Having a great ski holiday shouldn’t be a game of Russian roulette, battling through big airports and taking long transfers to end up just in a large, soulless ski centre. It’s so much better to take a short flight to a smaller airport, just an hour or so from a charming ski village that’s a true year-round community and famous for its warm hospitality. Whether you’re an avid skier or snowboarder, a beginner or you’re looking for a family-oriented holiday, and whether your preference is relaxing après-ski or more of a party resort, you can be sure to find your gem in the Austrian Tirol this winter.
There are dozens of ski resorts here to choose from, all with perfectly prepared pistes and some of the most comfortable and quick ski lifts you’ll find anywhere – the perfect setup in fact to make your ski holidays here the best you’ve ever had.
Here are some hidden gems to discover this season:
If you do know your Tirolean ski villages but don’t think you know the Ski Juwel area, you may be forgiven. A few years ago, two of the best-loved and most beautiful ski valleys in the Alps created a state-of-the-art lift link between them and in so doing made one of the 10 biggest ski areas in Tirol, naming it Ski Juwel. The Alpbachtal and Wildschönau ski valleys were connected after 50 years of separate operations on either side of a mountain ridge. The region now offers something for all tastes and abilities from family-friendly terrain to some highly challenging black runs as well as exciting freeride terrain which a local guide will be delighted to help you discover, with expert access to the best of the powder. The difficulty though is choosing which charming village to base yourself in, as they all now provide access to the same great ski area. Alpbach has been voted the most beautiful in all of Austria, but the villages of the Wildschönau Valley are extremely enticing too. Auffach, Oberau and Niederau here also have picture-book wooden chalets and lots of enticing shops and restaurants as well. They also each boast their own great local ski school and plenty of après-ski activities to enjoy once you’re off the slopes. At least, whichever you pick to stay in, you can easily ski over to visit the others.
St. Johann has a great mid-sized ski area based above a historic ski town with its old pedestrianised centre lined with enticing shops and restaurants, many run by the same local families for generations. There are 43km of varied runs that are perfect for anyone looking for a relaxed ski holiday destination as well as beginners seeking the best place to start. Those who are looking for some challenges won’t be disappointed either with some wonderful long blacks and local guides happy to lead you to the area’s powder stashes. Seventeen modern lifts provide fast, comfortable access to all slopes, but if you do want a bigger area, a regional pass costing just a few euros more provides access to hundreds of kilometres of more slopes just a little way away. The beautiful countryside surrounding the resort is also popular for winter hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing with well-marked trails to follow.
If you like your skiing on a really grand scale but don’t want to have to hop on a ski bus to go from one area to the next, you can’t do much better than the SkiWelt region, one of the Tirol’s (and indeed Austria and the world’s!) largest ski areas. It features 284km of wide, well-groomed piste served by 90 fast, modern and comfortable ski lifts and a mighty snowmaking arsenal covering more than 95% of the slopes. There are four great terrain parks if you like to get some air and Austria’s biggest night-skiing operation if you want to hit the slopes after dark as well. Of course, just because there are nearly 300km of inter-connected slopes, you don’t need to rush around them. The SkiWelt (or the SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser – Brixental to give it its full title) has 77 mountain huts to choose from – and with mouth-watering home-made cuisine available at each it can be hard to ski past. It’s also hard to decide which of the nine villages at the base of the slopes to stay in, each with many of its own attractions. Wherever you choose, though, you’ll find access from Innsbruck or Salzburg quick and easy, and Munich Airport too just an hour away.
The wide Zillertal Valley, close to Innsbruck, is one of the most-loved Tirolean ski destinations and home to multiple ski villages boasting more than 500km of ski slopes between them, some of which are open 365 days a year. One of the world’s most famous ski resort towns, Mayrhofen, is reached first as you enter the valley, before you move on to the ski resorts of Hochzillertal-Hochfügen, Zell-Gerlos and Mayrhofen to Fügen. There is also the high valley of Tuxertal, crowned by the Hintertux glacier with its year-round glacier ski slopes, the only one in Austria and one of only two in the world that’s open every day of the year for skiing and boarding.
The Tiroler Zugspitz Arena is located up in the north of the region, close to Germany’s famous Zugspitze mountain, just over the invisible border. The area is made up of seven picturesque villages, each of classic traditional Tirolean style and atmosphere, ideal for a wonderful family holiday you’ll never forget. The ski region has 139km of ski slopes, most of them delightful cruises between the wooded hillsides and through beautiful mountain scenery. Despite this benign image there are more challenging slopes here too, though, if you wish to push your limits, and some great freeride terrain.