Over the past few seasons, Austria’s started to shake things up a bit as it’s mountains are being carefully knitted together. New lifts are creating large lift-linked areas, covering masses of terrain to rival its large French and Italian competitors, but they’re still sympathetic to the landscape and pistes they connect.
That’s not to say that ski areas that aren’t linked by lifts are any less convenient. Hopping on the bus is an everyday part of skiing for Austrians: they’re well planned, efficient and all included on your lift pass.
There’s something for everyone across the Austrian ski areas. Wide, gentle beginner runs and top-quality ski schools are top of the list in Scheffau, while you can ski one of the world’s steepest and most challenging blacks in Mayrhofen. Expect good snow conditions with pretty tree-lined runs in most ski areas, or head to the heights of Austria’s glaciers for snowsure conditions, ideal for early and late-season skiing.
So where do you start when choosing an Austrian ski area? Here’s a rundown of our favourites.
Lech | St Anton | St Christoph | Zürs
Until Winter 16/17, Arlberg consisted of two separate areas, and getting from one to the other meant a 40-minute bus ride. The introduction of the Flexenbahn gondola closed the loop, linking Lech, Zürs, St Christoph and St Anton with a total of 305km of piste. The Arlberg resorts are rather proud of their lifts, from the super-sleek network in Zürs to St Anton’s Galzigbahn, a majestic ferris-wheel structure sweeping out from its striking glass base. So naturally, the Flexenbahn was designed and built with panache, and the six minutes on comfy, heated seats will take you over some magical scenery. If you’re after a party scene then St Anton has a reputation for piste-side nightlife that will perk up any tired skier. Legendary bars like Krazy Kanguruh and Mooserwirt line the home runs, and in town we love the lively Bobo’s and Piccadilly Bar.
The SkiWelt held the title for Austria’s largest linked area until Arlberg overtook it in December 2016. There are 284km to play in, with plenty of beginner and intermediate runs in particular. A lot of the local slopes are north-facing so they hold onto their snow, and snowmaking is extensive and well used. It’s also got a family area, with kids’ ski schools running in both the morning and afternoon. The SkiWelt has some of Austria’s prettiest villages, with varying levels of liveliness, and plenty of Tyrolean mountain huts, which keeps die-hard Austria fans coming back year after year.
The Skicircus and Zell Am See-Kaprun
Hinterglemm | Saalbach | Kaprun | Zell Am See
From Winter 18/19, the Skicircus area will reach across to the bus-linked area of Zell am See-Kaprun, connecting two stellar ski areas into one. Although still on separate lift passes, the merger brings the excellent skiing and scenery of Saalbach closer to Kaprun’s distinctive Kitzsteinhorn Glacier, with ideal snow cover and ski conditions throughout the winter season. The first stage was finished in Winter 17/18 with a new 10-seater gondola from the top of the Schmittenhöhe. The end of 2018 marks its completion, with the opening of the lower ski area back to village level in Viehhofen. You’ll still need to take a bus in one direction but it’s cut a 40-minute bus journey down to a hop-on, hop-off shuttle. For families, the friendly slopes, traffic-free centre and range of non-ski activities like horse-drawn carriage rides and ice skating makes Zell am See a great choice.
The Zillertal Superski’s impressive 515km of piste ranges from the chilly altitudes of the Hintertux Glacier to the large network of runs at Hochzillertal. And while not yet lift-linked, getting between the four ski areas is hassle-free on the quick and easy public transport, which is included in the lift pass. Across the Zillertal Valley, there’s been some key lift upgrades in recent years, including the large capacity 3S Penkenbahn cable car – it’s made queues a thing of the past, and even has the added convenience of child-friendly access and WiFi on board. When in Mayrhofen, advanced skiers are challenged to take on the 38 degree gradient of Harakiri – Austria’s steepest run. Or if you’re more likely found in the park, Europe’s leading freestyle park, the Penken Park, is the place to be. Mayrhofen’s large, traditional town is a great all-rounder – whether you prefer skiing or boarding, partying until the sun comes up or the lazing in the spa, up-market luxury or budget-conscious, you’ll find something that meets your needs.
Sölden And Obergurgl-Hochgurgl
Obergurgl | Hochgurgl | Sölden | Hochsölden
Typically, the first step to linking areas is allowing skiers to explore each one on a single lift pass, and in Winter 17/18, that’s exactly what Sölden and Obergurgl-Hochgurgl did. Having already linked Obergurgl to Hochgurgl by lift back in 1997 with the construction of the Top Express, twenty years on they’ve combined the 144km of Sölden to Obergurgl-Hochgurgl’s 110km, to create an area of over 250km – now that’s more like it. Not only does this move increase the intermediate offering from around 50km to 100km, but those staying in Obergurgl and Hochgurgl can now take advantage of season-long great ski conditions on Sölden’s glacier mountain, all within their one lift pass. While Sölden’s ideal for lively nightlife because of its variety of bars and clubs, Obergurgl is more about the top-quality hotels, with the majority having spa and wellness facilities on site – ideal for a much slower, relaxed pace of life.
Ready for your next adventure? Check out our Austria deals page to browse our best-priced ski holidays this winter.