Herwig Kolzer is Regional Manager of Holland, Denmark, Belgium and the UK for the Austrian National Tourist Office, based in Amsterdam. He has skied in much of the Austrian Alps – from the large world-famous ski resorts to some of the smaller and less well-known villages.
Most people are unaware of the fact that Austria has a mighty 425 resort and only a tiny proportion of them are known internationally. These little villages where foreign tourists are a rarity can offer quite exceptional skiing. Some of my best ever days on skis have been spent in places that no one outside Austria has ever even heard of!
But then again I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in big name resorts. Here, my favourite runs are not necessarily the celebrated ones like the Streif in Kitzbuhel. Usually you can find a run off the beaten track and away from the crowds, that excels. Here are some of my favourites.
Tannwald Abfahrt (no.21) – Zell-am-See-Kaprun
Abfahrt means ‘downhill’, enough to strike fear into the heart of a nervous skier. But don’t worry, it also translates as ‘run’ – a great intermediate trail through the trees most of the way down from above Zell am See to the valley hamlet of Viehhofen. It’s long and scenic – with no nasty surprises, reached by an easy run from the top of the Schmittenhohebahn.
As a prepared piste it’s brand new for winter 2016/17, although it’s been an itinerary option for the past couple of winters. December 2016 saw the opening of the ZellamseeXpress gondola, which brings you back up. You can follow a ski route to the valley, but you’ll need a bus or a taxi to get back to Zell. A return lift is scheduled to open within the next couple of years.
Wow factor: genuine thigh-tester.
Further information: Zell am See-Kaprun Tourism.
Westside Story (ski route X2) – Zell am See-Kaprun
This ski route, reached from the top of the Kristallbahn six-person chair at Kaprun, needs lots of snow-cover and avalanche control. As a consequence it is by no means always open. But if you hit it right on a bluebird day after a significant dump, you are in for some real Maria moments.
You’ll need avalanche gear, but it’s not steep or difficult – unless you choose some of the variations these guys tried in the video. The run brings you down to the Langwied gondola mid-station at 1976m.
Wow factor: an Oscar or even two, but not as many as the 1961 film (it won 10).
More information: Zell am See-Kaprun Tourism.
Abfahrt Viehhofen (no.68) – Saalbach
The A word again…but again there’s nothing to fear – this run is the longest in the resort but it’s an easy blue that takes you down to the hamlet from the top of the 1914m Groser Asistz at the extreme edge of the resort.
To get to it, you take the new Schonleitenbahn gondola at Vorderglemm followed by the Polten eight-person chair. It’s a great morning out for anyone who has just mastered skiing parallel, a chance to truly put some miles beneath your feet. The only difficulty lies in whether or not to stop halfway down for a Gluhwein at the atmospheric Hecherhutte.
At bottom you take the ski bus back to Vorderglemm, picking up the occasional skier from Zell-am-See who has come down the ski route at the bottom of the Tannwald Abfahrt (see above) and is now venturing into Saalbach terrain – both resorts are covered by the regional lift pass.
Wow factor: exhilarating and confidence-building.
More information: Saalbach Tourism.
Sonnenmulde (no. F11) – Fieberbrunn, Skicircus
Fieberbrunn, for those who don’t know it, is the freeride capital of Austria and the very useful addition to the Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn. The TirolS gondola links not only two resorts with 270km of skiing between them, but the provinces of Tirol and Salzburgerland.
Sonnenmulde is a pleasing red run off the top of the Hochhorndl chair, just below the 2078m summit of Mt Henne. “Good grippy piste,” you might say, “but nothing special.” However, given powder conditions, the fun starts two-thirds of the way down when you can branch off, skier’s right, onto two glorious ski routes.
Don’t do it without avalanche gear. Big Mom (F35) stays more in the fall-line, while Big Dude hugs the cleft of a little valley. Both bring you back to the TirolS with a giant smile on your face.
Wow factor: Off the scale.
More information: Saalbach Tourism.
Inneralpbach Abfahrt (no.47), Ski Juwel Alpachtal Wildschonau
This winding intermediate descent takes you down through the trees all the way from Gmahkopf above Alpbach at 1900m to the farming hamlet of Inneralpbach at 1050m. Much of the route follows the path of a summer road, but there are some glorious wider pitches over rolling meadows where cows roam in summer.
The rewards at the bottom are traditional dishes such as Tiroler Grostl and Kaiserschmarrn at a choice of family-run restaurants.
