Sölden operates an impressive ski area that includes the original village, the high-altitude station of Hochsölden and the neighbouring traditional village of Vent. The village of Obergurgl, further up the valley, is also included on the pass. The Ötztal Arena itself has seen a lot of investment in recent years in state of the art lifts, and these have now reached all the way up to Sölden’s major assets – its twin year-round skiing areas on the Tiefenbach and Rettenbach Glaciers. These are some of Austria’s highest ski slopes and open up one of the country’s biggest lift-served verticals.
One of a handful of ski resorts able to offer visitors skiing on every day of the year, Sölden now closes its ski slopes for about six weeks each year from mid-May to end June. However it still uniquely operates two glacier skiing areas and always guaranteeing to keep one of them open. The glaciers, previously a 13km (8 mile) bus ride away, are the base for annual ‘Ski Opening’ festivals each October when the season officially begins and new equipment is available for testing. International ski stars also arrive to test their mettle before the northern hemisphere’s racing season begins. The road between the two glaciers goes through a 1,750 metre (one mile) long tunnel, the Rosi Mittermaier – the highest road tunnel in Europe.
Formerly Sölden itself is has a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ kind of existence – on the one hand presenting its traditional roots and the proud cultural heritage of the Ötztalers: on the other it’s a cool, lively village with international clientele, although predominantly from Germany. At one point the resort’s growth and success led it to become too lively for some residents and some German commentators, but steps have been taken to limit excesses of rowdiness.
The Ötztal region was originally inhabited by Bavarians from the north and Romans from Italy in the south. Tourism was introduced in the mid-19th century thanks in a large part to the efforts of Curate Franz Senn from Vent, who is credited with being the founder of both German and Austrian Alpine Associations and for cresting the first hiking tracks and mountain refuges in the area. Winter tourism began in 1945 and overtook summer tourism in terms of popularity a decade later.