Innsbruck is like no other ski resort you’ve been to. Some might say it’s not a ski resort as such – rather a city with lots of skiing nearby.
But in fact it fits both definitions – because it actually has a lift from the city centre, the Hungerbergbahn cog railway, linking via cable cars straight into the skiing at Seegrube-Nordkette.
In any event, it’s a captivating and elegant city at the centre of a feast of skiing – and by checking in at the Tirolean capital you can enjoy the ultimate in apres-ski while experiencing world class skiing and boarding at a different resort each day.
A whole collection of resorts surrounding the city can be skied on the same ski pass, covering scores of lifts.
The Seegrube-Nordkette area is the city’s ‘back garden’ skiing. You can see the runs from the city centre. It’s reached by the amazing Hungerbergbahn that is part underground as it leaves the city centre on the banks of the Inn, then by cable car. The area has some pleasant intermediate runs with views that are among the most awesome of any resort – and towering above is the Karinne run, one of the most fearsome in the world.
Probably the best-known of the holiday villages around Innsbruck, a university city of charm and culture which has twice hosted the Winter Olympics, is Igls. Although it’s a well-established resort in its own right, you can take a tram there from the city centre.
The village, with a number of refined four and five-star hotels, is a model of restrained elegance – somewhat at odds with the event there nearly 35 years ago that brought it to worldwide attention. That was two or three minutes of raw adrenaline, when a yellow cat-suited madman called Franz Klammer hurled himself down the Patscherkofel in a reckless, and successful, attempt to secure gold in the Winter Olympics Men’s Downhill.
Visitors can still do the run, which is interwoven with a blue version for the more timid. A cable car takes skiers from the village, surmounted by a chair to the summit of the Patscherkofel. From here Innsbruck is dramatically stretched out below. The rest of the slopes are served by a couple of fast quads and two draglifts. When there is good snow some fabulous off-piste is possible through the trees which start just below the summit.
Axamer Lizum offers is a varied selection of red and blue runs and a compact and efficient network of lifts. There are some steepish slopes, and no shortage of bump runs. Apart from the Men’s Downhill, all the Alpine events in 1976 were held here including the Women’s Downhill.
Between the marked runs there’s a great deal of off-piste on some exciting terrain – with lots of hidden gullies and gun-barrels – and Axamer also has a wonderful treat in store. That’s a near seven-mile technically off-piste but well travelled route from just below the Pleisen summit to the outskirts off Axams, a perfect end-of-the-day run.
Nearby is the delightfully named Oberperfuss – a family-friendly area 12 kilometres west of Innsbruck. A gondola here gives access to some super slopes on the Rangger Köpfl mountain – as well as a 10-kilometre toboggan run. It’s worth skiing if only to add the name to your list of ticked resorts.
An under-rated resort about 15 miles west of Innsbruck is Kuhtai – a must for a day trip if you’re staying in Innsbruck, but equally worthwhile as an ideal family destination for a week. Trivia point: It is also Austria’s highest ski village (as opposed to highest parish, which is Obergurgl).
It is one of Austria’s most snow-sure resorts, set at 6,560ft. The ski area is not vast, but its three high-speed quads and handful of draglifts serve runs that during the week are very quiet. The village has excellent nursery slopes, and a good terrain park for the boarders and free-skiers in the party.
The area, once the summer hunting grounds of the Emperor Maximilian and dotted with stone-built hunting huts, is also renowned for ski touring, with routes stretching out into the Stubaital and Otztal.
Another little resort that you could find on the tip of your tongue is Mutters, which was re-launched in 2006 with a new quad chair and gondola after being closed for six winters. There is some delightful family skiing here as well as an official FIS run. Beginners are also well catered for on some good nursery slopes.
Travelling from Innsbruck into the stunningly beautiful Stubai Valley brings you to Fulpmes, whose skiing area glories in the name of Schlick 2000. The main skiing, reached by a gondola from the outskirts of the village, is in a huge bowl that is protected by surrounding ridges. Within the bowl is enough skiing to keep intermediates entertained for a few days, but also some quite seriously challenging off-piste if you know where to look.
The village is sizeable and traditionally Tirolean. It is also famous for producing the best mountain-climbing equipment in the world – and for being the base of one of the oldest and most spectacular mountain railway routes, with fabulous old trains taking you along a track that is a marvel of engineering all the way into Innsbruck. When the train finally descends into the Tirolean capital, it suddenly becomes a city tram. A journey not to be missed.
Eat drink and sleep Innsbruck
Innsbruck is both a university town and one of great history and culture – and its hotels, restaurants, bars and nightclubs span the whole spectrum. You can gourmet dine or stick to a budget – and it’s a small and intimate city, so you’ll get to know your way around quickly.
