Austria’s Tirol region is not only home to some of the most famous ski resorts in the world (and dozens more equally worthy of your attention) but also some of the planet’s most infamous ski runs too!
Yes, Tirol has a well-deserved reputation for its warm welcome, great snow reliability, long season, beautiful scenery and authentic mountain resorts, but it’s less well known that it can top most ski nations for challenging terrain, all on its own.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be such a surprise when you consider the most famous Tirol resorts. There’s multiple Winter Olympics Downhill host Innsbruck; the famous freeride paradise of St Anton; the host of the toughest World Cup downhill race Kitzbühel; Mayrhofen, home to one of the world’s steepest groomed descents, and Sölden, where the explosive snow scenes in the last Bond movie franchise, Spectre, were filmed.
Here’s the lowdown on the toughest runs at those five fantastic resorts. Fear not, though, as each has plenty for every level of skier, from complete beginner up, so we’ll also include a run to suit those of us wanting a more relaxing descent – there are 3,400km of slopes to choose from in Tirol after all.
Innsbruck is surrounded by more than a dozen ski areas, all included in a great-value regional lift pass, the SKI plus CITY Pass Stubai Innsbruck. It has also hosted three Winter Olympic Games, with the 1976 Men’s Downhill on the Patscherkofel mountain above the city, won by Franz Klammer, still one of the greatest in history and well worth watching on YouTube.
The Olympic Downhill is actually a slope that most intermediate skiers can easily manage, just not at Klammer speed. For something gentler, the snow-sure Stubai Glacier, also on the Innsbruck pass, has a full 10km descent over a wonderful 1,515m vertical.
Valluga North or Piste 64, St Anton am Arlberg
St Anton is home to plenty of tough runs but arguably none more challenging than the steep faces of Valluga, towering 2,809m high above the village. Perfect on a powder day, this off-piste route is not for the faint of heart. You are not permitted in the upper section of the Valluga II gondola without a qualified guide. But St Anton has plenty for beginners and intermediates too. One of the favourite blues is the fabulous long piste number 64 to St Christoph.
Schwarze Schneid or the Giggijoch, Sölden
Sölden serves up one of the biggest lift-served verticals in Austria, thanks in part to its three separate lift-served peaks above 3,000m altitude. These each open up some seriously long descents, none more so than the 15km (9.5 miles) long Schwarze Schneid, the longest groomed downhill ski run in Austria. If you’d rather take it a little easier, though, head to the Giggijoch where there’s wide, gentle, easy terrain, especially below Rotkogl.
When it comes to steep, the famed Harakiri Trail is one of the steepest in the Alps. Pitching at 78 percent there’s a sign at the top warning “Only for well-trained skiers”, and they’re not kidding. Mayrhofen has a huge variety of terrain including a gentle cruise on a 6km descent from Ahorn down to the village, the longest in the vast ski area.
THE big race of the Alpine Skiing World Cup calendar, the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbühel is raced on The Streif, an icy, steep and fast course which always delivers high drama as racers battle G forces trying to turn on gradients of up to 85 per cent, hitting speeds of 140kph, frequently getting airborne. You can ski the Hahnenkamm mountain but take the red run that descends parallel to the course. Alternatively, the Direttissima run has Kitzbühel’s greatest vertical drop and is a great workout.
Make Tirol your choice for skiing this winter – after all, it offers the perfect combination of snow, slopes, a warm welcome and amazing value.
main image © Mallaun Josef Kaisers
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