When other resorts are only just beginning to wake from their summer slumber, and if they have any skiing at all in late November, they certainly won’t be full. Ischgl on the other hand is packed to the rafters and buzzing with an electric atmosphere. Another world class performer has just swept into town by private jet and he’s going to perform live on an outdoor stage.
So how did Ischgl manage to fill an open-air arena so early in the ski season? The Austrian resort sold 20,000 ski passes on its opening day when other big names can muster barely a quarter of that. The answer, of course, is this year’s sizzling season opener, James Blunt.
Over 20 years have passed by since St Anton’s less famous rival in the Western Tirol brought the sound of music to the mountains and found a clever way of attracting new skiers and boarders to a then stagnant market. Other resorts followed with music and comedy festivals designed to increase ticket sales in the low season. But nowhere does it better than Ischgl, which has created a worldwide brand that it now guards fervently.
For its opening and closing concerts, the resort started with Elton John in 1994 and opened the winter of 2014-15 with James Blunt. If you want to know who will close the season this coming May, you’ll just have to wait. Yes, it’s another giant star but he/she has yet to sign the fine details of the contract. We’ll tell you who it is in January!
So there’s been a glut of the famous that includes Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, Sting, Bon Jovi, Deep Purple, The Killers, Rhianna, Katy Perry, Kylie Minogue, and Robbie Williams. Unlike the others, Blunty is an expert skier. He skied for the British army, has holidayed in places like Meribel, Val d’Isere and Tignes, and now has a magnificent home in Verbier.
A Saturday visit to Ischgl fitted neatly between James’ gigs in Brighton and London’s Hammersmith on his European tour. He normally travels with a four-man band, crew and three pantechnicons of equipment. This time he was travelling light. But playing in cold weather has its drawbacks – during the show the band said they could hardly feel their fingers – not so good if you’re playing guitar, keyboards or drums. They stayed in the Trofana Royal, the very best of Ischgl’s sumptuous hotels.
The resort caters largely for a well-heeled mainly German clientele that parties even harder than it skis. What they get is mainly oompah music, starting at 4pm in rustic huts such as Niki’s Stadl where songs with names like ‘Pussy Pussy Pussy’ play against a backdrop of dancing and lots of Gluhwein and Jaegertee. The mainstream music on stage comes as a welcome respite.
The party starts every afternoon by the Silvrettabahn in the Kuhstall, one of Ischgl’s signature venues, and spreads to bars all the way along the high street and at the far end of the Dorftunnel (an indoor travelator) which links the two parts of town. Best accommodation at the far end of the Dorftunnel is the Elizabeth Arthotel, its walls smothered in constantly changing works of art.
Whether or not you are a James Blunt fan, you are certainly a skier or snowboarder and the best airport transfer is from Innsbruck (90 minutes) or from Zurich (just under three hours). If you’re on a tight schedule like Blunt & Co, it’s good to know that private planes can land in Innsbruck too.
Ischgl’s impressive ski arena is linked with 44 lifts and 238km of piste to Samnaun in the Swiss Engadin. With a top height of 2872m, stretching the season from November to May is usually not a problem. We stayed with Erna Low who currently have five different accommodation choices in the resort including the Elizabeth Arthotel, where three nights cost from £528pp half board not including travel. Next season they will be expanding their programme into yet more hotels.
Thanks to the crowds drawn by the start and end of season concerts, the lift system has become one of the most modern and efficient in Europe. The newest mountain access is by giant gondola with heated seats from the Pardatschbahn at the end of the village. This takes you up to Pardatsch, where we enjoyed dinner in the sparkling all-glass Pardorama restaurant with Blunty and his band, before joining them for a nightcap or two back at their hotel afterwards.