Tourism: Austria’s Winter Wonderland

Austria remains one of the most popular winter holiday destinations in Europe. According to a survey of the tourism consulting group - IPK International, 47% of the Europeans chose Austria followed by France with 14% and then by Italy and Switzerland with 11% each. The number of overnight stays by international visitors during the winter tourist season in Austria (November2016 to April2017) was 21.9 million

Austria is the key Alpine ski nation, with many hidden treasures waiting to be explored. The Arlberg ski region, including St. Anton, St. Christoph, Lech and Zürs is the jewel in its crown and the birthplace of modern Alpine skiing.

Kitzbühel is located in the Tirol are justifiably world famous for the annual Hahnenkamm ski race, cosmopolitan atmosphere and a distinctive medieval town flair in addition to the 170km of linked skiing on its doorstep. Two annual Alpine celebrations worth mentioning live in Mayrhofen, the first is the renowned Altitude comedy Festival, which sees ‘the big guns of comedy’ provide a week of unforgettable laughs, and the second is Snowbombing! which mixes fresh current talent with crucial pioneers of the music scene. On the subject of music vibrating off of the snowy slopes of the Austrian Alps, we cannot forget Ischgl & Galtür, with 241 kilometres of pistes and stylish hotels; it’s one of the most popular winter hot spots in the world and attracts international superstars to its open air concerts.

The key to ski holidays in Austria is the country’s celebrated ‘Gemütlichkeit’ culture, which attempts to make guests feel welcome, entertained and well fed, both on the slopes and after the lifts have closed.

Skiing in Austria has always attracted skiers and snowboarders, and many of them learned to ski in resorts such as Alpbach, Niederau, Söll, Mayrhofen, Obergurgl and Filzmoos. Family skiing in Austria is a major attraction, and in many cases parents have returned later with their own children, confident that the experience they had when they were learning is as rewarding as ever.

The Austrian concept of Gemütlichkeit is a vital part of Austria’s success story: you’ll find the typical Austrian welcome both on the slopes with genuinely friendly instructors and the traditionally friendly (and lively) après-ski in almost every Austrian bar when the lifts have closed. Or even before they have – the partying starts early, and it’s a familiar sight at many of the resort’s mountain huts to see skiers dancing while still in their ski boots. Later on the nightlife continues to be energetic, with live bands and traditional Austrian folk music and dancing, including schuhplattler (in which male dancers rhythmically strike their thighs, knees and soles (platteln), clap their hands and stamp their feet.

On the slopes, Austrian resorts enjoy a good snow record even though their ski areas are not, in general, quite as high as those of Austria’s big rival, France. Even Kitzbühel, which is lower than many Austrian resorts – regularly “punches above its weight”. But there is plenty of genuinely high skiing: the highest ski resorts in Austria such as Kühtai, Obergurgl, Obertauern and Galtür are as snowsure as you’ll find anywhere. Skiers who enjoy some culture and tradition thrown in with their skiing will appreciate the proximity of Götzens part our new ‘Olympia SkiWorld Ski Safari’ to the picturesque old Tyrolean capital of Innsbruck or the closeness of Kitzbühel’s slopes to the town’s medieval walled centre.

The high quality of the hotels and pensions in Austria is another strong selling point. More than any other Alpine country, ski accommodation in Austria and the communal living areas are almost always several cuts above average. So Austria really does tick all the relevant boxes: extensive skiing, good snow, pulsating nightlife and accommodation that’s usually not far from luxurious. And for those who really want challenging skiing, St. Anton, Saalbach, Hinterglemm and Kitzbühel have slopes that most skiers and snowboarders will find more than steep enough.

The key to ski holidays in Austria is the country’s celebrated ‘Gemütlichkeit’ culture, which attempts to make guests feel welcome, entertained and well fed, both on the slopes and after the lifts have closed

Most if not all the instructors speak good English, and that applies to many villagers and townsfolk too. If there’s a slightly negative aspect to Austria perhaps it’s the relatively narrow choice of cuisine. Austrians do like their pork and veal, especially in the form of Wiener Schnitzel, one of the country’s most popular dishes. Fish dishes are available, of course but Austria’s culinary culture is definitely biased towards meat.

ST ANTON

Without exaggeration, one of the best and most exciting ski areas in the world (304km interconnected piste + 200km ‘deep snow runs’).

