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Picking up VFR mountain flying

To keep the forum from being IFR only I would like to know how you started your VFR mountain flying career. Currently I have 120 hrs and fly a Mooney M20K 252 mostly. I am keen on an IR rating to unlock the Mooney’s potential, but currently I can’t find the time to dive in to that. I am hoping for the EIR to become available soon…

For instance if I would like to go to the fly-in I would have to cross the Alps to get there (or fly around them…). Although I have some hours of mountain flying under my belt in gliders, I would not consider going due to that big pile of granite. And I would love to visit Austria or Switzerland at some point in my flying career…

Last Edited by Bobo at 06 Feb 11:37

Being an Austrian, most of my local bimbles fall under the definition of “mountain flying”. We lost nearly all non-mountainous regions 96 years ago

An “Alpeneinweisung” (“Alpine introduction”) is part of the basic PPL training in Austria. It consists of items like density altitude, updrafts/downdrafts, recommended ways of flying in valleys and crossing ridges and so on. As long as you keep some basics in mind and (important!) know the local weather patterns, I don’t think this “everyday mountain flying” is particularly difficult.

A different thing is the “hardcore mountain flying”, for instance on the French “altiports”. In Austria, there is a “Gebirgspilotenvereinigung” (“mountain pilots association”), which organises annual fly-ins on various “airfields” ranging from mountain meadows to a former ore mine or a frozen lake. They mostly fly taildraggers, but judging after their homepage, sometimes Cessna 182s and various microlights also participate.

Their homepage Link is only in German, but they have some great pictures from these events.

Last Edited by blueline at 06 Feb 12:16
LOAN Wiener Neustadt Ost, Austria

Although I have some hours of mountain flying under my belt in gliders, I would not consider going due to that big pile of granite.

You are of course the only one to make this decision, but I consider that grossly overdone: Provided the weather is reasonably good (no need for CAVOK), there are many ways to safely cross the Alps. They are of course at their highest in eastern France and Switzerland, so your options may be limited there, but in Austria there are various semi-official “Talflugwege” (“valley flying routes”), which are also indicated in the regular meteorological GAFOR bulletins.

Last Edited by blueline at 06 Feb 12:21
LOAN Wiener Neustadt Ost, Austria

Thanks for the information sofar. Is there a website where I can read up on these Talflugwege?


You can register for the (free) Austrocontrol Met Services via this Link . You’ll have access to the GAFOR and ALPFOR weather charts afterwards, among others.

I’m using the full Austrian/Swiss homebriefing system Link, which – apart from the weather – includes NOTAMS and online flight plan filing. However, this is not free, and I don’t think the cost is worth it if you are living in another part of Europe.

Last Edited by blueline at 06 Feb 14:43
LOAN Wiener Neustadt Ost, Austria

On my (german) site, there is a section on routes into Italy, but actually it covers all routes through the Alps.

EDIT: I am trying not currently able to set up a link directly to the (google) translated text.

Here is the german one.

Last Edited by boscomantico at 06 Feb 15:16
Mainz (EDFZ), Germany

On my (german) site, there is a section on routes into Italy, but actually it covers all routes through the Alps.

By the way: Thank you for your great sites, I’ve used the Italian one already several times!

Last Edited by blueline at 06 Feb 15:05
LOAN Wiener Neustadt Ost, Austria

See Posting Tips on how to make links.


Original site:

Proper link here

There is an issue with google translate URLs which I will raise with David. Anyway, you can use to produce a clean one – example

Last Edited by Peter at 06 Feb 15:13
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Yes, with Tinyurl, the problem seems to disappear.

Here is the proper link.

Anyway, I just corrected the most obvious translating errors, so here comes an improved version:

For flights to and within Italy, here are some of the most often flown VFR routes, in particular of course those for crossing the Alps. Obviously, subject to airspace structure, the weather, etc. it is also always possible to simply cross the Alps “on a straight line”. In practice, however, most flights follow some “classic” paths.

The featured routes can of course also be flown in the opposite direction. Not all of these routes I’ve flown myself, so in some cases, I’ll limit this to a mere presentation of individual waypoints. All routes can be nicely visualised using the Jeppesen VFR + GPS maps or Google Maps.

