Next up in our series of top tens we look at Austrian ski resorts. In no particular order here are the ten resorts we couldn’t live without.
…the resort that taught the world to ski. This Tirolean village has forged a reputation as one of the world’s most exciting and extensive ski areas. St Anton lives, sleeps and breathes skiing. Many speak of it in hushed tones, and it’s often referred to as ‘the cradle of skiing’. The first properly-organised ski school was founded here, by the legendary Hannes Schneider. St Anton links with Stuben, St Christoph, Zurs and Lech in the Arlberg region. Plus a connection to Warth and Schrocken, make it an area of mouthwatering proportions. St Anton also has an array of challenging apres-ski, including the Mooserwirt, Krazy Kanguruh, the Kandahar and Underground On The Piste!
…mighty skiing at high altitude. Solden is a towering resort in every sense of the word, with three mighty inter-connected 3,000-metre peaks – Gaislachkogl, Tiefenbach and Schwarze Schneid. The extent and variety of the skiing is awe-inspiring, with two skiable glaciers thrown in to give guaranteed snow. It’s one of the Alps’ earliest-opening resorts. Ski racers flock here in the autumn to train on the glaciers, giving a heady mix of purposeful skiing with more hedonistic pursuits. But the endless runs are wonderful for intermediates, with a well-planned lift network. The lively apres-ski is renowned too – and a visit to Austria’s best spa centre, the Aquadome just up the valley, should not be missed.
…the greatest ski-lift system and wonderful hotels. High and snowsure, Ischgl has one of the longest seasons of any resort without glacier skiing (late Nov – early May). The skiing straddles the Swiss border, connecting with duty-free Samnaun. Ischgl has one of the most sophisticated lift systems in the world. There’s also an amazingly high concentration of upmarket lodging (72 four-star hotels at the last count) and an apres-ski scene that most other ski villages can only regard with awe and envy. Trofana Alm, Schatzi’s and Niki’s Stadl have cult status. This hard-to-beat package is completed with two of Austria’s top gourmet restaurants, Paznauner Stube, and Stuva.
…a British favourite and great nightlife. For decades Mayrhofen has been one of the most popular Austria ski resorts for Brits. It pulls off the difficult trick of being all things to all skiers – it can rock, it can rap, it can be the king of cool where even the gnarliest boarders are happy to hangout with skiers. And all this is wrapped up in a picturesque, rustic village that has strictly maintained traditional Tirolean architecture as it has grown. Its in-your-face après scene and nightlife delights or horrifies, according to taste. But there are peaceful bars too. It’s full of red runs (with many marked blue) and suits decent intermediates perfectly. But also has the steepest marked run of any of the Austria ski resorts, the Harakiri.
…where ski holidays hit the heights. Obergurgl proudly claims to be the highest parish in Austria. Its altitude of 6,330ft, with skiing up to 10,104ft, guarantees wonderful snow throughout a long season. Situated at the distant head of the Oetz Valley in Tirol, the resort comprises Obergurgl and Hochgurgl, each with their own skiing, but linked by one of Europe’s longest gondolas, the Top Express. Remote as it is, Obergurgl became famous 85 years ago when Swiss hot air balloonist Professor Auguste Piccard, trying to cross the Alps at stratospheric level, was forced to land on a nearby glacier. He was rescued by local teacher and mountain guide Hans Falkner. The Press descended and the Gurglers have never looked back.
…one of Austria’s most beautiful ski villages. If two Austria ski resorts have been crying out for decades to be joined in happy union, then it’s Alpbach and nearby Auffach. The marriage has taken place and what a lovely couple they make. Alpbach, acknowledged as one of the most beautiful villages in Austria with gorgeous slopes over rolling pastures, has long been incredibly popular with Brits. Generations of the same families have learned to ski there, showing great loyalty. Reasons to love it have grown hugely with the connection by gondola with the Wildschonau region, comprising Auffach, Neiderau and Oberau. The combined area being branded Ski Juwel. The gondola follows an intriguing dogleg route, apparently because one farmer refused permission for it to go over his land.
…one of the world’s most magical ski resorts. A town more than a village, Kitz’s walled medieval centre is a delightful maze of cobbled streets, ancient arches and gabled houses. Kitzbuhel has a film-set atmosphere, as though one of the most lively and charming quarters of Vienna, with designer shops and gourmet restaurants, has been transported to the mountains. You can feel the history and it’s one of the world’s most magical resorts. It will always be synonymous with the mighty Hahnemkamm downhill race, held every January. But it’s not all about derring-do on the mountain…there are slopes for everyone in a ski area that boasts 100 miles of runs and 50 ski lifts.
…a wonderful resort for family ski holidays. These two separate villages are joined at the hip in skiing terms and combine traditional village charm with skiing from the doorstep. Few other Austria ski resorts have as much ski-in ski-out accommodation as Saalbach, making it ideal for families. A large, well-thought-out ski circuit is served by fast, modern lifts. There are lifts and runs on both sides of the valley, and a further link to the village of Leogang in the next valley. The contrast between the two villages adds to its appeal. Saalbach is archetypal Austrian, with traditional-style buildings huddled around an onion-domed church. While Hinterglemm is just as skier-friendly, but with a slightly more modern feel.
…amazing slopes over a stupendous linked ski area. In Schladming you can stay in a fabulously atmospheric medieval town with a charter dating back to 1322. At the same time you’ll have on your doorstep a vast range of skiing on a formidable link-up of four mountains. The incredibly varied terrain in this most excellent of Austria ski resorts has runs for all abilities, served by an ultra-modern lift network. Very boarder-friendly, it has three parks, including a floodlit one. It’s a regular stop on the World Cup circuit and hosted the World Championships in 2013. Schladming, which keen skier Arnie Schwarzenegger considers his home mountain, is at the centre of the area marketed as Ski Amadé. It’s an astonishing network of resorts embracing 25 towns and villages and 278 lifts. It runs all the way to Bad Gastein and is named after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born in Salzburg.
…a historic village in a vast ski region. True Austrian charm can be found in the village of Ellmau. While having the benefit of one of Europe’s biggest interlinked ski areas to enjoy. This charming and historic Tirolean community is one of the ski resorts that make up the vast Ski Welt area. Comprising nine villages that surround a network of nearly 300 kilometres of marked trails and 91 lifts. You can ski all day and barely use the same lift twice, with friendly slopes as far as the eye can see. There are some black runs to be found, but there is little chance of stumbling across any really scary stuff. It’s also fabulous for welcoming, cosy mountain huts – there’s one every few kilometres.