The World famous Arlberg ski area is the largest interlinked ski area in Austria! Four new cable cars will are constructed to bridge the gap between St. Anton, St Christoph side and the Lech, Zurs side completely eradicating the need to take a ski bus between the two ski areas. This ski-link has created complete ski convenience as most of the properties in our Arlberg ski programme offer skiing from the front door.

Famed in Austria as ‘the birthplace of skiing’, the magnificent Arlberg is one of those select few ski areas which fully justifies its ‘world-class’ reputation. Renowned for its challenging slopes, both on and off-piste, the area also includes many wonderful miles of picturesque intermediate skiing, from high altitude, snow-sure open bowls to picturesque tree-lined pistes down to the valley. The area has two distinct halves. The first links St. Anton with its even higher neighbours, St. Christoph and Stuben, and an efficient ski bus service connects this side of the region with the huge network of slopes surrounding Lech and Zürs, including the excellent ‘Borderpark’ above Lech.

The recently added Auenfeldjet lift which links the ski areas of Lech/Zürs and Warth-Schröcken adds a further 66km of piste as well as numerous deep snow runs to the Arlberg ski area.

MAYRHOFEN CHRISTMAS MARKETS
MAYRHOFEN CHRISTMAS MARKETS

MAYRHOFEN

Mayrhofen manages to tick all boxes for families, groups, beginners and experts alike. Two mountains make up the local ski area: There’s the Ahorn, where the pace is deliciously cruisey. And then there’s the Penken, which injects adrenaline with the legendary Harakiri run (Austria’s steepest) and the mammoth Vans Snowpark. While this might be enough for many a skier, there’s also a gaggle of other areas within easy reach, none more snow sure than the Hintertux glacier. You’ll always find things happening in resort – even outside the Snowbombing and Altitude festivals (which bring big names in music and comedy every spring). With the town oozing old-school charm, Christmas is magical and markets and carols traditionally add to the festivities. And the après is always amazing, from the White Lounge igloo bar up top, to Ice Bar and Scotland Yard in resort.

KITZBUHEL
KITZBUHEL

KITZBUHEL

Kitzbuhel’s a looker – but it’s not all about the colourful coaching inns and cobbled streets. It’s luxurious too – but it’s not all about the Michelin-starred restaurants and spa hotels either… The ski area’s a classic: When Franz Reisch schussed down from the Kitzbueheler Horn in 1893, he created Austria’s first Alpine ski run. And what an area it’s grown into – home to 170km of groomers, including the world famous Streif run (star of the annual Hahnenkamm race), as well as 32km of ski routes and oodles of powder terrain. While it’s not the highest ski area in the Alps, the snow quality’s usually incredible, with most years seeing around 155 days of the good stuff. They’ve thrown millions of euros into keeping the lift system slick, and the valley’s six beginner lifts are usually free to use. The SkiWelt area’s nearby if you fancy clocking up even more miles, and there’s also the option to go for the All Star Card, which covers a whopping 10 ski areas in the Kitzbüheler Alps.

On the slopes, Austrian resorts enjoy a good snow record even though their ski areas are not, in general, quite as high as those of Austria’s big rival, France

LECH
LECH

LECH

Known as one of the classic ski resorts, Lech is part of the ‘Best of the Alps’ group. The resort’s superior status in the skiing world has made it a favourite of the rich and Royal for decades. The uberposh town has an exclusive feel, glittering with 5 star hotels, high end stores, piano bars and acclaimed restaurants.

Lech sits in a sunny position high up in a striking valley, surrounded by the Lechtal Alps. A little river runs through the centre with pistes and authentic architecture either side of it. A striking onion-domed church peers over all and the atmosphere is intimate and upmarket.

A fantastic ski lift system transports 44,600 snow lovers every hour to a legendary ski area where you’re pretty much guaranteed to find amazing snow. Every level of skier and snowboarder are catered for superbly – particularly intermediates – and you’ll also find some of the best off-piste around.

Lech is connected to the higher resort Zurs by ski lifts, pistes and a bus which is why the resorts are usually paired together and referred to Lech-Zurs. Together they’re part of a legendary ski area of over 280km – the Arlberg area, where ski lifts connect Lech and Zurs to après legend St. Anton and the smaller villages of St Christoph and Stuben. You can ski the entire region with the Arlberg pass.

