes through the area for signal search. With every step my legs sink in completely. In the few minutes from the moment my beeper picks up the signal from my "victim dummy" for the first time till I manage to locate the hidden backpack more exactly, I get completely sweaty.

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Now it's only 46 meters to my "victim". During the core search, however, it sometimes happens that you have to deviate from the straight line. This has to do with the transceiver technology: the signal propagates on the curved "field lines". Every now and then my device catches the signal from the other hikers who are walking by, but I can "overlook" them by pressing a button (this feature is common in many modern avalanche transceivers).

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A few moments later, my beeper says that the backpack should be less than 3 meters away from me. The device now automatically switches to fine search. From here on, I have to move slower and guide my transceiver directly over the snow surface to reach the point with the shortest distance to the "victim". After marking the right point with the shovel, I check the exact distance on the snow surface once again, then I start the point search. This is done with the avalanche probe: probe carefully perpendicular to the snow surface - which does not necessarily mean vertical. For instance, when avalanche search takes place on a slope with a 25 degree inclination, the probe should accordingly keep a 90 degrees' angle to the snow surface. The reason is that the transceiver shows the shortest distance to the buried person, so they may be positioned slightly higher on the slope than expected.

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Probing starts from the point marked with the shovel outwards, following an imaginary spiral. Keep in mind that the distance to the victim cannot be greater than the value displayed on the device, e.g. my device is showing a distance of 0.7 m - accordingly, it makes no sense for me to put the probe into the snow deeper than 70 cm. Anyway, my first guess was right and I come across something that feels like a backpack already on the second try. It's good to know that no living person can be hurt with the probe this time. Now the avalanche shovel comes into play. In avalanche rescue shoveling requires the biggest effort, especially when the victim is buried deep in the heavy snow.

After the successful "rescue", we practice probing for a short time, trying to recognize the objects we have just captured with the probe - stones, wood or frozen earth.

Avalanche rescue is team play: in emergency you can hardly expect to rescue one or more people by yourself, especially if they are deeply buried. Therefore, on tour it's recommended to keep a safety distance of 50 m to each other in potential risk areas, so that in the worst case only one person is swept away.

More on Avalanche Rescue

11:30 am: On completing our training, we continue through the snowy plateau and soon arrive at the foot of the Mauerscharte Saddle, just next to our destination Mount Mauerschartenkopf (1919 m) rising on the left of it. The name of the saddle supposedly derives from the fact that it is extremely steep. Indeed, in the next 45 minutes we climb the endless sweaty hairpin bends until we stand on the wind-blown bare saddle. From here the summit is just a few minutes away.

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12:30 pm: The weather today is a mixture of sun and clouds. As we arrive on the summit, the warm sun rays suddenly shine upon us - just in time for a tea break after the strenuous climb! Because of its proximity to the Stuibenhütte, this small peak is very popular on fine winter days.

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Many hikers are taking a break here on the summit, and a large group is coming from the chalet. There isn't much space left, so after a short break we take off the skins and go down. Next, we make a brief detour to the neighboring Mount Stuibenkopf (1924 m), which is relatively easy to climb. Over its wide spacious slope we then ride down to the Stuibenhütte.

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1:10 pm: The Stuibenhütte chalet lies cosily before us, we smell the light smoke from the wood stove as we approach. However, no fine alpine cuisine can be expected here, since the Stuibenhütte is a self-catering chalet. Now and again the local host Jochen may cook a pea soup or similar, just for a change (probably it's too boring for him just to sit around at the chalet the whole winter). Anyway, on most days, hikers have to do with bottled drinks that need to be picked up at the small counter outside the chalet window, or just taken directly from the crate if you are inside. The locals love to chat with Jochen, but he speaks such a violent dialect that I can only understand single words. So I take a look at the hut interiors. It's a pretty old chalet with traditional quaint furnishings. A special highlight is the outhouse with a selection of witty posters and photos.

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2:20 pm: After a prolonged break we leave the chalet well refreshed. From here it goes directly to the descent track. It's pretty short but steep and icy. Finally we reach the narrow run through the forest that brings us back to the Bernadein ski lift once again. On this section you have to be careful with the oncoming traffic. With the T-bar lift we get back to the upper ski 'highway' from Osterfelderkopf to Kreuzeck. Just in a few minutes we leave the Hochalm behind, after the Kreuzeck we continue normally to the Trögl ski tunnel and then on the Kandahar run we reach the valley around 3 pm.

Tips & Infos:

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