With this ski season taking place against the backdrop of the pandemic, if resorts are able to open and we are able to travel, we are all looking for a ski holiday where we can truly relax, spending time with our loved ones in a beautiful location.
Although the world’s big ski areas are going to exceptional; efforts to ensure they provide a safe and secure environment for skiers, this winter could be a good one to head for a less-well-known, smaller ski village, where crowds are never a problem, socially-distanced or otherwise, but the same high safety standards are maintained. Or looking ahead to next season, just to try something a little bit different.
These are some of our favourites in Tirol
It may not be a ski region you are familiar with, but the Osttirol (Eastern Tirol) region has a long history as a ski destination and it is a wonderful choice for a peaceful family ski break. There are in fact seven resort villages in the Osttirol, so you can find a more intimate village-base still if you wish in one of the five smaller resorts.
The Osttirol region is home to a remarkable 266 three-thousand-metre peaks – including Austria’s highest, the Grossglockner. This helps the region to maintain its enviable record for snowfall as well as providing a breath-taking setting for your skiing holiday. Better still, the location of the villages on the southern side of the Alps means they get lots of sunshine, as well as snow.
Queues for lifts and crowds on the slopes are unheard of in the region but there’s plenty to entertain everyone on the slopes from friendly beginner areas through to a World Cup piste.
The local ski school offers fun courses for kids in the company of resort mascot BOBO the Penguin. As an added bonus for families the region’s ski pass “Ski Hit Osttirol” offers children’s rates for young people up to 18 years old – much more generous than most big ski areas.
There is also plenty for families to see and do in East Tirol away from the ski slopes. Popular options include the chance to enjoy full-moon guided snowshoe hikes in the Hohe Tauern National Park.
Families will also ride the Osttirodler, a kind of mountain rollercoaster or head to the swimming pools at the recently renovated Dolomitenbad leisure centre in Lienz. There is also ice skating on the frozen Tristacher See lake and on the ice rink in Lienz.
Sillian and Zettersfeld
Sillian, located in the Hochpustertal Valley, is the smaller and more rural of the two. There’s the ultimate convenience for first-time skiers as the nursery slopes, known as the Winterwichtelland, are located right in the centre of the village itself. Children can sign up for days that combine slope time with fun activities at the Bobo Kinderclub, whilst teens can master their freestyle skills in the Yellowsnow Funpark.
Zettersfeld is a different prospect as it is located on a sunny terrace high above Lienz, the largest town in East Tirol. This means you can stay in this metropolis if you wish, with its big range of shops, restaurants and other attractions, then head up to Zettersfeld to ski and take in the great views back down over the town. Almost all of the slopes here are suitable for families and there’s also the Sunsite terrain park for boarders and freestylers to enjoy.
Riders will find plenty to keep them busy. A new addition to the attractions is a 400-metre long fun slope with a series of rollers, banked corners, jumps and tunnels.
The Ski Juwel Alpbachtal Wildschönau may be quite a lengthy name but that’s because the Ski Jewel region brings together the two ancient valleys of the Alpbachtal and Wildschönau, each home to several individual villages, all rated among the most picturesque in all Austria and all just 45 minutes’ drive from Innsbruck Airport.
The ski areas had been operating separately for many years before a lift and piste connection was made between the two valleys a few years ago, creating one of the 10 largest ski regions in Tirol in the process.
Extremely popular with families, most of the area’s slopes are rated blue (easy) or red (intermediate) and the region has everything families could wish for including excellent childcare facilities including two ski kindergartens and no less than 10 ski schools to choose from. There are also many other activities on offer, including sledging, snowshoeing, ice skating, the ‘Zwergenkinderland’ family parks, piste-basher co-pilot rides and night skiing.
It’s not all gentle stuff though if family members are looking for greater challenges. There are several testing black runs and exciting freeride routes whilst freestylers will find plenty to keep them entertained in the three snowparks.
Located up in Northern Tirol, close to the German border, Tiroler Zugspitz Arena brings together seven different ski areas on one ski ticket. Altogether that’s 142 kilometres of slopes served by 56 lifts.
Families have a diverse choice of destinations from bigger villages like Ehrwald and Lermoos to smaller Biberwier, Berwang, Bichlbach, Heiterwang am See or Namlos. Whichever you go for though you’ll find about 30km of slopes locally, most of the runs are wide, blue and red, perfect for building confidence or just having fun, so great family ski areas. A free shuttle bus service links the various areas together and five of the villages have their own ski schools. Ski lessons are available for children as young as two years with the patient, English-speaking instructors and professional child-care is also provided.
Once again, although the terrain is predominantly family-friendly, there is more challenging skiing available with some more adventurous terrain for the more experienced and as there’s plenty of high-altitude runs, powder snow conditions are the norm.
