I have recently returned to the UK after living for the past two years in Austria. Not only did I have four fantastic seasons there, it was the country where I originally learnt to ski.
Oddly, I started working in Austria as a summer rep and accidentally fell into working a ski season. Saying that, my winters soon ended up being my favourite seasons.
Starting at the age of 30, I found that I was a pretty nervous skier, however, with the support (and laughter) of my friends and colleagues, I was encouraged to get out onto the slopes as much as possible. I soon realised that Austria was the perfect country to learn to ski. It offered plenty of resorts that are suitable for beginners. Although I certainly wasn’t the best skier, this didn’t matter, and I realised that there were many other advantages to learning to ski in Austria.
One of the main ones being that Austria has a famously efficient public transport system, which allowed me to experience many ski resorts. Below are a few of my favourites, along with some photos I took on my travels.
St. Johann in Tirol
I was lucky enough to be put into ski school whilst working in St. Johann in Tirol. St. Johann is a great place to learn, and the Red Ski School has a very established reputation, teaching adults and kids alike for many years. There is a nursery slope tucked away from the all the experienced skiers to practise on, with a nearby chair lift to take you up after a couple of days to the easiest part of the blue home run. Being my home resort, this is the ski area where I spent most of my time, and with the lovely open blue runs I felt confident enough to ski on my own. My goal was to be able to ski from the top of the mountain to the bottom, which I can very proudly say that I achieved.
Aswell as the skiing, sampling the local food and drink soon became one of my favourite past times in Austria. If you have never tried traditional Austrian grub, you really must. My favourite thing about skiing in St. Johann was that it has many more mountain restaurants per km of piste than anywhere else in the world.
There is nothing better than sitting outside one of the many mountain restaurants eating your favourite Austrian dish and washing it down with a thirst quenching Radler.
The other great thing about Austria is that unlike many other countries, most of Austria’s resorts will charge the same amount of Euros on the mountain for food and drink as they do in the town – which means local’s prices.
Living in St. Johann I had the Schneewinkel area pass, which covers not only St. Johann, but many other resorts around the area. There’s a free bus that travels to and from the lift station to the main ski areas on this pass. On one of the many bus journeys, I was taken to Steinplatte – the ski area in Waidring – and it very quickly became my favourite place to ski.
The area stays pretty quiet compared to other resorts, and has a great choice of blue runs in a massive bowl. This gives new skiers plenty of choice and freedom to practice without getting lost. It’s a great place to quickly build up your confidence and you can even ski over the border to Germany (Passports optional).
There are three big reasons why I loved Hochgurgl so much.
The area is very similar to Steinplatte; it’s in a big bowl, so there’s a large amount of open blue runs.
Secondly, you can take the chair lift to the top of the mountain, which takes you to an outstanding viewing platform with a panoramic bar. At this point you will be 3080m above sea level and you can look across to the Dolomites in Italy.
Thirdly, next to Hochgurgl is Obergurgl, a very popular resort linked with a cable car or free ski bus. On the home run in Obergurgl is the Nederhutte, voted the best Apres bar in Austria.
Out of any bar or club I have been to in a number of countries, I don’t think any of them come anywhere near to the craziness of an Austrian Apres bar. From the Austrian music, to the half naked ski instructors dancing on window ledges, to the endless bottles of Jägermeister, to the Schnapps pouring from the ceiling. What’s not to love?
The atmosphere at the Nederhutte is superb, and the food is also fantastic. My favourite part is that if you have a few too many Schnapps or don’t want to ski when it’s dark, the Nederhutte offers a free skidoo service to take you back down the last part of the home run into town. Perfect. Oh, and don’t forget that Hochgurgl was voted the most snow sure resort in Europe, so you’re almost guaranteed great snow.
ZELL AM SEE
Zell am See is actually my favourite resort, so it’s little surprise that it’s also one of my favourite places to ski. With 138km of piste and 31 blue runs, it makes for a great day of skiing, especially for a beginner.
The views are outstanding as you head down the pistes, overlooking the beautiful frozen lake. The City Express lift means that you have quick access onto the slopes from the town and a quick journey back down, when all you want is a Gluhwein to warm you up at the end of the day.
I highly recommend Niederau if you’re a first time skier. I would say it’s probably the most popular resort in Austria for families and new skiers, and is also often used by the charity DSUK (Disability Sports UK).
There are plenty of nursery slopes throughout the whole resort to choose from, and once confident, there is a fantastic long run from the top of the mountain to the bottom. In 2012 a new lift was put in joining the Niederau ski area to the Alpbach ski area, now offering skiers 145km of piste on the same pass.
This is the resort where I skied for the first time, so holds a very special place in my heart. Skiing on a glacier may not seem the obvious place for a beginner, but it was early in the season and so was quiet, which left me with lots of room to fall over and attempt to turn. I really enjoy the runs here and it turned into a great place to build your confidence as the red runs are pretty easy. The pistes have fantastic views looking over to the lake at Zell am See.
One of the great attractions in Austrian ski resorts are the Spas. The Tauern Spa in Kaprun has to be m ultimate favourite. However, if you wish to try out all the steam rooms and saunas, be prepared to get naked. The Austrians are very comfortable strutting around in all their glory, whilst us English tend to worry about our pride and dignity.
However, if you can do it, I’d recommend giving it a go. It’s very liberating and Austrian spas have to be the best I have ever experienced. There’s no better way to relax your muscles and unwind after a day on the slopes.
Austria is the perfect place to learn to ski, as it has great resorts that are ideally suited for families and beginner skiers, the ski schools are all highly rated, and the activities are all superb.
If Austria doesn’t tick all the boxes then have a look at some of our other favourite resorts in Europe for beginners.