The country of pretty chalet-style villages has a high standard of accommodation, a cuisine of delicious pastries and cakes, heart-warming soups and dumplings and of course Wiener Schnitzel. But Austria, and in particular the Tirol region, is also home to some of the best beginner skiing in the Alps.
So if you’re looking for a low-stress start to your skiing career, you could consider one of these five Tirolean resorts.
Mayrhofen is a bustling, buzzing place, littered with energetic après-ski bars, and blessed with some of the coolest mountain restaurants in the Alps. For anyone who wants to sample the skiing day in all its glory – from first turns in the morning sunshine, to dancing on a table in your ski boots at dusk – it’s a great choice. What’s more, package-holiday prices tend to be noticeably cheaper here than in the A-list resorts of France: as are things like beer, coffee, and the price of a decent lunch.
The only drawback is the hassle of getting to the snow each morning. Mayrhofen has two separate ski areas – Penken and the Ahorn – and to reach either one, you have to ride a lift from town up into the mountains. It’s worth the effort, though. Most first-timers start on Penken where there’s a flat area of stress-free snow used by the ski schools – well away from the rest of the pistes. Then, when they’ve mastered the basics, they can switch to the Ahorn.
This is Mayrhofen’s real strength in the beginner department. An plateau of easy pistes, with its own underused nursery slope, it’s ringed by spectacular peaks and is the perfect place to polish your technique without having hundreds of other skiers zipping past and freaking you out. Both the White Lounge igloo and the sharp, contemporary Freiraurm are fantastic places to cool your ski boots when you need a break, too.
Further information: www.mayrhofen.at
Of course, not everyone wants an unchanging diet of ski ski ski on their first winter holiday: and if that sounds like you, put Seefeld at the top of your shortlist. Here you’ll find a very broad and easy-going introduction to the delights of snow – courtesy of the town’s 279km network of cross-country trails, as well as snow-shoeing, tobogganing and sleigh rides. The town’s also home to a pretty area of outdoor ice rink, next to the church, where you can play a local, lightweight version of curling.
As for the downhill, beginners start on nursery slopes in the middle of town, before progressing to an area of easy blues on the north face of the 1500m Gschwandtkopf. Admittedly, the slopes are fairly low here, so this is a mid-winter place to learn: we wouldn’t suggest skiing Seefeld after the end of February. But when the snow’s good and cold, it makes for a very low-stress introduction to the sport.
Further information: www.seefeld.com
Prices are reasonable, the nursery slopes are long and broad, and there’s a great spirit amongst its multinational team of ski instructors, many of whom are Dutch and speak excellent English. Add a little local Wildschonau Schnapps to the equation, and you’ll understand why it has such a loyal following.
Don’t worry too much about the altitude, either. Niederau itself sits at 800m, which is low by modern standards: but the nursery slopes are set below the steep, north-facing wall of the Markbachjoch, and stay remarkably cold through the first half of the season. What’s more, there are a couple of easy pistes at the top of the lift system, at 1500m, to progress to once you’ve built a little confidence.
Further information: www.wildschoenau.com
If you’re planning an Easter skiing trip with the kids, then Obergurgl should be one of your targets. Set at 1930m at the end of a long, cold valley, it’s one of the most snowsure resorts in the Alps.
It’s child-friendly too. Many of its hotels have playrooms and swimming pools, and family-skiing specialist Esprit runs a holiday programme there, complete with kids’ clubs, nurseries and qualified British nannies.
The skiing rises to over 3000m, but for first-timers, the lower slopes are the focus, with the beginners’ pistes close to the hotels, and plenty of ski instructors on hand to provide tuition. There’s no language problem here, by the way. Obergurgl has long been a bastion of British skiing in Austria, and almost everyone speaks good English.
Further information: www.obergurgl.com
More particularly, let the four-star superior Hotel Böglerhof in Alpbach be your goal. It’s a lovely spot. Well-run, relaxing and gracious, it makes liberal use of unvarnished Swiss pine in the bedrooms and the soft, woody smell is a delight, morning, noon and night. So are the prices. A junior suite here costs less than a standard double in some three-star hotels in Meribel.
To make life easy, there’s a beginner-friendly ski slope virtually next door. It’s perhaps a little steep for your first-ever day on snow: and, as a result, the local ski school takes you to a flat area at the bottom of the pistes in neighbouring Inneralpbach. But after day one, you can transfer to Alpbach’s own piste. Set apart from the main ski area, it’s one of the prettiest nursery slopes we know.
Further information: www.alpbachtal.at.