SOLDEN

Star of Bond flick, Spectre, Solden was always destined for great things. The ski area has some pretty hefty claims: There are two skiable glaciers, the Tiefenbach and Rettenbach, and three accessible peaks poke above the 3000m mark. This makes the 145km of groomers fabulously snow sure – blue and red run skiers can explore the whole area, while those after a test have nearly 30km of black slopes. Cracking snow quality extends off the piste, and the height of the area opens up some unmissable views (you can see the Dolomites from Schwarze Schneide on a clear day). The après scene is huge, with massive pisteside parties in the likes of Gampe Alm. And if you prefer post-ski pampering, the Aqua Dome has every wellness facility you can dream of over 50,000 square metres.

SOLL

King of the SkiWelt, Soll has speedy access to Austria’s biggest linked ski area – all 280km of it – via the mighty Hohe Salve. Beginners are in brilliant hands (the kids areas are especially impressive) while more experienced skiers can really roam. It needn’t end when the sun sets, with 10km of local pistes making up the country’s biggest night ski area. Having shifted its old ‘lads holiday’ reputation, the resort’s achieved the golden mean of being warm and welcoming for families, whilst still knowing how to party. Take tots tobogganing on the 3km Hexenritt track (which is crammed with fun surprises) or set your sights on the Whisky-Muhle for drinks and dancing. All this is easily reached from the village, which happens to be one of the prettiest around – a true reminder of bygone days with horse-drawn sleighs, an old Rococo church and cute wooden buildings.

ISCHGL, pedestrian town centre
ISCHGL, pedestrian town centre

ISCHGL

Ischgl knocks the socks off other resorts après ski – and the Trofana Alm should be experienced at least once. But that’s not the only reason you come here: 240km of groomers and countless off piste reaching over the border to Swiss Samnaun. And thanks to a top height of 2812m, the ski area has a super snow record. It’s also home to a socking great snow park, one of the finest in the Alps, with ‘King-Size’ features and the longest pro-line on the continent. The resort itself is packed with things to do: Swimming, spas, bowling, restaurants – and that’s just in the Silvretta Centre. Look out for the legendary Top Of The Mountain concerts at the beginning, middle and end of the season. Recent headliners include Rihanna and Elton, and the atmosphere’s mighty electric.

More than any other Alpine country, ski accommodation in Austria and the communal living areas are almost always several cuts above average

ZELL AM SEE

Even if you didn’t touch a piste all week you’d have a whale of a time in Zell – there’s loads to do around the town, from shopping in the market, to snoozing in the spas, to wandering along the lakeside. Though we wouldn’t recommend ditching the skis completely… You’ve got three different ski areas included in the lift pass: First the local Schmitten area, where the 77km of pistes include 5 full valley descents and fine views over the lake and town. Then there’s the Maiskogel in nearby Kaprun, with 20km of family-focussed skiing. And finally, the glorious Kitzsteinhorn – Austria’s first skiable glacier with 41km of snow sure groomers and amazing powder descents. They’re all linked by free buses, with free WiFi thrown in across the region. And with resorts like Saalbach nearby, the opportunity goes on and on…

SAALBACH, part of Ski-Circus
SAALBACH, part of Ski-Circus

SAALBACH

Connecting Saalbach with Hinterglemm, Leogang and Fieberbrunn, the Ski-Circus is one of Austria’s biggest linked areas. And there’s no clowning about when it comes to the stats: Pistes total a hefty 270km and there are 3 Snowparks with miles of ungroomed trails to boot. A lot of investment goes into these mountains, with heated chairlifts and extensive snowmaking cropping up in recent years. And Saalbach’s handily stationed slap bang in the middle of the valley, making getting around an absolute breeze. The resort also lays claim to the Glemmtal’s liveliest après scene, with as much to do off the slopes as on them. Besides big parties at the Hinterhag Alm, you’ll also find horse-drawn sleigh rides, piste-basher driving, snowmobiling and quad biking (and that’s just for starters…

OBERGURGL, the highest parish in Austria
OBERGURGL, the highest parish in Austria

OBERGURGL

Officially the highest parish in Austria, Obergurgl’s biggest draw is its fabulous conditions: It’s not often you find a ski area sans glacier where the snow quality’s this good. We like the fact that everyone gets a taste of the good stuff – with both beginner and expert runs streaming from 3080m on the Wurmkogl. In all, there’s 110km to ski – mostly blues, closely followed by reds, with a decent amount of black pistes and powder runs thrown in. Back in resort, the vibe is chilled and cheerful which is spot on for ski holidays with children. Even better, the bulk of hotels and chalets have doorstep skiing (a rarity in Austria), and being 95km from Innsbruck Airport keeps transfers splendidly short.