Routes to Italy

1) The classic among the classics: The Brenner route

It is the most popular with most pilots, especially with beginners, since the Brenner Pass, at 4507 feet, is by far the flattest pass through the Central Alps. In addition, there is virtually no faster way to cross the Alps from north to south and one flies almost permanently in a very wide valley. However, it is to be considered that partcularly in the Italian part of the route, there very few suitable spots for emergency landings (apart from the airfields Sterzing, Bolzano and Trento), since is the valleys of South Tyrolia most fields are used for vines or apple orchards and these are extremely unfavorable for emergency landings.

On the Brenner route, there are some variants: When the weather is cloudy, it is advisable to simply always to fly along the highway, i.e. fly into Austria via Kufstein and Innsbruck, over the Brenner Pass to Sterzing, Bolzano and Trento to Verona. An altitude of about 6,000 feet MSL is sufficient at the pass; north and south of the pass one can fly much lower, of course. This route largely corresponds to the Austrian GAFOR routes 12 and 50 (see also “Weather”). Of course, near Bolzano and Trento, the corresponding ATZs need to be considered.

If the weather is better, at the “beginning” of the route, there is a very nice and beautiful shortcut: if you flying due south from Munich, you come straight to the Achen Pass (3084 feet), and shortly thereafter, to the beautiful Achensee. After flying over the Achensee one comes out exactly at the reporting point “Mike 1” of CTR Innsbruck. From Innsbruck, see above.

However, one can also shorten even more: From Munich, fly a course of about 190°; you will then come to the Walchensee. From there, flight direct to Mittenwald. Shortly after that you are in Scharnitz and then you have just about already reached the compulsory reporting point “November 1” of Innsbruck. The Scharnitzpass is at 3140 feet. From Innsbruck, see above.

By the way: when flying the Brenner route at VFR-typical altitudes, there is usually no chance (as strictly speaking required by the AIP) to call the border crossing to Padova FIS. One should make no big worries there. It has never happened to my knowledge that people made a fuss about that. How could they, after all? After all, one has tried so, but no contact was possible and air traffic control knows that. If you really want, you can later call Bolzano AFIS and report the border crossing, but they are really not very interested.

2) In case of completely bad weather in the Alps, the “alternative classic”: The route through the valley of the Rhone.

On this route, one basically flies all around the Alps (counter-clockwise), i.e. usually roughly via Basel, Besancon, Grenoble, Lyon, Marseille and Cannes / Nice then via Ventimiglia into Italy This route no doubt has a its charms. However, it is a very long one. In particular if you just for example want to get from Munich to Verona, one should think twice about whether it’s worth the huge detour or if it’s not better to wait a day for better weather.

In the French part of this route, the airspace structure is quite complex. However, it is recommended to simply request the desired route and altitude to the competent FIS / Approach and usually you get everything approved. In particular, in the Lyon area I always felt that the controllers were very cooperative. Please pay attention that if you fly directly along the Rhône, there are a few nuclear power plants with their corresponding LF-Ps or ZRTs and ZITs. For the section from Marseille see also the entry “Along the Côte d’Azur”.

3) The other alternative route via Vienna, Graz and Klagenfurt: East of the main Alpine mountains

In particular for pilots who start for example in eastern Bavaria and want to go to the Adriatic region, this is much shorter, instead of taking the route through the Rhône valley. In addition, many fronts tend to never arrive east of the Alps, or at least only in a very weakened form, so that this route is often flyable, while the route through the Rhone valley may not be. This routing passes roughly via Passau, Vienna, Graz and Klagenfurt and then either via Tarvisio to Northeast Italy near Udine (Austrian GAFOR route 63) or, if the weather requires, first via Ljubljana to Trieste. On the latter route, at no time more than about 5000 feet of altitude are necessary.

