Value for Money 70%
Obergurgl has been popular with British families since the 1960s. It’s a charming, high-altitude resort with magnificent scenery, a long ski season and cheerful (but not hectic) après-ski. A gondola links Obergurgl with the even higher village of Hochgurgl.
Michael Zwischenbrugger was raised in Obergurgl, and has been a ski instructor and mountain guide in the resort for 26 years. “I like it here,” he says. “We’re a quiet resort, at the end of a long valley – so there’s not much traffic in the village and we hardly ever get lift queues. There’s a relaxed, low-key atmosphere on the pistes, too. This is not the kind of place where people are skiing like lunatics.”
In 2010, Michael was one of the founders of the Skischule Exclusiv – an elite ground of mountain guides and ski instructors offering private lessons and off-piste mountain tours.
Table of Contents
- 1 Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
- 2 Guide to the Mountain
- 3 Where to Learn
- 4 Where to Stay
- 5 Where to Eat
- 6 Apres-Ski In Obergurgl
Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
The village of Obergurgl is set around a fine church at 1930m in the long, cold Otz Valley – close to the frontier with Italy, and an easy drive from Innsbruck. It shares its ski area with Hochgurgl, a collection of ski-in ski-out hotels perched on the mountain, at 2150m. The two are linked by road and by gondola.
Do those altitudes sound high? They should. This is Austria’s highest parish, and with a lift system that extends up to 3080m, Obergurgl offers some of the most snowsure skiing in the Alps. That makes it a reliable choice for early-season skiing, or an Easter family holiday: but it’s a great place to ski mid-season too, thanks to the consistency of its cover. There are many fewer days here where the snow is either hard-packed or slushy than in lower resorts.
Easy-going and family-friendly
The undersized ski area irritates some people, but others love the fact it’s kept Obergurgl quiet and family-friendly. “No queues, great ski school, no idiots on the piste, lovely ambience in the hotels and excellent food,” enthused a recent reporter. “Good value for what is quite a classy resort.” said another. And if these comments make you wonder if perhaps the average visitor is a little older and less gung-ho than the powder pigs of St Anton or the party animals of Ischgl and Val Thorens, you’d be spot on.
Here’s a recent promotional video of the resort in the Chair-lift Chats series, which gives you a good sense of the style of the place, and the clientele.
Non-skiing options are improving
Two compact villages and a high-altitude ski area are not natural holiday destinations for non-skiers – who’d probably be happier in a proper town, or in a resort which is close enough to Innsbruck or Salzburg for day-tripping. That said, the number of alternative activities has increased recently.
The newest attraction is the Top Mountain Crosspoint, just outside Hochgurgl. It’s a motorcycle museum aimed primarily at bikers riding the pass over to Italy in the summer, but is open in the winter too. Meanwhile, half-way down the valley at Langenfeld you’ll find the extraordinary Aqua Dome Spa Centre, complete with giant, steaming bowls of thermal water. Within the resort, you can try cross-country skiing, tobogganing, snow-shoeing and skating – and there’s an indoor riding stable the Edelweiss & Gurgl hotel. Regular trips to the Top Mountain Star restaurant and bar, to soak up its top-of-the-world views, are essential.
A little bit of history…
Back in 1931, Swiss aviation pioneer Auguste Piccard first put Obergurgl on the ski map when he landed his hot-air balloon on the Gurgler-Ferner glacier, after achieving a world altitude record of just under 16000m. In a triumphant rescue operation, local guide Hans Falkner led the explorers across crevasses to safety and glory. More recently, Oetzi, the 5,300-year-old hunter whose perfectly preserved body was found on one of the 23 glaciers above the resort, brought renewed fame to the valley.
Guide to the Mountain
There’s good, but limited on-piste cruising here – made better still by the quality of the snow, and fun additional features laid on by the resort, such as its early-morning first tracks programme, the Funslope above Hochgurgl, and the Quattro Snow Park, run by QParks. “Excellent lift system throughout and no queues at all when I was there,” enthused a reader.
The skiing takes place in three topographically separate, but lift-linked areas spread across the northwestern side of the Otztal. Obergurgl’s main Festkogel sector is accessed either by a gondola at the beginning of the village or by a two-stage chair from the centre. From the top you can reach two further lifts and together these give access to a pleasant choice of blue and red cruising runs, as well as a couple of steeper blacks.
A gondola spanning two valleys
From mid-mountain, the 3.6km Top Express gondola spans two valleys to reach Hochgurgl. The glacial terrain here is much more extensive with plenty of long, mainly blue, descents. The two-stage Hochgurglbahn gondola allows swift access from the valley to the modest collection of drag-lifts and chairs – including a modern six-pack – and a continuous vertical drop of 1200m.
The third smaller area of Gaisberg lies to the south of Obergurgl and is reached by chair-lift from the village centre. Gaisberg offers delightful blue runs as well as well as three more challenging reds between the trees, served by the swift six-person Steinmannbahn chair. It’s a canny place to be first thing in the morning, when most skiers are heading to the top of the Festkogel and Hochgurgl sectors: the scenery is stupendous and the pistes usually empty.
