September 26, 2014
As a landlocked country, bordered by no less than eight others, Austria will not feature on any lists as a destination for sun seekers looking to lounge by the beach. It is, however, one of the world's most popular destinations for winter sports and considered by many as the place where modern downhill skiing began. Little surprise then, that Austria is the leading nation in the Alpine Skiing World Cup and has produced some of the greatest Alpine skiers of all time, including Franz Klammer, Hermann Maier, Marlies Schild and many more.
When ski tourism first exploded back in the 1960s and 70s, destinations such as Tyrol and Salzburg were among the most popular go-to destinations for British ski tourists. That is, until the growth of huge French and Swiss resorts started to draw holidaymakers away. However, this means that Austria can now offer much better value for money than some of the competition, with the same charming "chocolate box" villages, great accommodation and a lively après-ski atmosphere.
While Austria cannot guarantee year-round snow like some other countries, it is a great choice for beginners, families, snowboarders and party animals.
What resorts can you visit?
Although not an exhaustive list of every resort in Austria, here are some of the most popular:
Alpbach – Offering a delightfully traditional atmosphere, this pretty village is a great choice for complete beginners who would be daunted by a large resort. Alpbach offers 145km of slopes, with 47 lifts. While it has an archetypal feel, it might not offer Austria's liveliest nightlife.
Saalbach-Hinterglemm – After being the recipient of a large amount of investment, the villages of Saalbach and Hinterglemm combined to make one of Austria's largest ski resorts. The so-called "Skicircus" offers over 200km of ski runs and 62 lifts. While Saalbach is great for those who like to party, Hinterglemm is a better location for families.
St Anton – Considered one of Europe's top resorts, with legendary après-ski and nightlife scene, as well as a great record for snow. With 276km of slopes, 85 lifts and some fearsome runs, St Anton is unsurprisingly popular. Although, this popularity comes with higher prices and a size that might intimidate beginners or families.
Sölden – Another lively resort, Sölden offers the opportunity for great skiing early and late in the season, with a lot for holidaymakers to do. While not the prettiest resort, the scenery is spectacular. With 150km of piste and 33 lifts, Sölden attracts a young and wild crowd, who enjoy the high runs and hard partying.
Kitzbühel – This former mining town has a long history of tourism and, as such, has all the capabilities required to cater to the demands of visitors: a varied ski area (featuring around 170km of pistes and 52 lifts); beautiful medieval surroundings; luxury hotels; and plenty to appeal to non-skiers. It is also the location of the Hahnenkamm run, which is to downhill skiing what the Grand National is to horse racing.
Innsbruck – If you like the sound of mixing city life with skiing, the capital of the state of Tyrol offers history, culture, and fine dining with its own Olympia SkiWorld resort, offering 300km of pistes. While finding accommodation can be easy and there are plenty of outlying villages an Innsbruck ski pass would cover, it might not be the best choice for beginners.