4) For a change: The routes Fernpass – Ötztal – Timmelsjoch and Fernpass – Reschenpass

For these routes, for which good weather is advised, one would enter the Alps near Fuessen. It goes past Reutte, over the Fernpass (3970 feet) and then via Imst and Ötz into the Ötztal, then past the Stubai Alps over to Soelden. From there to the Timmelsjoch (8117 feet!) And through the Passeiertal to Merano and then to Bolzano. Alternatively, after passing Imst, one can fly (instead of Timmelsjoch) also via Landeck and the Reschenpass (4934 feet). The Fernpass route (albeit with continuance to Innsbruck) corresponds to the Austrian GAFOR route 10

5) Diagonally through the Alps: The Maloja Pass / The Inn Valley route

This route is particularly useful for those who come from Bavaria and want to fly as quickly as possible towads the Milan area or to the Piedmont region. It cuts, basically always following the Inn Valley, diagonally across the main Alpine ridge and is therefore a slightly longer route through the mountains, which, however, assuming good weather, for a passionate pilot, can also be considered as an advantage. The used Upper Inn Valley, however, is much narrower than many other Alpine valleys.

To Imst, one can come by either starting from Kufstein, then following the Unterinn (Eastern Bavaria Group) or by coming over the Fern Pass (Allgäu Group). Until Landeck you can still follow the Inntalautobahn, from there only the Oberinn will guide the way to Ried. From there it’s just a matter of flying Southwest (always following the Oberinn) to the Swiss Engiadina. In case one can’t continue due to weather, there is always Samedan Airport (LSZS) available. From here on, the route is very spectacular: to the left, there is the easternmost 4000-metre high mountain in the Alps, the Piz Bernina. To the right, St. Moritz. And ahead, you will see the lakes of Upper Engiadina. Then, fly over the Maloja Pass (5955 feet) and then “downhill” to Chiavenna. Shortly thereafter, tLake Como will be dead ahead and then one can then fly along one of the two arms of the lake either towards the Lecco (Southeast) or Como (South West).

6) From Western Switzerland: The Simplon Pass (Swiss GAFOR route 40)

From Geneva, follow Lake Geneva eastbound up to Montreux. Then follow the Rhone valley, via Martigny and Sion to Brig, where one turns – leaving the Aletsch Glacier to one’s left – south towards the Simplon Pass (6578 feet). Then fly via Domodossola, Verbania and Lake Maggiore. It is a very beautiful but demanding route (only recommended in very good weather). The good news, however: this route corresponds exactly to the Swiss GAFOR routes 41-45 (see “Weather”), so one always has quite accurate weather data available. Once you reach the Lago Maggiore, it is important to respect the lower limits of the TMA Milano!

7) From Eastern Switzerland: Bernardino Pass & Splügen Pass

For both passes, the route from Germany is via Bregenz, Bad Ragaz and Chur to Reichenau. In Reichenau follow on the highway in a southerly direction.

For the Splügenpass (6932 feet), follow the Splügen pass road to the south. It will end at the northern tip of Lake Como and then one can fly via one of its two “arms”, either towards Lecco (South East) or Como (South West). Very nice, but also only recommended in the very best weather conditions. Mind TMA Milan!

For the Bernardino Pass (6775 feet), after the village “Splügen”, fly for a few more minutes to the west and only turn south after that, so that you come directly over the Bernardino pass (you cannot follow a road here, since it leads through a tunnel). After the pass is made, very soon, Bellinzona, Locarno and Lake Maggiore will come into view. From the Lake Maggiore, once again, respect the lower limits of the TMA Milano! This route is also recommended only in perfect weather.

8) Coming from the Zurich area: The Gotthard Pass (Swiss GAFOR Route 70)

This route mimics essentially the appropriate car route, i.e. from Zurich, it goes due south along the highway. Fly via Zug, Schwyz and the eastern edge of Lake Lucerne to Altdorf. From there, continue to follow the highway south until you reach the beginning of the Gotthard Tunnel near Andermatt. The Gotthard Pass is 6916 feet MSL and is slightly west of the Gotthard massif. Once on the south side of the pass near Airolo, follow the highway again and fly south to Lugano. From there, again, the highway leads the way to Lugano. This challenging route largely corresponds to the Swiss GAFOR routes 71-73 (see “Weather”). Mind TMA Milan!

9) Coming from the South of France: Along the French Riviera

If one happens to already be in the south of France, logically, this route makes the most sense. Along the entire southern French Mediterranean coast, one has to maintain radio contact with air traffic control and follow the designated VFR corridors. In large parts of this route, one has to fly at a maximum of 1000 feet, in some cases around Cannes at only 500 feet! Although this is not very safe, it is very beautiful. Upon reaching Nice, as an alternative to the “Sea Route”, one can fly a “land route”, which however is only recommended under a cloudless sky and with not too strong turbulences (unfortunately quite frequent!) At the point “E” of Nice CTR, you are then “free”. A minute later you will reach reach Ventimiglia and the Italian airspace (yuhu!).

