It was quite touching really – and it showed just how proud they are of their super-duper, spanking new state-of-the-art gondola in the lofty Tirolean resort of Obergurgl (well, Hochgurgl to be exact – the two like to keep a distinction even though they’re fully linked).
I was there for the opening of this astonishing and spectacular development, and as I went to lean my skis against a wall of the top station while I took some pictures of the new gondola, in which I had just ascended, an attendant rushed over and said: ‘Please, no, you’ll scratch the wall – it’s new…’
Well, the bad news is…the wall’s gonna get scratched so you’d better get used to it because lots of people are going to want to take pictures of this gondola and lean their skis and boards against the wall! The good news is that this is an addition that enhances Obergurgl’s reputation no end. The new ten-person, 43-cabin (with heated seats) Kirchenkarbahn gondola at Hochgurgl replaces what was just a humble T-bar. The plan is for a second-stage gondola to be added for next season to take skiers even higher, and open a new high-altitude area.
There are those, it must be said, who have been expressing some nostalgic regret that a part of the mountain that was something of a secret hideaway is now being catapulted into the mainstream. Areas accessed only by T-bars, as this sector on the far extremity of Obergurgl’s skiing was, can often retain a sense of romantic remoteness. It’s rather nice that T-bars can still put off many skiers and keep those parts served only by draglifts pleasantly under-used. But there are fewer and fewer of them – perhaps there’s a case for preservation orders to be slapped on those that remain?
However, it would be churlish not to be enthusiastic about the remarkable facilities that comprise the bottom station of this new gondola, Top Mountain Crosspoint.
As well as a lift station it is a high-end mountain restaurant, summer toll station for the Timmelsjoch High Alpine Road – and impressive motorcycle museum. The museum already has some gorgeous historic machines in place, but it doesn’t open until later this year.
I did get a chance for a sneak preview and was able to gaze at gleaming treasures such as a 1939 Bianchi, one of Italy’s first motorcycle manufacturers, and a 1949 Harley Davidson – the museum will cover 2,600 sq meters and the exhibits will include bikes by Moto Guzzi, MV Augusta, Ducati, BMW, NSU, DKW, Zundapp, Triumph, Sunbeam, Norton, Matchless, AJS, Brough Superior, Vincent, Honda, Henderson and Indian. For good measure there will be four-wheeled dream machines too, including a Californian Ferrari Spider and a Porsche 959 (I know this is meant to be a ski blog but I am a bit of a petrol-head and I can’t wait to come back and see the museum when it’s in full swing – and, skiing, motorcycling, it’s all about speed and excitement isn’t it?). They even had motorbike racing legend Giacomo Agostini, 15 times world champion, at the site for the groundbreaking ceremony.
The 23million euro project is the brainchild of lift company kingpins Alban and Attila Scheiber, who commissioned renowned Tirolean architect Michael Brotz to design the complex. This is no ordinary gondola base station – the multi-functional building has sweeping lines designed to mimic those of a massive snowdrift. ‘In this way, the building merges much better with the landscape and also in the choice of materials,’ Herr Brotz told me. The facade is almost entirely in wood – so is the interior of the restaurant. It’s hard to decide whether you’re deep inside a snowdrift or a pine forest.
‘We have exceptional slopes here, and now we have an exceptional gondola lift too, ‘ said Alban at the official opening. ‘And we wanted to make something more of it, not just an ordinary lift station. Motorcycles have always obsessed my brother Attila and I and we began collecting them. When we had about 30 machines the idea came to us to have a motorcycle museum. So it seemed perfect to incorporate it as part of the lift station. At the same time, the museum is also perfectly suited as a bad weather programme for guests in the winter. ‘
If you haven’t already visited one of Austria’s highest and most snow-sure resorts, this is just one more reason to put Obergurgl on the list. And you can scarcely do better than stay at the lovely four-star Edelweiss and Gurgl hotel, which is about as ski-in, ski-out as you can get. The wall of the neighbouring lift station is 18 centimetres from the wall of the hotel – I measured it.