Skiing in Austria

The HFO Guide to Austria

Austria was the first place I ever skied on real snow, and the first place I saw really impressive mountains. It was strange going back to those first slopes years later - pistes that had taken me half an hour to get down when I was a beginner took me a couple of minutes.

Where It All Started

Austria is a popular destination for English package tour ski holidays. The resort of Söll used to be very popular with the Club 18-30 crowd a few years back, and featured heavily in the 1987 BBC TV documentary On the piste as an example of all that was bad about skiing.

That documentary's coverage of modern skiers helped formulate the approach that the HFO decided to adopt. We didn't want to be like any of them at all.

By Road

The only members of the HFO ever to travel to Austria by coach travelled from the U.K. to St. Anton. Their verdict: "never again!"

By Air

The HFO have flown to Austrian holidays via both Munich airport in Germany, and Salzburg airport in Austria. On a clear day, as you walk down the steps off the plane in Munich, you can see the mountains off on the horizon. As of our last visit, Munich doesn't have satellite terminals or walkways between the aircraft and the terminal, so you may end up getting on the bus to customs in a snowstorm.

From both Munich and Salzburg the coach transfer took a couple of hours. From Munich the coach passes the Völkl ski factory at Kufstein. Crossing the border was fast and uneventful.

Spotty snow records...

We've tended to avoid Austria since the effects of climate change really began to be noticed. Austrian resorts tend to be much lower than their French or Italian counterparts and when the snow doesn't come, you really notice it. The last time we skied the Grossraum circuit we had to stop on one day because the rain was washing all the snow away. There are few things more demoaralising on a skiing holiday than squelching through a green field with your skis on your shoulders.

...and spread out

Centre of HFO operations for several years was the resort of Ellmau at the foot of the Wilder Kaiser in the Grossraum ski area. Be careful where you stay here - some of the accommodation can be a good twenty minutes walk from the town centre - not popular when you're meeting up for a meal in the evening.

Ellmau is within easy striking distance of the other resorts in the Grossraum circuit: Going, Scheffau, Söll and Westendorf.

Best For Beginners and Intermediates

Grading - Black runs in Austria are fairly few and far between, but if you find one, it'll be quite a challenge. Most of the runs around the Grossraum tended to be reds.

At our last visit, Austria was still using a lot of T-bar lifts. It's advisable to travel up these with someone you know, as getting off them can be quite tricky for the inexperienced. Coordination is a good idea or you can find yourself being lifted off the ground with the lift bar behind your knees.

Austria is where many of the HFO learned to ski. Their instructors are among the best of the world, and we can always spot a skier who learned the ropes there - they have so much more style!

Austria is well suited for beginners. In the Grossraum, most of the runs are easy reds but there were plenty of blues near the resort. The best skiing in the area when we've visited (and we'd pretty much explored the whole place in a week) was at Westendorf, where there were a number of quite demanding red runs.

Expandable Waistbands a Must

Like France, Austria isn't the sort of place that sees a lot of vegetarians, and the local restaurants cater for people who like their meat red, served in large quantities. The staple lunchtime diet was Goulash soup, with rye bread, or sausages of one type or another. Evening meals in restaurants offered a wide variety of steaks, veal, or occasionally chicken. Mushrooms are a very popular side dish.

For lighter menus, the Austrians excel at soups. Apart from the goulash mentioned earlier, Frittaten Suppe consists of a soup with slices of fried pancake - very filling. Highly recommended, but only if everyone else has it too, is garlic soup. Be warned that it becomes very obvious to your companions what you had for dinner if you order it.

Austria really comes into its own when it comes to desserts. The HFO dish of choice, and star of many heroic tales, is the mighty Germknödel, a suet and mincemeat concoction which can lower your centre of gravity by several inches. Glorious.

In true internet fashion, please bear in mind that your mileage may vary. Resorts change from year to year. These pages are intended to give a flavour of what we found each trip to be like: our experiences are not necessarily going to be the same as yours. We hope they'll be as enjoyable!