Check out the pictures, below, from the Skiwelt ski area: taken on a day which showed this part of Austria at its very best.
Of course, any mountain range on a sunny day is going to be beautiful. But there’s something especially satisfying about the top-to-bottom views you get here – the towns and villages nestling in the valley below, the patchwork of forest and pastures, the endless visual variety. It looks playful and benign. And it’s a refreshing change from the austere grandeur of the high-altitude ski resorts of France.
There’s more to this place than the views, though. The Skiwelt is an alliance of six lift companies an hour’s drive from Innsbruck – and together they offer 279km network of interconnected pistes. That’s big by any standard, and one of its distinguishing characteristics is the profusion of blue and red-rated runs.
There aren’t many steep blacks, and you won’t find more than a couple of death-defying couloirs either. Instead, mile after mile of wide, rolling groomers unfurl across the countryside. Yes, some of them are a bit short, but there are also several scintillating top-to-bottom descents which drop through 1000 vertical metres. It feels like a private kingdom for intermediate-level skiers: and it will take a whole week to explore it properly.
Prices are low too. At lunchtime, my guide Alex and I checked into an eye-wateringly cute little mountain hut – the Jausenstation Frankalm, beneath the pyramid peak of the Hohe Salve. Alex had a big bowl of potato soup loaded with sausage, with a couple of slices of bread on the side, for six euros. I ate a plate of delicious pasta for 7.50€. If we’d wanted a half-litre of beer to wash it down, that would have cost 3.30€. I couldn’t believe it. In any A-list resort you’d pay a small fortune to get this kind of character and quality.
There is one important caveat about the Skiwelt though. It’s low, even for the eastern half of the Alps (which has a colder climate than the west). Most of the skiing is between 800 and 1800m, so you need to come in the middle of a cold, snowy winter to get the best of it.
By way of compensation for the low altitude, you get trees. Almost every piste is lined with them, and that means you’re going to be able to ski whatever the visibility is like: because when the cloud comes down or a blizzard blows in the dark mass of trees adds lowlights to the snow, and a backdrop against which you can gauge your progress. You won’t get that somewhere like Tignes. The trees add shelter from the wind, too. It’s rare indeed for the lifts to close because of it.
There was certainly no problem with conditions today. Currently, there’s two metres of snow bedded down on the higher pistes, and 50cm even on the valley floor. Temperatures were good and cold from top to bottom, and the air crystal clear. In a word: heaven.
For independent travel, fly to Innsbruck, which is served daily from London Gatwick, and twice weekly from Liverpool and Bristol, by easyJet. You can find lots more information about travel to the Wilder Kaiser at www.wilderkaiser.info and about the Tirol at www.visittirol.co.uk. Visit www.skiwelt.at/en/ to learn more about the 279km of interconnected pistes of the Skiwelt.