Maria Alm in Austria’s Hochkoenig ski area is often referred to as a “hidden gem” – but what does that phrase actually mean?
I was chatting to my mate Marcus last year about lesser known ski resorts – and he reckoned they were a waste of time. If people don’t really know about them then they probably aren’t worth knowing. That was until this year.
Marcus was trying to decide between the Three Valleys and St Anton (again). He’s an OK skier (not as good as me), with about 5 trips under his belt, but his budget was a bit tighter this year as he is trying to buy his first house with his partner – so he asked me for a good value recommendation for an his next ski trip.
“Maria Alm.” The words had blurted out my mouth before my brain had even engaged. I’m guessing I still had that conversation in the back of my mind.
“Maria Alm, where’s that?”
“It’s a hidden gem.”
To be fair, I didn’t really expect Marcus to take my tip seriously – but I think he wanted to prove me wrong and get a cheaper holiday. He booked up his hotel after a little online research. He picked the Hotel Gasthof Niederreiter because it was right next to the chairlift.
So, holiday time arrived and I think Marcus was secretly hoping he would hate his holiday (strange boy). When he got back he told me a little about it.
What was your favourite run?
For me it wasn’t a particular run, but a route called the Königstour. It´s a good full day of touring the whole of the Hochkönig area the tourist office say covers 32km. I had my tracker on and had actually clocked just under 50km, but we did do a couple of extra laps on lifts along the way. It’s impossible to get lost as the route is marked by yellow (on the way out) and orange (return) markers all the way. It’s a mix of red and blue runs with some awesome views and it takes you all the way from Maria Alm, past Dienten and up to Mühlbach and back. Tiring, but well worth it.
Where was the best place for a drink at the end of the day?
We went for a late lunch and drink on the mountain one afternoon for a change of scenery. What a great choice. We went to the Tischlerhütte, which stays open late every Wednesday. They call the mountain view the Stony Sea. Not sure where the sea bit comes into it, but as the sun was setting it looked incredible. I always carry a headtorch – just in case – and it came in handy here for the run back to town after dark as the slopes weren’t lit.
Well we were staying half board so we didn’t try out any of the local restaurants, buit we had lunch all over the mountain. There are so many huts it was tough choosing. We tried the Steinbockalm, Tiergartenalm and Scheppalalm and all were really good – not just for quality of food, but also value. I’m used to skiing in France or Austria’s big-named resorts and the food and drink was a fraction of the price I’ve experienced in the past. A small beer was €3 max, so what’s that? About £2.50? I’d pay that just for the views.
How much skiing is there?
The resort info told us there was 120km in total. I would like to think we hit pretty much everything at least once. To be honest having a slightly smaller resort than we were used to was great – we still got to see everywhere and we didn’t have to go full pelt all day to make sure we made last lifts.
What time do the lifts open?
I think they started turning at 8.30am, which is a little earlier than I would usually get going, but even once we’d started there was never a big queue so we were getting fresh tracks and often slopes to ourselves.
Would you go back?
In a heartbeat. But now we want to know what next year’s insider tip is.