Treat yourself, and for a price not outrageous considering the quality (they do a 55 euro gourmet meal), at the oozing-with-atmosphere award-winning Europa Stuberl at the Grand Hotel Europa. Feast on apple pumpkin lasagne with goose liver, snail ragout au gratin and the great Austrian speciality of Tafelspitz, prime beef with creamy spinach, roast potatoes and apple horseradish and chive sauce.
The Ottoburg, on the banks of the Inn and close to the Golden Roof in the old centre, is housed in one of the oldest buildings in the city and has traditional and hearty Tirolean dishes and a fabulous view of the dramatic Nordkette ski area.
Enjoy some great traditional Austrian dishes in Igls at the Aegidihof. After a day on the slopes at Kühtai you’ll have worked up an appetite – head for Italian at the Pizzeria Rustica or Casa Nuova, or Tirolean dishes at the Kühtaier Alm or Zum Kaiser.
In Mutters, the Gasthaus Schupfen is always reliable, with Tirolean and international dishes drawing locals and visitors alike. And in Fulpmes the Dorfkrug has Austrian specialities with a gourmet twist. At Oberperfuss the Kleissl likes to ring the changes with some Mexican food as well as Bavarian specialities.
Limerick Bill’s is a lively Irish pub near the old town, on several levels and with several bars – and shows live football. Very popular with students. Nearby in Maria Theresien Strasse is the classy 360-degree cocktail bar, with panoramic views of the city and the surrounding mountains. At Invinum you can organise your own wine tasting with friends, with snacks too. And Henrik’s, in Fallmerayerstrasse, is a classy bar with great cocktails and good bar food too.
Zwolver and the Piano Bar in the old town are both worth a visit, as well as the Hofgarten Café and Filou.
After skiing at Igls, the Bon Alpina is always welcoming, as is the original Tirolean wine stube of the Batzenhausl hotel. Or you could luxuriate in front of the log fire in the Hunters Lodge cocktail bar of the five-star Schlosshotel.
In Fulpmes, popular spots include Ossi and Corso – the village has a surprisingly lively après-ski scene.
For a ski trip with a real difference – staying in a vibrant city with a real buzz but having world-class skiing on your doorstep – you should experience actually staying in Innsbruck. For a feeling of luxury, the Grand Hotel Europa is hard to beat – heaps of atmosphere too with many of the rooms wood-panelled and furnished with antiques. The Hotel Central has a charming old-fashioned feel about it – you could almost be in Vienna on a set in The Third Man.
In Igls the Batzenhausl, two minutes’ walk from the village centre, is a traditional style hotel and a great place to unwind after a day exploring the pistes. You can relax in front of the open fire, or take advantage of the wellness spa.
The Römerhof, modern and with a good spa, has a great position in Igls, right next door to the Patscherkofel cable car. If the snow is good you can ski right back to the hotel.
At Axamer Lizum there’s the Hotel Edelweiss offering full board accommodation along with a pool and central village location.
There are two ski-in, ski-out hotels in Kuhtai. The Hotel Astoria, which is an intimate family run hotel, in one of the sunniest spots in Kuhtai. There’s also the fullboard Sporthotel which is renowned for its service with a famous wine cellar, comfortable bar and lounge and nightclub as well as an indoor swimming pool.
So, what’s happening in the Olympia SkiWorld this winter?
There’s always a high-profile winter sports event going on – for instance you could catch Europa Cup skeleton bob racing at Igls from December 2 to 5, and there’s FIS Masters ski racing on December 17 and 18.
The New Year kicks off with Four Hills World Cup ski jumping at Innsbruck from January 1 to 3, then Europa Cup downhill racing at Patscherkofel on January 13 and World Cup skeleton bob from January 10 to 16.
Or you can take part in events instead of just watch. Innsbruck and the surrounding ski villages have a series of exciting events, including for handicapped skiers and boarders, lined up through the winter for the public – the WinterStar Alpine Challenge:
January 6: Test your speed, on skis, boards or snobikes, on the ski jump hill in Innsbruck (the course starts after the jump!).
January 7: An evening ski marathon at Kühtai – the most runs you can make in four hours.
January 29: An old-fashioned ski race at Mutters – up the mountain using skins, then racing down.
February 26: A combined giant slalom and super G at Kuhtai, all in one run.
March 12: A judged free-skiing contest at Nordkette.
There’s a small entrance fee for the events, and the more people enter the more points can be won – with prize money for lots of categories. More information at www.winterstar.at
Mountain facts: The OlympiaWorld ski pass covers Nordpark, Patscherkofel, Axamer Lizum, Mutteralm, Kühtai, Rangger Köpfl. Schlick 2000 and the Stubain Glacier. Total number of lifts – 89. Total length of pistes – 280kms. A high percentage is covered by snowmaking, and all the villages have nursery slopes, including up on the glacier. There is a total of no less than 14 main toboggan runs in the resorts around Innsbruck – not to mention the thrills to be had on the Olympic Bobsleigh run at Igls, where the public can try various disciplines in a safe environment, including a piloted bobsleigh run.
Ski Guide written by Rob Freeman.