Whether you want to ski, snow-shoe, skate, apres-ski, or merely stuff your face with carbs, a winter holiday in Austria is the place to do it. Why?
Well firstly, you’ll be given a warm and heartfelt welcome; here, a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet. It’s the kind of place you’ll get chatting to someone at the ski-lift to compare the best black runs, or discuss the merits of Käsespätzle over Speckknödel (don’t worry, both are so substantial you’ll need a little lie down afterwards). And secondly, you’ll be surrounded by breathtaking beauty.
This is a place to fully embrace nature, where small, Alpine villages shelter in magnificent, rolling valleys overlooked by mighty, jagged peaks. State-of-the-art networks of cable cars whisk you up to dazzling heights and even more dazzling views, while back at ground level, historic, cobbled town centres beguile with cute boutiques, cafes, and restaurants.
Quite possibly (okay, definitely), you’ve come to ski. A beginner? You’re in safe hands; Austria’s ski schools brim with experienced instructors who’ll show you the ropes around the gentler slopes. More advanced? You’ll have endless miles of well-developed pistes to choose from.
You can just see it now, can’t you? The sun hitting the snow so it glances off your Oakleys, the whoosh of your skis as you schuss (hang on, was that Gwyneth Paltrow you just passed?), the pit-stop at a mountain hut (go on, one more hot chocolate can’t hurt)... And let’s not forget sustainability; Austria’s winter resorts - many of which you can reach by train - have been leading the charge, with environmentally-certified hotels, rentable/hireable ski equipment up to high eco standards, mindful winter activities, and a focus on regional, seasonal and organic food. SkiWelt has launched the Sonnenlift, the world’s first solar-powered gondola, while Golm in Montafon reduces CO₂ emissions through CO₂-neutral hydropower.
So go in search of some good, old-fashioned, Austrian Gemütlichkeit (their delightful word for cosiness) and start planning the perfect winter holiday now…
Where to head on your Austrian ski adventure
Austria as a whole is undeniably beautiful, but its winter sports arguably come into their own in the Tirol. The country’s Alpine region, it sits to the west and borders Germany, Italy and Switzerland. Innsbruck is the handsome capital, surrounded by the Nordkette mountains and home to elegant, Habsburg Empire-era landmarks like the baroque Hofburg Palace, the Gothic Hofkirche church and the impressive 15th-century Goldenes Dachl, an elaborate balcony topped with gleaming copper tiles that’s just perfect for the ‘gram.
Bag yourself a SKI plus CITY Pass, which gives you access to 13 ski resorts and 22 cultural experiences; think snowboarding, tobogganing, swimming, shopping and more. Head up to the Zaha Hadid-designed Bergisel Ski Jump and enjoy kaffee und kuchen with a view at the Bergisel SKY restaurant while watching budding Eddie the Eagles practice, or ski or snowboard in Austria's highest ski village Kühtai, known for its show-reliable slopes and family-friendly facilities.
Beyond Innsbruck are several other charming Tyrolean regions to explore, each with its own special allure. To the west, you’ll find Paznaun-Ischgl, where piste conditions remain great until the beginning of May, with snow-reliable slopes. It’s also home to one of the largest, interconnected, cross-border ski areas in the Alps, which will link you to Switzerland and boasts 45 modern, up-to-the-minute gondolas and lifts.
If you’re focused on food, it has 10 toque-awarded restaurants (think near-Michelin-standard), and if you love music, you’ll want to attend the Top of the Mountain Concerts, which take place over the winter season - in the past, they’ve rocked out with Robbie Williams, Elton John and Katy Perry. And because you deserve a bit of relaxation after all that hard work, you can head to the recently opened Silvretta Spa, a vast wellness space that will soothe away any ski stress.
Nearby is Arlberg, Austria’s largest connected ski area - and snowiest - ski resort, with over 186 miles of pistes. Composed of five villages (St. Anton, St. Christoph, Stuben, Lech and Zürs (or Zuers)), Ski Arlberg ranks among the top five largest resorts in the world. Each has its different merits: Lech is known for gourmet cuisine, while Stuben is family-friendly and St. Anton is more sporty, for example, but in each one you’ll find down-to-earth locals who just want to make sure you have a great time.
If you’re all about off-piste, Ski Arlberg offers 125 miles of high-alpine, deep-snow slopes, as well as 44 miles of cross-country ski trails, but for a real adrenaline rush, enter the ‘White Thrill’ - a cult ski race which drives competitors to their absolute physical limits and which next year celebrates its 25th anniversary.
