Gauxerstadl, midway down the blue run to the foot of the Pengelstein gondola, just outside the resort of Kirchberg, is as pleasant a spot for lunch as you could wish for: delicious grilled dumplings of potato, egg and cheese in clear broth and a cheerful lady to explain how they are made. The more cheerful, perhaps, because the new snow has increased the restaurant’s passing trade from a trickle to a moderate flow.
The change from beach weather (a few days ago near Alpbach we spotted a sunbather stretched out by a lake) reduced visibility above the treeline to a few metres. But when the clouds thinned we were able to ride the impressive 3S-Bahn across the intervening valley to the Jochberg lift complex, where conditions on the slopes from the Zweitausender (2004m), accessed by a new chair with heated seats, were the best we have experienced in over a week in the Tirol.
With bright sunshine and lower temperatures than in recent days, there was also glorious skiing on runs to the top of the Hahnenkamm gondola, including several reds and blacks on which the snow was near perfect. By midweek, melting snow close to the foot of the Pengelstein gondola obliged us to walk the last 100m or so – but it was a small price to pay for the lovely last run of the day.
A bonus is that the pistes have been very quiet: no queues and no problem finding tables in restaurants. That went for the Baerenbadalm, perched at 1883m on the Baerenbadkogel, where the Gulasch soup is excellent, service rapid and – joy of joys – the loos are on the same level as the restaurant. Nor was there any problem finding a table in the sun at the Berg Gasthof Hochbrunn, where a great pan full of wonderful Tiroler Gröstl was too much to resist.
This season it has paid to have the use of a car. Normally it is possible to ski most of the way back to our Kirchberg hotel, Hotel Sonne, new this winter in the Inghams brochure. Thus the hotel has a shuttle to the Maierbahn gondola in the morning, but doesn’t operate a similar service at the end of the day, meaning guests have to catch a ski bus or take a taxi. Being able to drive to the Pengelstein, where parking is easy except at peak weekends, has been a blessing, not least because of the spacious Sport Riesen shop in the lift station, where we have hired skis – and left them overnight. There’s no knowing, of course, whether having your own wheels will continue to be as useful until the end of the season but unless there is more heavy snow, anyone planning a late, last-minute trip should surely consider it.
Interested in Tirolean food? See our feature on Austrian cooking.