Ski and snowboard: White gold wonders in Austria
As another London winter bears down upon us, we tend to find ourselves drifting away into dreamland. How can we escape the ‘hostile’ weather and find comfort and intense excitement?
By Clayton Cook
Memories of the summer spent playing Frisbee in the park, soaking up the sun and sharing a few drinks have been erased by the thought of which winter coat will put the slightest hint of a smile on our glum, cold and snotty faces.
So will it be home for mum’s cooking? Perhaps a season ticket to the Church to drown away our sorrows just in time for another morbid Monday morning, or, maybe, with passport in hand, a ticket to Austria and some fun on the slopes? Personally, it’s Austria for me. Sorry mum.
Austria is blessed with some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. It is a traveller’s paradise. Opulent cities that ooze culture, creativity and man’s desire to achieve – it is home to classical music, the waltz and many inspirational figures from past and present. However, it also has a wilder, zanier and more expressive side to it. Time to get out that pink sweater or fluorescent one-piece and hit the slopes.
The South West region of Austria, known as the Tirol province is situated in the heart of the Austrian Alps. The capital, Innsbruck, located on the river Inn, is a winter mecca for snow enthusiasts and extreme sports fanatics alike, and it is from here that the choice of where to go can become daunting. Take a deep breath. Whatever your budget, you are guaranteed to find what you are looking for.
A two-time host of the winter Olympics, Innsbruck is built on the tourist industry. It is the only major European city in the Alps with an international airport that services the endless throngs of thrill seeking adventurers and provides the perfect base with which to get going. It is also a city of culture and provides entertainment and shopping for those snow free days.
The town itself dates back to the middle of the twelfth century, and takes its name from the bridge which was built over the river Inn. This was a key factor in developing trade between the north and south regions of the Alps. The town further developed as it became a year-round playground to the rich and famous, travelling from the cities to enjoy some much needed down time.
Innsbruck itself is surrounded by eight different ski regions which all offer endless fun, and with free transport linking the town with the villages and ski areas you realise it is these small things that allow you to make the most of your relaxing time.
Moving away from Innsbruck, one dives directly into pure Austrian village culture. You get the feeling that even the average Austrian tries to do everything properly. You work hard to play hard and with extreme sports on your doorstep, playing hard is an everyday affair. So be warned, when you step into an Austrian village for some fun, expect to have a lot of it! That means you have to bring your drinking shoes along, as after dark there is not much else to do beside indulge in some of the local ‘flavours’ on offer, especially the famous or not so well known brands of schnapps. So where would one go for such fare?
A firm favourite is the Arlberg region, nestled on the western border with Germany and Switzerland. It is made up of five main villages, Lech, Zurs, Stuben, St Christoph and St Anton.
Each town adds its unique blend to the region. St Anton is more popular for the younger crowd, where walking the streets late at night one revels in the festivities of pretty young things partying until the last man cries out that dawn has arrived. And that it is time to hit the slopes.
Zurs on the other hand is a little more conservative. A smaller, quieter village with less pensions and pricey hotels. If its glamour you are looking for, then head to Lech, which has a healthy mixture of bars and clubs and has a very prominent chic crowd which is always good for people watching, or so it seems from the number of well-dressed skiers who prefer that to the actual skiing or snowboarding.
The ski area itself is known for its reliable snowfalls and perfectly manicured runs. With over 450 kilometres of slopes, it has everything to offer the beginner and seasonal professional – huge valleys, bowls, tree runs, and the best thing is that the off-piste stays fresh throughout the day as they stylish skiers cruise down the groomers.
Another favourite with the snow fraternity is Kitzbuhel. A little more glamorous and stylish as opposed to conventional ski-villages, Kitbuhel has a proud history. Dating back to the fourteenth century, the town is known for its traditionally painted houses and narrow pedestrianised streets. Its most famous feature is the Hahnenkamm piste, which plays host each year to the Hahnenkamm Downhill World Cup and is a firm favourite with all wannabe professionals.
For the average skier, the town offers 164 kilometres of slopes and has a new gondola in operation which ferries 2000 people an hour to the top of the mountain. Pubs, clubs, restaurants and a casino, means one is never short of amusement.
Getting to the Tirol could not be easier, with many airlines offering direct flights from Gatwick to Innsbruck. If you are on a tighter budget, EasyJet fly to Munich and it is a short train trip over the border to some of the best ski regions in the world.
Accommodation is just as simple, with many pensions, chalets and hotels available and at competitive prices too. But don’t spend too long thinking about where to go, as you just might miss out on the perfect winter break.
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