Wow factor: wonderful winding descent…and lunch looks promising.
More information: Ski Juwel Alpbachtal Tourism.
Hochberg Abfahrt (no.16) – Ski Juwel Wildschonau
Of all the resorts in the Wildschonau valley, Auffach gets the limelight these days because of its link across the Schatzberg to Alpbach. However, good old Niederau – ever popular with the beginner market – has a black secret.
The Hochberg Abfahrt, reached by the Lanerkopfl quad-chair is a former FIS downhill course that represents considerable challenge – certainly not a run that you’ll be tacking during your first week on skis! This one really deserves the A word.
It’s steep, icy and, because it is mainly in the shade, it holds its snow well.
Wow factor: deeply satisfying – particularly the lower section.
More information: Ski Juwel Wildschonau Tourism.
Schwarzkogel (Ski Route 56) – Kitzbuhel
Some of the best and most enjoyable runs seem to lie on the extreme edge of a resort’s ski area – possibly because less people venture here – and Schwarzkogel in Kitzbuhel is no exception.
From Pengelstein, ski down to the D6 chair and the run starts from the top. On a clear day it’s one of the best in the whole resort, a long 1000m undulating descent all the way to the nursery slows in the hamlet of Aschau. The fact that you have to catch a bus to the Pengelstein gondola to get back in the lift system puts off most skiers. They don’t know what they are missing. It’s a glorious cruise with great views.
Wow factor: spectacular. Don’t tell anyone else.
More Information: Kitzbuhel Tourism.
Lorenzital (no.9) – Brandt, Vorarlberg
This ski area near Bludenz in the western province of Vorarlberg is largely unknown outside Austria and Germany but has some great family terrain. The 14-lift ski area covers 65km of piste above the villages of Brand, Burserberg and Burs.
Starting point is 2000m Glattjoch, the high point of the ski area. The run starts off as an easy blue (no.8) before steepening to a reasonable red as it branches off left into the scenic Lorenzital with wooded slopes on both sides.
If you want a greater challenge, stay a little longer on no.8 before branching off onto black no.16 – one of the toughest pitches in the resort – which joins no. 9 further down. Both runs wind down to Parpfienz at 1390m. From here you can take a six-pack back up or a cable car across to the Burserberg ski area.
Wow factor: stunning (scary, if you take the black).
More information: Brandertal Vorarlberg Tourism.
Diedamskopf (no.1 and no.22) – Bregenzerwald, Vorarlberg
Au maybe an exclamation associated with a fall on ice, but it’s also a hamlet in the Vorarlberg at the foot of the 2090m Diedamskopf, the highest ski mountain in the province. Au and adjoining Schoppernau have eight lifts (including two cableways), 40km of piste, and is a popular destination for ski-touring.
On a clear day, from the top of no.1 you can see Lake Constance before you point your skis towards the valley for this superb 1270m descent.
It starts off as a moderately steep black, way above the treeline. It follows the fall-line before sweeping out to the right and then back again before merging into red run no.22 which you follow all the way down to the lift station at 820m. Given reasonable snow conditions the only problem is deciding whether or not to stop off at the Wiedelstube restaurant at the halfway point.
Wow factor: infinitely rewarding.
More information: Au-Schoppernau Tourism.
Rufikopf (no. 38A) – Lech Zurs Vorarlberg
The best runs aren’t necessarily the most challenging. This one is ideally suited to the second or third weeker who’s up for a whole morning’s adventure. It’s a chance to explore high Alpine terrain for the first time and build confidence.
It begins with a ride on Lech’s twin cableway to the top of the summit of the 2362m Rufikopf. Don’t be put off by the sickeningly steep gradient outside the window – you’re going down the far side.
The route is graded red at the top. If you think that is stretching your technical skills too much (there’s one short, steeper pitch), take the blue alternative (no.38). Both bring you down to the bottom of the Schuttboden drag-lift.
At the top, continue on no.38A which is now wonderfully blue, all the way to the bottom of the Trittalp chair, which offers more gentle skiing. Alternatively, meander on down blue no.3 into Zurs for a well-earned lunch before catching the ski bus back to Lech.
Wow factor: so this is what skiing is all about!
More information: Lech Tourism.
See also our feature Revealed: The 10 Ski Runs That Deliver the Best Skiing in Austria.
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These are some of my favourites runs in Austria. Do tell us about yours in the comments box below.