Winter holidays can be tricky: you need to find the right balance of adventure and downtime to suit everyone, not to mention options for days when the weather isn’t quite up to scratch.
And that’s what makes Austria the perfect winter break: beautiful snow; a sophisticated skiing infrastructure that receives considerable investment each year; famously warm and generous hospitality; and there’s an abundance of local tradition to discover, too – not to mention the fact that resorts here tend to be cheaper than their French and Swiss counterparts. But with so much on offer, where do you start? We round up four of Austria’s most exciting regions for your next winter break.
Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn
Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn describes itself as the coolest ski area in the Alps, and with 270km of slopes, 70 lifts, more than 60 mountain huts, numerous snowparks, floodlit pistes and toboggan runs, it’s not hard to see why. Take advantage of the Nordic Park, where you’ll be able to cross-country ski across 150km of well-maintained trails, or get back to nature in the region’s freeriding areas, where it’ll just be you and the pristine deep snow. The annual Mountain Attack ski touring marathon will bring together 500 skiers for a challenge that’ll see them take on six mountain peaks, spread over 40km and 3,000m of altitude.
But there’s more to the region than skiing: a comprehensive winter activity programme means there’s never a dull moment, from a natural ice skating rink at the Ritzensee to sleigh rides cuddled up under cosy blankets and winter archery in Saalbach Hinterglemm and Saalfelden Leogang. There’s even the White Pearl Mountain Days festival in April, which combines cool music and international cuisine with great pistes and incredible weather. And if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, there’s the 3 Days of Jazz Festival in Saalfelden in January.
What’s more, if all that action makes you build up an appetite, you can sate your hunger with some of Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn’s incredible regional delicacies, including the Pinzgauer Blad’l – similar in appearance to a Cornish pasty, it’s made with rye and wheat flour, fried and served with traditional fillings like sauerkraut, potato salad kohlrabi or potato gratin. You’re bound to find this tasty morsel at one of the 60-plus mountain huts along Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn’s slopes, along with other classics like ribs or noodles, so there are plenty of opportunities to refuel. And if you like more than just eating food, some of the huts provide a fascinating insight into farming techniques and might just show you traditional Alpine cheese-making craftsmanship.
With such a raft of activities on offer, it’s not surprising that Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn draws hordes of winter adventurers and wins awards for its innovation – the only problem is deciding what to do first.
Whether you’re an off-piste adventurer or an absolute beginner, the Zillertal valley in Tirol makes for the perfect place to dive into Austria’s incredible snow, thanks to a shedload of new infrastructure that’ll get you on the slopes faster than you can say “après ski”.
Easily reached from Innsbruck, Salzburg and Munich, the Zillertal is a wide, sunny valley in west Austria that boasts a huge variety of ski areas. Just one Zillertal Superski lift pass will give you access to a total of 515km of pistes, plus superb freeriding terrain and freestyle parks.
And while the architecture here, with its quaint wooden beams, is traditional Tirolean, the high-tech infrastructure on both the ground and the mountain is anything but.
If you’re feeling ambitious, this is the place to test your mettle: complete six out of the 13 sections in the Arena Champions Challenge and you’ll be awarded the Arena Champions photo album to take home with you.
Elsewhere, there’s the new ten-seater cable car that whizzes you up to the top of the Spieljoch mountain, straight to Zillertal’s longest snow-covered run and a ski park that’s just calling out to action junkies. But, with a 5.5km-long natural toboggan run and a winter hiking trail, there’s something here for everyone.
And if you thought all gondolas were created equal, think again – Zillertal’s new, state-of-the-art ten-seater mono-cable car the Finkenberg 1 is comfortable, fast and even boasts Wi-Fi, so you can instantly share those Insta-worthy snaps of the incredible views with friends and family.
For adventure that suits the whole family, head to Action Mount Penken, where you can try to conquer the Harikiri run, Austria’s steepest slope adventure; shred the Penken Park, one of Zillertal’s seven snow parks; or measure your speed and time on three different courses.
Little ones will love Pepi’s Kinderland, where they can have fun with Pepi the giant teddy bear and practise their skiing under professional supervision, while parents relax with the culinary delights of the Granatalm ski hut.
Nearby, there’s Leisure Mount Ahorn, with a winter hiking trail and viewing platforms that’ll give you best views of the valley. And if you’re wondering how you’ll fit that all in, fear not: the Hintertux glacier is open for skiing 365 days a year, while in March, you can hit the slopes of the Zillertal Arena from 6.55am.