The onset of colder weather bodes well for a snowy Christmas – with ski resorts across Austria opening over the next few weeks. Here are five of our favourites.
Kitzbühel recently dethroned France's Val Thorens to be named the world's best ski resort 2015. Located 95 km from Innsbruck in the heart of Tyrol, this former medieval mining town set against the backdrop of the Wilder Kaiser mountains boasts a 120-year-old skiing tradition.
It features 170 km of slopes including the Streif, one of the most challenging downhill ski race tracks famed for its high-speed jumps, steep slopes, curves, compressions and bumps. It’s also the venue for the annual Hahnenkamm, the toughest of all downhill ski races, held in late January.
The local slopes are divided into two separate areas – the Kitzbüheler Horn and the much more extensive Hahnenkamm. Kitzbühel also links (via a short bus ride) to the 280 km and 91 lifts of the Skiwelt area, which includes Westendorf and Söll. The ski area features 155 days of guaranteed snow from December through to April. Kitzbühel also appeals to non-skiers who enjoy exploring its pretty, medieval streets lined with luxury hotels, designer boutiques and cafés.
This is one of the top resorts in Europe for serious skiers, and its runs are not for the faint hearted. The Valluga, its highest lift, is at 2,810m. If you’re confident on steeper intermediate runs and want to go black, you will enjoy this resort. The off-piste skiing is one of the area’s major attractions and an excursion to Zürs off the back of the Valluga is recommended for expert skiers. The Rendl ski area on the other side of the valley is more gentle. Beginners can always take the ski bus to the easier slopes of Lech and Zürs which are included in the regional Arlberg lift pass – in all, the pass covers 340km of slopes. But don’t miss out on the nightlife of St Anton, which is as good as the skiing.
Saalbach and neighbouring Hinterglemm are a 90-minute drive from Salzburg airport. Saalbach is the larger of the two villages and its centre boasts traditional cafés, bars, and designer boutiques. Hinterglemm is quieter and offers better value for families. The two villages are at the centre of a ring of 2,000m peaks. An impressive lift system with 55 lifts give access to 200 km of pistes. The area is also linked to the village of Leogang, in the next valley. As most of the slopes face south, good snow isn’t always guaranteed and the best time to visit is mid-winter, rather than spring.
Photo: Öztal Tourismus
One of the locations for the latest James Bond film, Sölden is the place to go if you want reliable snow. It offers intermediate-friendly slopes in the Ötz valley, less than an hour's drive from Innsbruck. It’s not one of the prettiest resorts, with no real centre, but it has a very lively après-ski scene and extensive slopes with lots of off-piste opportunities. Gondolas from opposite ends of town go up to the peak of Gaislachkogl and the lift junction of Giggijoch, with most of the shops, restaurants and hotels in between them. Two glaciers link into the ski area, the Rettenbach and the Tiefenbach, meaning the season continues for most of the year. The ski area closes at the beginning of May, but reopens for summer in June.
Ischgl is known as the party resort, with a full-on nightlife and high-quality intermediate pistes. It’s famed for its opening and closing parties that host some of the world’s most famous pop artists. This year cult Californian band The Beach Boys open the season on Saturday November 28th, and organisers expect a crowd of between 15,000 and 20,000.
Accommodation tends to be mostly upmarket and more expensive than in many resorts. From late afternoon the atmosphere in the village and at the foot of the pistes is all about après ski and it’s very friendly. With 238 km of pistes to explore – the area is linked to Samnaun in Switzerland – the slopes suit all standards and the lift system is constantly being updated. If you’re not into the raucous après scene with its table dancing, pole-dancing and lap-dancing, the quieter and more family-orientated Galtür and Kappl resorts are just a few kilometres away up the valley. These offer an alternative, less expensive base and are connected with Ischgl by a free bus service.