The picturesque villages surrounded by snow-capped peaks create a blissfully relaxed atmosphere and all at very affordable prices. It’s an easily accessible region too, just an hour from Innsbruck or for a still greater direct flight-route choice only 70 minutes from Geneva or 90 minutes from Munich.
Off the slopes, the Zugspitz Arena prides itself in offering an exciting array of evening activities for kids and adults alike including floodlit evening tobogganing twice weekly on the Ehrwalder Alm or enjoying a hike up through the snow to enjoy a filling meal at a mountain hut on the Gamsalm before tobogganing down to the valley. Night skiing, hiking with torches, ice-skating and floodlit ski night shows are also on the list (if you’re not too tired from a day on the mountain!)
The seven villages also have lots of indoor options with virus-safety measures in place. There’s an impressive indoor swimming pool that welcomes children, indoor tennis courts open to the public at the Eibsee Hotel and Ehrwald has a modern indoor climbing wall for all abilities to practice skills
The family bathing centre in Ehrwald features a baby pool with a water jet penguin, a children’s pool with water animals and slide, and a huge slide for everyone older.
The Ötztal Valley is home top several world-famous ski resorts and with its high-altitude glacier skiing has a reputation as one of the most snowsure destinations on earth, hosting the first round of the annual downhill ski racing World Cup tour as early as October each year. The region even featured in the last James Bond movie.
But the compact resort of Hochoetz here is less well known. Another ideal for families with children with its 39km of predominantly blue (easy) and red (intermediate) runs served by 13 modern lifts and extending from 1,400m up to almost 2,300m and easily accessed cable car from Oetz or from Ochsengarten, a village at a snowsure 1,500m altitude. The lift pass also covers the slopes at neighbouring Kühtai for no extra cost and there’s a free shuttle bus making the quick and easy connection.
Children will love the local mascot, a friendly ram called “Widi”, who will introduce them to skiing in the children’s practice area run by the local ski schools. For older children, there is a larger fun park and more experienced skiers can take on the challenging run all the way down to Ochsengarten or go with a guide to the off-piste powder trails.
Facilities including a special self-service children’s restaurant next to the top of the Acherkogelbahn cable car which also features a sunny terrace and a play area and other family-friendly activities offered in the area include tobogganing, winter walking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and ice skating on lake Piburger See.
Although not so well known in the UK as some of the most famous resorts, Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis is one of the Tirol’s leading ski areas and a firm favourite with families. Everything is built around providing the perfect ski holiday for every member of the family, from easy slopes for younger children to more challenging terrain for teens and adults.
Care for babies and toddlers is offered at the Murmli Crèche in Serfaus or Berta’s Kinderland in Fiss and kids can learn to ski at Kinderschneealm which has a giant play and practice area providing a true winter paradise for kids.
The three villages are located on a sunny plateau above the Inn Valley and offer an extensive network of ski runs over a world-class 1600m+ of vertical between 1,200m and a very snowsure 2,820m altitude.
Although there’s loads of family-friendly terrain, the resort is a big hitter on the international ski scene too and the Pezid and Zwölferkopf mountains offer black runs and freeride routes for more experienced skiers in your family, as well as no less than eight fun park areas for freestylers plus two permanent racecourses.
Off the slopes, the PlayIN Indoor Playground in Serfaus is a great facility with no less than twelve climbing walls, two climbing towers, an obstacle course, a bouldering room and a six-storey soft play facility. Parents can keep an eye on their kids via video monitoring or have a bit of fun themselves at an interactive play wall which incorporates classic games like “matching pairs” and “connect four”.
The villages have lots of family-friendly accommodation options offering rooms specially designed to delight children and facilities like baby’s changing tables, highchairs and cots all, of course, available if required. If you don’t fancy pushing a conventional buggy through the snow (and who would?) you can even rent an e-buggy or mountain buggy especially designed for the snow.
The ski villages of the Pillerseetal Valley has something to appeal to all ages, but as the snowiest resort in Tirol, it perhaps has a special appeal to families with older children who are best able to make use of all that powder.
The ski area also features lots of fun parks and other cool features to give freestyling teen skiers and boarders loads of opportunities to get some air and perfect their skills. Plus it is part of one of Austria’s largest interconnected piste networks.
If you are not exhausted by all the action on the slopes and in the terrain parks during the day you can keep going after dark too with floodlit slopes, tubing and toboggan runs as well.
But children of all ages (as well as their parents) will also enjoy the Timoks mountain coaster in Fieberbrunn and younger children will love the Triassic Kinderland in Waidring.
There are no less than four family-friendly ski schools to choose from in the region and the wide range of programmes offered by one of them, S4 snowsport in Fieberbrunn, includes freestyle courses for youngsters.
There are three local ski resorts to choose from: Fieberbrunn, Pillersee/Buchensteinwand and Steinplatte Waidring, all excellent bases for teenagers looking for a little freestyle action.
Featured Image © LOLIN / Hochpustertal