As the winter season grows short in Tirol, so do the skis. In spring, figl skis are king. The figl is a special, supershort ski. It is an acronym for firngleiter, meaning “firn glider”, called Figl for short. Firn is the German word for spring or corn snow. Both, the snow called Firn and the stubbies named Figl are extant in numbers in Tirol in spring. Before moving to Tirol, I had never heard of figls. “Let’s get figln!” I said to my friends, preparing for an intriguing investigation of this barely known phenomenon known as figln. I had never tried that before…
Having lived in Tirol for five years, I’m sometimes scared of myself. In the past, I liked to sunbathe by a lake, reading a book. These days, however, I tend to come up with ridiculous ideas like figln. I have swapped lakes for mountains and books for hiking guides. I have got 5 pairs of skis and a mountain bike in my basement. Did I transform into a Tirol mountain man? What is more, I know at least five long-time locals who were born and reared in Tirol and still haven’t done anything like skiing or hiking or mountain biking. They feel as far away from the mountains as I feel from the beaches of Nice.
Only recently, I, the wannabe Tirolean, heard the mountains calling—and I had to go. Scaling the heights of Judentörl Peak on Saturday and Hafelekar on Sunday. Together with friends, who are all hard-core Tirol buffs like me. At least, they work and play here. One was born in the Austrian Province of Salzburg. Then there’s a Swedish woman. A Finnish woman. And one from the Austrian Province of Vorarlberg. “Let’s get figln!” I said to my Tirolean friends. I had been ski touring a dozens of times and felt that I was ready for it. On Saturday, we laced up our hiking boots and attached Figl skis made in Tirol to our backpacks.
We started our adventure at Gasthof Straßberg Inn above Telfs and climbed the southern side of the mountain. As hard-core mountain buffs like me know, south-facing aspects will start to soften up and thaw once they have been sun-kissed in the spring. Nevertheless, the snow was still plentiful up there and we plodded through snow for the last 30 minutes of climbing atop the 1,935-meter peak of Judentörl. Anyway, we made it there. We tied on our firngleiters and scud on down through the cirque filled with armpit-deep snow. I fell over, I got back up. I fell over again and kept going. And fell over again. It seemed to me as if falls, many of them head-pounders, were inevitable. “That snow is tricky and not easy to ride!” said my Salzburg-native friend, a seasoned figl ski veteran. It felt like my first time skiing. In fact, it was my first time skiing on firngleiters. The grade was gentler on the lower section and I started having the things, figl skis that is, under control. We planed through the snow and it was great fun, indeed.
Second try on Sunday. Innsbruck, Hafelekar, 2,334 meters above sea level. This time, though, we opted for the less exhausting and more convenient ride aboard the gondola. Next to me in the gondola cabin were what I christened other figlers. Figl skiers. The typical Hafelekar figler wears ski boots and ski pants. Instead, I, the hard-core mountain buff, was wearing hiking boots and hiking pants. We got off the gondola and climbed to access the steep Karrinne Couloir for five minutes. With a gradient of 70 per cent, it is one of the steepest runs in the world and not for the faint hearted. “Do you dare to?” is what they ask on the Innsbruck Website. Ridiculously laughable. I started to scud on down. I fell over. Head over heels. And over again. Three times. Five times. Kids planed through on their little stubbies like weasels, furrowing their way gleefully down the whole length of the steep couloir, little sloppy slides of snow pushing down with them. In my hiking boots I did not have the things under control. One lap was enough. Hafelekar, I will be back – next time in my ski boots.