A glorious off-piste route begins from the lonely Hohe Mut Alm (see photo, below) and ends up near the Schönwieshutte.
For the more adventurous, there are plenty of opportunities for guided excursions into magnificent terrain leading up to the Italian frontier and, during late season in particular, the ski-touring is highly recommended.
This promotional video gives you a good sense of the slopes here. Although it’s not quite accurate when it says Obergurgl opens in December. Thanks to its high, snowsure slopes, Obergurgl is usually the first big resort without glacier skiing to open for the winter, usually in mid-November. It’s on our hit list of the best resorts for early-season skiing as a result.
Snowboarders can have a lot of fun after fresh snow
“The best bit about Obergurgl is there are hardly any boarders,” purred one report. You might well be put off by such statements – but hold up there a moment: the wide-open terrain is heaven after a dump, and there isn’t too much competition for first tracks either. The resort now has a professionally-maintained terrain park, too – and the wide-open high-altitude pistes are a great place for intermediates to work on their carved turns. So long as you don’t mind the subdued nightlife, you’ll be in clover.
Where to Learn
For group lessons, Obergurgl Ski School (“superb tuition”) and Hochgurgl Ski School, are the schools to target. They’ve been successfully teaching the basics to international visitors for generations – and have long experience of working with Brits. “The ski school was brilliant for all of us, and our instructor exceptional; he was aged 77,” commented a reporter. Courses include ski and snowboarding, free ride, telemark, cross-country, and ski-touring.
Three schools in the resort specalise in private and small-group tuition. Skischule Exklusiv is a small group of highly-qualified local instructors and mountain guides, founded in 2010. It offers lessons both on-piste and off, as well as ski-touring and snow-shoeing. Ski With A Local and Alpinsport Obergurgl also offer private lessons.
Obergurgl’s night skiing takes place on 8km of floodlit slopes from the top of the Festkogl, past the Nederhutte and back down to the village centre or the Festkogl gondola. Every Tuesday at 9pm the Obergurgl Ski School instructors put on a night-time ski performance here.
Good childcare and friendly instruction
Obergurgl-Hochgurgl is a family-friendly resort and it’s great for beginners of all ages. The Bobo Miniclub provides tuition for children from three years of age, in groups of three to five children. Supervised lunch can be included at extra cost. The ski school accepts children from four years old, and the resort allows children aged nine and under to ski for free – a higher age limit than in many other resorts. The ski schools don’t offer a non-ski kindergarten or creche.
However it’s worth noting that British tour operator Esprit, which specialises in family skiing holidays, has a good programme here, with two chalets, its own creche, afternoon club for children who’d rather not ski all day, and exclusive kids ski school classes.
A number of hotels also operate their own child-minding. These are usually free of charge for older children, but you need to check ages carefully before booking. They include the hotels Alpina, Bergwelt, The Crystal and Hochfirst, as well as Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl and Relais & Chateau Top Hotel Hochgurgl.
Where to Stay
It doesn’t really matter where you stay in Obergurgl or Hochgurgl, as both villages are so compact, with a lot of ski-in ski-out accommodation. Even if you’re not right in the centre of Obergurgl, you’ll only be 10 minutes’ walk away or a two-minute bus ride. Buses come regularly, although they stop for an hour at lunchtime.
You won’t suffer from traffic noise, either, as cars are banned at night. Prime accommodation spot has always been Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl, in the centre of the village and at the foot of the slopes. It is one of the resort’s original and best hotels. “This was our fifth visit to hotel Edelweiss. Great location. Everything is nearby. The food is delicious. The rooms are very comfortable. Very friendly service.” said a reporter. It has a spa, childcare, and – more unusually – an indoor horse riding arena. The ski school meeting place is a few metres away.
More luxurious these days is the four-star superior Hotel Bergwelt with excellent food and wine, in-house childcare, a good pool and a new three-storey spa. It is set above the village and is now a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Alpen Wellness Resort Hochfirst is one of Obergurgl’s two five-star hotels. With a fabulous spa area including indoor and outdoor pools, the focus is as much on the wellness as it is on fine dining and ski-in ski-out convenience, with a ski lift next door.
Nearly everything is close to the slopes
Hotel Jenewein is also ski-in ski-out. It offers exceptional half-board and a la carte cuisine in the Hexenkuchl restaurant, and is regularly praised for the quality of its service.
Hotel Crystal is a monster of a building, but extremely comfortable (“the hotel was fantastic” said a recent visitor). It has an indoor and outdoor pool and a hot water grotto. Hotel Madeleine has “pristine accommodation, excellent food, and very pleasant staff”. Berg Vital Hotel Alpenaussicht is a hotel that has a sustainable philosophy. The kitchen uses products from the hotel’s own farm and neighbouring farms, with the aim of retaining as many minerals and vitamins as possible. Cleaning products are all natural, whilst warm water and heating is obtained from the hotel’s wood-chip plant and solar energy.
