Austria is the key Alpine ski nation
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 not only the birthplace of modern Alpine skiing, but also a most popular playground for Europe's Royal families. Kitzbühel and Kirchberg 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 and Galtür, with 238 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 British 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.
Snow in Austria
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, Galtür and Kaprun 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 Axams and Götzens 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 (many of the resorts, such as Saalbach and Hinterglemm, Lech and Zürs are linked to provide even bigger ski domains), 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.
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.
No. of Airports: 3
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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.More information
Mighty St Anton is one of the best high-alpine ski resorts in the world, and has the reputation of being best suited to strong skiers and boarders. But that certainly shouldn’t put less aggressive skiers off – there’s plenty for them too.More information
It may be tiny, but the “small but perfectly formed” picture-postcard village of St Christoph, cocooned in a spectacular open snow-bowl, shares its slopes with Austria’s No. 1 world-class ski area.
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