Skiing in Austria: Something for everyone
It’s that time of year again! You have made it through the spring rain and summer heat. You have waited patiently for the past eight months to pass, and you are about to be rewarded. Winter brings the realization that ski season has begun. While you are in Europe, consider yourself lucky. You are not that far from a country that lives, eats and breathes skiing. You are not that far from Austria.
Let’s put it in perspective. In Austria, skiing and its related industries make up approximately 4.5 percent of the country’s gross national product or GNP (the total value of a country’s goods and services). In comparison, agriculture makes up 3 percent. The sport is an integral part of the country’s culture. Austria is just slightly smaller in size than the state of Maine, yet it has more than 300 ski resorts. Austria is also the home of Franz Klammer and “The Herminator,” Hermann Maier, and more than 100 Olympic medals have been awarded to Austrian skiers. Whether you are looking for exhilarating slopes, authentic alpine villages or great après-ski, there is no better skiing destination than Austria. Here are several resorts to consider:
Cosmopolitan and chic with gentle slopes and off-trail skiing for adrenaline addicts
As the most luxurious of the five major resorts that make up the Arlberg region, Lech has been the playground of the rich and famous for years. Located 120 kilometers from Innsbruck, the Arlberg is a pass that connects the provinces of Tyrol and Voralberg.
To get the most of what the area has to offer, spend a day skiing the White Ring. The 22-kilometer circular route is a good way to explore the area and connects the villages of Lech, Zürs, Oberlech and Zug. Lech boasts very good beginner to intermediate slopes, but adrenaline enthusiasts will enjoy the off-piste opportunities as well.
Lech is also popular with families because of its numerous ski-in/ski-out accommodations and gentle slopes. After a full day on the slopes, children will love the indoor ice skating rink or the lively toboggan run, while Mom and Dad will appreciate strolling through the quaint village and perhaps visiting one of the fancy boutiques. Accommodations range from small pensions to five-star hotels. For a unique experience, book accommodations at one of the hotels in Oberlech. Located just above Lech and inaccessible by car, this area becomes a winter wonderland at night. Find out more about winter sports and accommodations at www.lech-zuers.at.
Snowboarders’ paradise, lively après-ski and a quieter choice
Ischgl, in the Silvretta ski area of Tyrol, has some of the best intermediate terrain in all of Austria, and with more than 200 kilometers of runs, it is one of the largest areas in the region. Ischgl is also considered a snowboarders’ mecca, with one of Europe’s best terrain parks. The PlayStation Vita Terrain Park is more than 1,600 meters long and provides thrills for snowboarders of all levels. The long, wide and well-groomed slopes along with snowboard-friendly and fast transport systems provide yet another reason why this area has become increasingly popular with snowboarders. The motto for Ischgl is “Relax. If you can ..." Based on its slopes and the village, Ischgl is the go-to place for exciting slopes and an equally exciting après-ski experience. Its open-air concert hall hosts popular entertainment.
Just a few kilometers away, See Paznaun-Ischgl provides a quieter skiing experience and is a favored choice among families. This compact but wonderful ski area above the small village of See has a fabulous children’s ski school. For younger children, the ski kindergarten is a huge bargain at a cost of 4 euros a day or 19 euros a week. Everything is centrally located, which adds to the ease of the holiday. The 6-kilometer toboggan run provides endless opportunities for fun after the skiing day is over. On Tuesday nights, you can go back up the mountain to do a bit of night skiing and finish off the evening watching a thrilling ski demo and fireworks.
Austria’s highest parish: glacier skiing, U.S. Ski Team base and quaint mountain village
The dramatic landscape of the Ötztal Alps provides a myriad of skiing choices. Sölden has two glaciers and the liveliest après-ski in the Alps. The skiing isn’t bad either! For the last several years, Sölden has hosted the FIS Alpine World Cup Opening in late October.
Are you looking for the latest innovations in ski equipment? More than 20 major international manufacturers have their latest designs available for test rentals at the Euro Test Center. Want a custom-made program for the day that includes skiing and other fun activities? Visit Bernie Gstrein at the Salomon Station, and he will hook you up with an unforgettable experience. You may want to ask for his autograph, as he won a silver medal in the 1988 Olympics in Calgary in the men’s alpine combined. Better yet, join one of the racing camps, and perhaps you will get some expert tips from him.
Obergurgl, Austria’s highest parish, is known for its loyal clientele, end-of-valley seclusion, excellent snow and long ski season. More than 95 percent of Obergurgl and neighboring Hochgurgl are serviced with artificial snowmaking, which makes skiing guaranteed from mid-November through early May. It was for this reason that the U.S. Ski Team made Obergurgl its European training base. Lift lines are virtually unheard of here, and the wide slopes make for some excellent cruising. In the village, the bundle of hotels is never more than 200 meters from a ski lift. Exuding Austrian alpine charm, the hotels have gained a loyal clientele over the years with many families visiting year after year.
In between Sölden and Obergurgl stands the genuine high-altitude alpine village of Vent. In summer, this picturesque village turns into farm country with cows and sheep grazing along the slopes. In winter, the tiny ski area provides a quiet respite, excellent and varied accommodations, superb dining and a truly authentic experience. The ski area is small with only five runs; however, the larger areas of Sölden and Obergurgl are short bus rides away. A definite must when visiting Vent is the night toboggan run. Gathering in the village center, guests are transported via skidoo (while sitting on the toboggan!) up a 5-kilometer-long mountain road. Once there, you can warm up next to one of the fires while sipping Glühwein or hot chocolate. Once the torches are lit, off you go! It can be a thrilling and oh-so-fun ride!
With more than 300 resorts, a skiing destination in Austria is an excellent choice for individuals, couples and families alike. There is something to suit everyone, and the culture of the country guarantees a once-in-a-lifetime experience. An excellent resource for planning your ultimate skiing holiday is www.bergfex.com. See you on the slopes!