10) Coming from the Western Alpine region (Grenoble): The Montgenevre Route and the Mont Cenis route

The starting point of these two quite challenging routes is Grenoble.

When flying the Montgenevre route, one flies from Grenoble to Les Deux-Alpes / Alpe d’Huez and from there to Briançon. Just beyond lies the Col de Montgenevre (6083 feet). Continue via Oulx and Susa to Turin.

For the Mont Cenis route, first one follows the highway from Grenoble to the northeast. Just before reaching Albertville, you follow the highway that is branching off towards the south east, until it ends at Modane. From there you can continue to follow the road eastbound to the Col du Mont Cenis (6837 feet). Just beyond lies the somewhat myteriously-looking Lac du Mont Cenis. From there you can easily descend towards Susa and then follow the Val di Susa to Turin.

11) Coming from Salzburg: The Grossglockner route

This route basically starts at Zell am See. From there, there are two possibilities. Either fly west of the Grossglockner (east of the Grossvenediger), over the Felber Tauern Pass (8140 feet) from Mittersill via Matrei to Lienz. This corresponds to the Austrian GAFOR route 40. Or you can fly from Fusch, then east of the Großglockner (along the Grossglockner High Alpine Road), then over the pass of the Hochtor (8451 feet) and via Heiligenblut to Lienz. For both routes, it is necessary to observe the prohibited area of the National Park “Hohe Tauern”. In particular along the Grossglockner road, the allowed corridor is very narrow! From Lienz, weather permitting, one flies via Mauthen and the Plöckenpass (“Passo di Monte Croce Carnico” 4452 feet) to Tolmezzo and on to Udine. Otherwise, after Lienz, one can just as well fly via Dobbiaco, Brunico and Bolzano (Austrian GAFOR route 51).

12) Again, starting at Salzburg, another classic: Along the Tauern motorway

From Salzburg, you always fly along the Tauern motorway to Villach. At Villach, continue to follow the highway to Tarvisio. Then on to Udine (Austrian GAFOR route 63). If you are headed to the area of Trieste, you can alternatively fly from Villach direct to Trieste (partly through Slovenian airspace); however there are some rather high mountains of the Karawanken to fly over.

Last Edited by boscomantico at 06 Feb 17:12
Mainz (EDFZ), Germany

Boscomantico thank you for tidying up, and providing the link.

I got my PPL in British Columbia, and while I crossed the Rockies several times there was little in the way of special mountain flying lessons. Typical common sense airmanship involved: performance calculations taking into account density altitude, knowing how to cross a ridge, the Sparky Imeson’s concept of never flying beyond a point of no return, which translates in not flying down the middle of a valley as you need space for a 180 degree turn, how to lean, survival equipment, the effect of higher TAS on landing, turbulence and wind conditions leading to turbulence.

I subscribe to Sparky Imeson’s Mountain Flying Bible as one of the best guides to good airmanship in the mountains. It is not a bush pilot guide, but it is a great primer for PPL VFR flying in the mountains.

Having worked and lived in Milan I crossed the Alps both VFR and airways. GAFOR routes are helpful, but you do need to be very conservative on weather. Winds above 20-30 knots at heights of 2,000’ above the passes, may cause down drafts that exceed the typical GA aircraft. Sunny, hazy weather under an inversion makes navigation difficult – and you need to identify the correct valley – ideally treating some passes as requiring the equivalent of a LOFT, ie fly with someone experienced the first time.

Any low cloud is for the birds. Airways you need oxygen, and look out for orographic lift causing strong convective activity, with ice.

Typical bush planes provide good informative accident statistics in the mountains. Look up the NTSB records (via AOPA Air Safety Institute database) for the C180/185/206, Piper PA18 – it is a good compendium of the risks that need managing.

The European Mountain courses seem to focus more on landing on sloped runways, and ski plane flying, than general airmanship round mountains – hence pushing the Imeson book. Unfortunately Sparky lost his life in his C180 on a mountain flight in Idaho.

Oxford (EGTK)
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