Or perhaps you’ll feel drawn to Gurgl in Ötztal, which combines premium skiing on 70 miles of slopes with upscale hotels and gastronomy, as well as top-class events. It’s the perfect place to ski-in and ski-out, from the mountain village of Gurgl, which sits at just under 2,000m high, with a ski area stretching up to 3,080m.
Here, you can practically roll out of bed and onto the slopes, as 90% of the accommodation is located just a few minutes away. Looking for an experience you’ll never forget? Head to Top Mountain Star, an incredible panoramic bar set on a narrow ridge of the Wurmkogel at over 3,030m, with jaw-dropping views across the Ötztal Alps and Dolomites.
Over to the east of Innsbruck is another clutch of cool ski resorts. St. Johann in Tirol is delightfully dedicated to happiness - yours - which you can hopefully find while doing one of the many fun winter activities they offer, from moonlight snowshoe hikes to tobogganing, ice-skating, and even ziplining over the slopes on the Flying Fox. It's a great spot for families, with plenty of slower-paced pistes, easy runs and practice areas for beginners.
That said, there are ample spots for the adrenaline-hungry skier to get their fix, with 105 miles of trails for cross-country skiing, including night-time routes. Plus, when you’re not carving the piste, there are 18 cosy ski huts to refuel at, serving up all the Austrian classics like apricot dumplings and gröstl – the ultimate alpine fry-up.
Mirja Geh Photography
Another family-orientated resort is Ski Juwel Alpbachtal Wildschönau – one perfect skiing experience made up of four mountains and two valleys. Alongside the 70 miles of slopes and two snow parks, there are also 25 ski huts and restaurants – meaning plenty of spots to get your fix of sugar-dusted Kaiserschmarren after a day shredding the slopes. Plus, kids (okay, adults too) will love the adrenaline-fuelled Alpbachtaler Lauser Sauser - essentially an Alpine roller-coaster - and there are plenty of child-friendly slopes and activities to give the grown-ups a chance to recharge.
Can’t get enough of the slopes in the day? There’s even night skiing in either Reith im Alpbachtal or Roggenboden, Wildschönau – as well as tobogganing in Niederau. Equally for those who want a break from slopes, there are over 60 miles of hiking trails that carve through the alpine forests of the valleys of Alpbachtal and Wildschönau – giving you plenty of opportunity to soak up the beauty of Alpbach in all its glory.
SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser-Brixental is one of the biggest, most modern, and most eco-friendly ski resorts in the world, offering 168 miles of perfectly groomed slopes, dozens of privately run mountain huts and restaurants, and 46 years’ worth of investment and innovation. Hailed as one of the most affordable and largest interconnected ski areas in the world, it's no surprise the SkiWelt ski area was voted the best ski resort in the world for 2009.
Fancy a challenge? There’s no better way to get the heart pumping than the KitzSkiWelt Tour – the world’s longest ski circuit. The 50-mile route runs from Going am Wilden Kaiser through the Kitzbühel Alps to Hollersbach in the Hohe Tauern with the added bonus that you never have to ski the same slope twice. Equally, if you’re looking for something a little more laidback, then visit the ALPENIGLU – a conurbation of igloos at Hochbrixen station with everything from restaurants, sun loungers and ice sculptures.
Don’t miss the Zillertal, where the Zillertal Superskipass gives you access to 338 miles of pistes, 180 cable cars and lifts in all four of its major ski areas. The sheer volume of terrain here means you could return back year after year and not even ski the same piste twice. Total ski freedom.
Whether you want long, calm, serene slopes or a bit of free-riding, it’s all available here. Plus, thanks to the Hintertux Glacier, Zillertal can guarantee 365 days of fun on the glacier, so that no matter what the seasons, you’ll always be able to enjoy the snow.
Last but not least, there’s classic Kitzbühel. Possibly the most legendary sports town in the Alps, it boasts over 130 years of skiing history, where you’ll find a wide range of activities and unique events such as the Hahnenkamm races. With 43 miles of cross-country ski trails, 145 miles of downhill slopes, a freestyle skiing area and a racing centre up for grabs – a winter wonderland awaits.
When you’re not slopeside, there’s also a fairytale old town to explore, where horse-drawn carriages clip-clop across the 750-year-old snowy cobbles, excellent cuisine, and incredible shopping. Like the Tirol as a whole, there’s something for literally everyone - all you have to do is choose your favourite…
For more info visit austria.info