CLIMBS: Zeinisjoch (1842m)
Silvretta Hochalpenstrasse (2032m)
A big Alpine pass and a hidden gem
An Alpine country par excellence, Austria remains little known among cyclists. However, it is full of big passes and roads away from traffic in sumptuous landscapes. Take, for example, this short but punchy loop that combines the Zeinisjoch and the Silvretta Hochalpenstrasse (also known as Bielerhöhe) between the provinces of Tyrol and Voralberg.
You can start from Galtür, a village close to the skiing and après-ski mecca of Ischgl. The slope is immediately steep as you climb on a deserted road across alpine meadows. After 5 kilometers of ascent, you reach the Zeinissee, a small lake located near the summit marking the end of the first climbing challenge of the day at 1842 meters. You are now on the watershed between the Rhine and the Danube.
Already used in Roman times, the Zeinisjoch has long been a major route in the region. However, with the advent of the Aarlberg Pass further north in the 19th century, it lost its importance and no modern road worthy of the name was built there. A chance for cyclists, who are the only ones now allowed to complete the pass. Down from the Zeinissee and larger Kopssee reservoir and dam is a very steep road: 700 meters of difference in altitude with long sections at more than 10% and a few spikes at 20%. Your brakes and wrists are put to the test as you plunge down towards the Montafon valley.
After 6 kilometers of descent, you come out of the forest and hit a two-lane road. This return to civilization takes place just above the village of Partenen and marks the beginning of the ascent of the Silvretta Hochalpenstrasse (also known as Bielerhöhe), which will take you back to Galtür.
Initially an access road to two dams, the pass was opened to traffic in 1954. 23 switchbacks await you on the first section of the ascent to the Vermuntsee, which is worthy of the biggest passes in the Alps. As the road is built for tourist traffic, the slope rarely exceeds 10% and you can enjoy the view of the valley and the surrounding peaks; the pass website (yes, the Silvretta Hochalpenstrasse has its own site) even indicates that the best place is between bends 22 and 23.
At the altitude of 1743 meters, you reach the Vermunt dam and ride along its turquoise lake, a welcome respite after 7 kilometers of ascent. The climbing then resumes, but it is less steep and more irregular. From there, you are in a rocky alpine environment dominated by peaks at more than 3000m. At the end of an endless last straight line, you reach the Silvretta dam and the Bielerhöhe pass at 2032 meters. The ascent totals 13 kilometers with an average slope of 6.6%.
The route of the descent is quite different from the ascent: only two bends slow down your progress as you zoom down back to Galtür. Just in time for beer o'clock.
- The Silvretta Hochalpenstrasse sees more than 400'000 vehicles pass by every year. Avoid weekends and summer vacations for a quiet experience.
- Sit on the terrace of the restaurant located on the shore of Lake Silvretta to admire the Piz Buin (3312m). Don't forget the sunscreen.
- The region offers other options for the cyclist eager to discover. The Silvretta Hochalpenstrasse can be combined with the Aarlberg Pass further north. With 150km and 2600m of ascent, the Aarlberg Giro is one of the most popular cyclosportive cycling routes in Tyrol and attracts around 1500 participants every year.
The climb to the Zeinisjoch is short and gives plenty to smile about
Alpine paradise above Galtür
The impressive Kopssee dam just below the top of the Zeinisjoch
The descent of the Zeinisjoch is reserved to cyclists
Going down Zeinisjoch with the Silvretta switchbacks in the distance
Enjoying an empty road before the traffic comes up from the valley
There are 23 switchbacks on the first section of the Silvretta Hochalpenstrasse
Riding along the Vermuntsee
After the Vermuntsee, the landscape becomes much more dramatic
Last effort before the top of the Silvretta Hochalpenstrasse
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