Avid skiers and snowboarders can’t wait to get back on the slopes. When the lifts are working, and we’re able to ski again, the first sight of the majestic slopes will be magical. The Austrian Tyrol ski resorts are well prepared for the winter season and conform to carefully considered protection procedures for Covid-19. These steps go beyond those developed by the government in some resorts. What are the top five spectacular ski resorts?
Skiing in Hintertux is a visual treat at all times. That’s in part because it’s a glacier resort, one of only two open all year round. Many people ski the Alps when snowless, and when they do, it is a little like hopping on a time machine to ride the gondola up from the Valley Station. All seasons are seen, spring, summer, or autumn to the middle of winter in half an hour and magically return to your starting point at the end of the day.
But it’s also because of the pyramid top of the Olperer, which dominates the scene and overlooks the highest pistes. It’s a mountain seen from the north and east, which seems to have been reduced to its bare essentials: a triangular shape, a sheer rock wall, and razor-sharp ridges. And it’s never more spectacular, with the sun setting behind it than in late November.
The Silvretta High Alpine Road is a beautiful drive in the summer. It serves up turns and soaring peaks for almost its entire length, connecting Galtur with the Montafon Valley, and is regarded as one of Austria’s best drives. It’s shut in the winter, however. That means Galtur is an end-of-the-line resort in the ski season, with the calming, go-no-further feeling you find in any valley in the final village. No-one here is in a hurry, except maybe to go skiing. And they find plenty of chances to rest and soak up the view while they’re on the slopes.
The Gorfenspitze and Ballunspitze are the two pin-up mountains here, pyramid peaks that stand over the valley like sentinels and make for a mesmerising final approach as you drive in from Ischgl. But there are plenty of other visual delights.
You remember how they used to wind a looped, never-ending backdrop behind the actors as they ran on the spot in the silent-movie period, so it looked as if they were moving? Skiing is a little like that in St. Anton. On the opposite side of the Arlberg ski area, you get down into a tuck, straighten your skis into a shot, and head off towards Warth. Another stunning mountain appears to be winding past you every time you look up.
No other ski area offers a majestic procession of peaks as you cross it. You start at Gampen, immediately above the city, looking across the valley at the 2816m Vodere Rendlspitze. Then it is past the Valluga’s jagged ridge, followed by the Flexenspitze beyond Stuben, the Hasenfluh, and above Zurs.
Innsbruck is a vibrant city with deep historical roots, planted right in the middle of the Alps, and a rare sense of spectacle is created by the fusion of urban and mountain scenery. A view of soaring peaks frames every lane. Each summit provides a God-like panorama over the buildings. Mother Nature at her very best here.
When you ski the Nordkette, one of 13 ski areas surrounding the city, this intermixing is at its finest. There’s a thrill even getting there as you ride on Zaha Hadid’s stylish mountain railway out of the city centre before catching a few lifts up to 2,300m.
It is like finding a hidden kingdom of snow the first time you go to Obergurgl. You need to travel 27 miles down the Otztal to reach it ever deeper into the Alps, ever more natural, past the resorts of Hochoetz and Solden, you emerge into the final stretch of the valley to face a parade of peaks.
Almost everywhere you look, there are 3,000m summits, and you get the feeling that this is one of the strongholds of skiing as you ride the chairlifts upwards and feel the bite of the frigid air. Obergurgl has an unusually long season, perfect for keen skiers.