You might think that as Managing Director of a ski tour operator you’d be on and off the slopes all season. Unfortunately reality can often be very different. However, this new year Crystal Ski’s MD, Mathew Prior, took his family to Niederau in Austria. Here’s how he got on…
Having never been to Niederau before I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. There are two main areas; Niederau on the doorstep and Auffach about 20 minutes bus ride away. Niederau has two main lifts – a gondola and four man chair lift. The runs off these were much better than I expected – more than challenging enough for the “British Intermediate”.
I’ve never been a skier who’s been preoccupied by simply covering the kilometres but more about finding great pistes, and Niederau certainly has those. The black run off the chair lift is the quieter run but intermediate skiers should not be put off; this would be a red run in france and is fantastic to ski down all the way to the resort. On one day we did this run repeatedly, each time finding somewhere new to come unstuck.
Auffach is a bit higher which is great on a cloudy day as you can climb above the clouds once you reach the mid station and there’s a terrific run (about 7k) off the top of the gondola. A tip if visiting in peak season would be to do the run to the midstation as everyone heads immediately over to the two chair lifts where queues can build, whereas the queues at the midstation are very light. There’s a snowboard park up there too – we got there just in time to someone chin themselves on the rails. It looked like it hurt!
The food in the mountain restaurants was good with daily sausage and chips for about €5-6 and the highly recommended tiroler grostl (the local dish which is a mixture of potato, onion, meat and grease) was about €8. A beer was about €3.50 on the mountain.
This was possibly the highlight of the trip and the best thing about this resort. I’ve never come across such uniquely lovely ski instructors. My kids (aged 4 & 6) not only ran up to hug them in the mornings, but in the afternoons they didn’t want to leave. No crying at all! All were either English or spoke fantastic English and (unlike some instructors of a certain nationality) appeared to genuinely like children.
Hours were 10am-12pm & 1.30pm-3.30pm. For the last couple of days, the instructors took the older ones up the gondola and gave them lunch (€10) which meant we had an extra hour or two on the slopes.
Run by Gill Thaler, who not only ski repped in the resort 20 years ago and married an Austrian, but also used to work in the same chip shop in the Midlands as one of our party. So there was a bond straight away. She’s a real character and runs the hotel with a rod of iron. The hotel has heaps of alpine charm with a cosy atmosphere and big family rooms.
The evening meal is served from 6-8pm. There’s a salad buffet and soup which is followed by a choice of three main dishes and finished off by a dessert buffet. I would describe the food as “hearty alpine fare” – we had some outstanding meat dishes and some good fish. There is also a separate kids buffet full of stuff that the adults end up eating. My only criticism would be that if you weren’t there early for the salad buffet then the replenishment was a little patchy, but that is a small detail in the overall experience. And anyway, who needs salad?
We ended up getting the kids to eat on the dot of 6pm, then either putting them to bed (the little ones) or leaving them in front of the film that was shown nightly (older ones), leaving the rest of us to then eat by ourselves.
The hotel has two swimming pools. One is very warm, shallow and with steps, making it ideal for kids (so it got rammed at about 5pm). Cleverly tucked away was a slightly cooler and less brightly lit pool which was more for the adults wanting to put in some strokes or relax after the slopes.
We were at the hotel for New Years Eve and the hotel pulled the stops out big time. Gill hosted a candlelit walk, there were fireworks at midnight and local DJ legend “Eveready Eric” whose signature tune was Sweet Caroline (he played it three times) rocked the bar all night!
Erm…well we were there with small kids. However we had plenty of beer in the apres bar at the foot of the gondola and drank cheaply and plentifully to the traditional sound of Austrian frantic-techno-yodel.
This is a new facility for this year in a large, clean, airy room in the Sonnschein’s sister hotel, the Hotel Harfenwirt. It’s certainly worth taking up if you’ve got small kids, especially if you want to go to Auffach for the day. The kids team was, as ever, lovely.
We’ve always stayed in chalets when we’ve taken the kids, so staying in a hotel was a bit of a departure. However looking back we all think it’s been the best ski holiday yet, predominantly due to the friendliness of the hotel staff, the location of the hotel, the food quality, and the outstanding ski school.
By Mathew Prior