The blood’s pumping. Darkness is falling. You’ve just had a blistering day on the slopes, but now it’s time to click out of your skis.
What’s next? Just about anything, actually. You can party in an igloo, fly down the mountain on a floodlit toboggan run, or have a six-hour soak in a giant spa. “Après-ski” can mean almost anything these days, and you’ll get a great taste of its variety in the Tirol, in Austria. Here, Christine Silberberger from the mountain village of Auffach shows us what to expect.
1. “Almost Heaven” in Ischgl
Who would have thought it? The unofficial après-ski anthem in Ischgl is Country Roads by John Denver. The chic ski town in the Paznaun is home to a vibrant party scene, and one of its defining characteristics is the way everyone likes to sing. You’ll hear it at its best in the Trofana Alm. A two-storey party barn at the bottom of the pistes, it’s packed to the rafters by 5.30pm, and as the beer flows, so do the songs. The DJ starts with one or two German-language favourites to warm the crowd up – and then come those immortal lines…
“Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah river…”
Everyone goes nuts. You find yourself wondering – West Virginia? Has anyone in this building even been there? But then the chorus comes along, and you realise why this 45 year-old, homesick ballad is so popular: it’s the perfect song to sing with 400 other people when you’re ever-so-slightly drunk. Brits, Austrians, Germans, the Dutch: suddenly everyone is roaring at the tops of their voices, and it feels like there isn’t a problem in the world you couldn’t solve together.
2. Bouldering in St Johann in Tirol
Part of an 800m2 climbing centre, its focus is on short, sharp bouldering routes that aren’t high enough to require ropes. In other words, you don’t need any previous climbing experience to try them. Think of bouldering as a cross between vertical gymnastics, a game of chess, and squeezing lemons – and you’ll get a sense of its addictive mix of intense concentration and at-your-limits exertion. The next day, you may find yourself sneaking off the slopes early, so you can try an even tougher route. Entrance is only €11, and you can rent climbing shoes for €3.50 to improve your grip.
3. Schnapps-tasting in the Wildschönau
Siegfried Kristl is a master distiller. If it hangs from a tree or grows on a bush, he can turn it into schnapps. And not just any schnapps. This isn’t the stuff that slaps you round the face, sets fire to your throat, and leaves you with nothing but a smouldering sense of alcohol. You can actually taste what it’s made from.
It helps of course that he steers clear of the more esoteric flavours – turnip, for example, or the bitter root of Gentian. Elderflower, cherry and apple are more his thing. His “Williams”, made from Williams pears, is particularly delicious – richer and more subtle than you’d ever imagine strong liquor could be. But don’t just take my word for it. If you’re staying in Niederau or Auffach, and letting rip on the pistes of the Ski Juwel, you should go for a tasting. His utterly traditional farmhouse is half-way up a mountain above the town of Oberau, and has a schnapps licence dating back to the time of Empress Maria-Theresia. The price is €18pp for two hours.
4. Floodlit tobogganing in the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena
Of course, we’ve all been tobogganing. But am I right in thinking that in the UK you don’t often get more than 100m of slope? At that length, there’s barely time to start laughing before everyone has to jump off, to avoid crashing into the trees/people/cars/river at the bottom.
In the Tirol, tobogganing is different. Take the Ehrwalder Alm, in the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena, for example. Every Tuesday and Friday night, between 6.30 and 9.30pm, you can ride the lift to the top station, and toboggan on a floodlit slope until 11.45pm. The run is 3km long: and all the better because you can stop at several huts along the way for dinner. So your après-ski celebration can be a mid-toboggan one, too. A single-ride lift ticket is €12, or €24 for the whole night.
5. A disco in an igloo above Innsbruck
Innsbruck’s Hungerburgbahn is one of the world’s coolest mountain railways. Designed by the late, great Zaha Hadid, it whisks you straight out of the city centre and up towards the jagged ridge immediately behind of the city. In less than 30 minutes you’ll be up amongst the gods, having swapped shops and offices for some of the most enjoyable steep skiing in the Alps. This is the home of the Nordkette ski area, and on Friday nights you can party up here too – courtesy of Cloud 9.
Set at 1905m, it’s the highest nightclub in the Alps, and the view over Innsbruck’s twinkling streets – 1400m below – will blow your mind. So too will the fact that it’s an igloo. How many times have you ever danced the night away in one of those?
6. The Alpbachtaler Lauser-Sauser
In Alpbach, family ski holidays come with extra whizz – courtesy of the Lauser-Sauser Alpine coaster. Its two-seater sleds run on a twisting bed of rails and can reach speeds of 42km/h (if you don’t apply the brakes). The mountain-top setting is magnificent, and as you whizz past the pistes, the rails serve up thrills aplenty – including two complete 360-degree loops. You’ll have to end the skiing day a little earlier than normal to try it: but that’s a small price to pay for the amount of fun your kids will have. The over-eights can ever ride it on their own. A single descent costs €5.50 for adults and €4.50 for children.
7. A giant hot-tub in the Ötztal
15 minutes from Solden and 30 minutes from Obergurgl, Aqua Dome is a spa you won’t easily forget. Covering a vast 22,000m2 site, in one of Austria’s most dramatic valleys, it’s open till 11pm each night (and midnight on Fridays). So you can add a five or six-hour soak onto a full day’s skiing. You might also want to try the odd sauna. There are seven types to choose from, including a Roman-style steam dome, a steamy brine bath and a rustic sauna scented with hay. Evening tickets start from €21pp.