If you want to self-cater, Gurglhof Hotel & Apartments is on the piste and houses a lovely spa and a restaurant, and some gorgeous modern hotel rooms and apartments decked out in lots of pale wood. Something unique in this Austrian village is Chalet at 11 Degrees East – a beautifully designed luxury chalet with bags of airy space. It’s in a peaceful spot a short walk from the lifts (you can ski back to the door) and right next to the kids’ nursery slope. None of your chocolate box here: clean lines, much use of slate and blonde, solid pine – and tactile, cowhide wall-coverings. It sleeps eight to ten people and is on the piste by the children’s ski school.
The top choices in Hochgurgl
Relais & Chateau Top Hotel Hochgurgl is Hochgurgl’s only five-star and leads the field. It has a creche and health club, and was rated “fantastic, with amazing fondue“. Its restaurant, Top Mountain Star, is an architectural confection of glass and steel perched on the rocks. Alpenhotel Laurin is a three-star rated for its food and has pleasant rooms. It is set 250m below the resort.
Where to Eat
A lot of people ski back down into the villages of Obergurgl and Hochgurgl for lunch, especially if they have small children at Kindergarten, but there are some good spots to stop on the mountain, too.
Hohe Mut Alm is a popular lunch venue with a lovely woody interior and stupendous views at the top of the Gaisberg sector. The daily specials are always worth ordering, and the service is quick. The Schonwieshutte (+43 664 42 37 947) is a touring refuge, rebuilt in 2015, which is renowned for its Gulaschsuppe and Kaiserschmarren. The owner can drive you there with a skidoo from the top of the Steinmannbahn lift.
David’s Hutte (+43 5256 6332) is a homely place specialising in barbecues (“food excellent”) at the bottom of the Steinmannlift, and has recently changed hands. This popular lunch venue also has lively apres-ski. Festkoglalm and Nederhutte – the latter with live music – are also recommended. Even when the Nederhutte is full, the food always arrives in 10 minutes.
Mountain food in Hochgurgl
In Hochgurgl, the Wurmkoglhutte is a self-service offering traditional mountain fare. From the futuristic Top Mountain Star restaurant (+43 5256 6562 562) next to the Wurmkogl peak you can see the Dolomites. The star-shaped glass confection is perched on a narrow ridge that drops down steeply on both sides, fixed by 25 rock anchors that are an average of eight meters long. The glass façade can be opened in good weather, allowing inside and outside to blend as one. Order Munich white sausages with a pretzel and a glass of Paulaner weissbier, and soak up the views.
Most of the village restaurants are in the hotels
Most restaurants in both Obergurgl and Hochgurgl are located within the hotels – a reflection of the fact that most guests are staying on a half-board basis. Among the few exceptions are the Dorf-Alm, (+43 5256 6570) which offers regional dishes and cheese fondue, and the rustic Krumpn’s Stadl (+43 5256 6236) where staff wear national costume.
Among the hotels with good reputations for their food are the Edelweiss & Gurgl which uses fresh local produce, the Hexenkuchl in Hotel Jenewein, Laurin Alpenhotel which serves Italian and Tirolean cuisine and has a weekly Strudl evening. Restaurant Romantika in Hotel Madeleine has a wood-burning pizza oven – so too the Crystal Hotel, where the Salz & Pfeffer steak house is fun. At the Haus Gurgl, the Pizzeria Belmonte also serves good pizzas at very reasonable prices.
In Hochgurgl, an kitchen of note is the Angerer Alm, which is presided over by chef, Christian Rudolf, who transforms the raw materials – some of which come from the hotel’s own farm – into a gourmet treat. This applies to everything from creative lunches to gourmet dinners.
Apres-Ski In Obergurgl
The nightlife is generally muted in Obergurgl and Hochgurgl and one reader described it as “not a resort for party animals”. In Obergurgl, Festkogel Alm (+43 5256 6370) has an umbrella bar and there’s a party here each Tuesday from 6.30pm to 10pm when there’s night skiing. Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl, at the foot of the slopes, also has an umbrella bar.
The Nederhutte has live music – and dancing in ski boots – courtesy of its in-house band Die Nederlumpen, four a week, and other mountain restaurants also start the ball rolling with music and dedicated drinking in the late afternoon. These include David’s Hutte (+43 5256 6332), at the bottom of the Steinmannlift, which has lively apres-ski. The Jenewein hotel bar is another popular place. Krump’n Stadl is small and busy bar in the Alpenaussicht hotel.
The Umbrella Bar (+43 5256 6265 565) at the Hochgurgl gondola is a prime apres-ski location. During night tobogganing, the Downhill Grill (+43 5256 6265 564), at the gondola base there, opens until 11pm.
A lot of the nightlife is in the hotel cellar bars
Later on in Obergurgl, half a dozen bars and almost as many dance venues stay open until late. Fassl is a barrel-shaped bar, serving different flavours of Schnapps. Reporters rate the Josl-Keller as having the best atmosphere and it’s one of the few bars with nightclubs. For a quieter drink, try the Wine Lounge at the Hotel Crystal, or the Moose Bar at the Bergwelt.
In Hochgurgl, Tonis Almhutte Bar in the Olymp Sporthotel is popular.