Assistant product manager Amy Fletcher shares the details of her fantastic trip to a selection of Austrian ski resorts. Lots of detail on the slopes, food and best places to stay. Keen skiers will love this. Enjoy…
Touching down in a snowy Munich was an experience – a complete white out, with snow falling down and an army of snowploughs and lorries, working efficiently to keep the airport open. Quite different to what we would see in the UK! Met by our friendly driver who gave us a lovely commentary all the way to Söll, on a very quick transfer, considering all the roads and autobahns were surrounded by buckets of snow.
Our Crystal chalet hosts at the Chalet Sonnenhof welcomed us with a lovely lunch of jacket potatoes and a goldfish bowl each of gluhwein. After we dropped our bags, we explored Söll, meeting the Crystal reps at the office for a wander around the town. A pretty little place, we were all struck by how beautiful the town was, centred around the onion-domed church and all the wooden houses decorated for Christmas. That evening we headed up to Scheffau to the Hotel Land Alpin where we had some traditional Tirolean dishes for dinner such as Tiroler Grostl (potatoes, speck, onions, and fried egg), and hearty soups.
After dinner, what better way to experience Söll than to check-out the nightlife for which it is famous? Guided by the Crystal in-resort team, we started at the cosy Underground Bar, then hit the Salvenstadel Bar, headed over to the Red Horse Bar which was celebrating its opening night. This was a fantastic place, completely new for W10/11 as part of the redevelopment of the Hotel Tenne into the Party Hotel Rubin. Shots, Jagerbombs and much dancing followed. Wesley, one of the reps, was the highlight of the evening for his dance on the bar to ‘Barbara Streisland’. The hardcore few carried on to the Whisky Muhle for more partying!
An early start, hearty breakfast and then down to skifit at Stöll before getting lift passes and heading off. 5 of the group were under the careful watch of Fritz in ski school, whilst the rest headed up the mountain to break in the legs on some gentle runs around the mid station of the gondola at Hochsöll, before taking the gondola up to the top of the Hohe Salve at 1829m to warm up in the December sunshine. Not only was the sun waiting for us, but also some fantastic views over the Skiwelt towards Scheffau stretching out below us.
After a stop for an early lunch and a warming gluhwein, we headed down to Hopfgarten, and over towards Brixen. With little wind and blue skies, the weather was perfect, apart from the bitterly cold air temperature, meaning we were skiing wearing more or less every item of clothing we had with us!
We loved the vastness of the ski area, with an excellent standard of lifts, and well-maintained pistes. The piste map was a little difficult to follow, but we soon found our way around after a couple of hours exploring. Considering this is mid December the snow conditions were excellent, with the vast majority of the pistes having a good covering of natural snow, with the snow cannons doing a great job on the lower slopes of keeping things topped up.
The Ski Welt is vast – we were amazed at the wealth of skiing on offer across the 275km. And for nearly all of it to be in such amazing condition on the first week of the season was fantastic. Once we were wrapped up against the elements, we soon had out ski legs back and were carving through well-groomed, crisp, natural snow. Only on the lower level ‘home runs’ into resort were there any icy patches, but this wasn’t really a problem as the snow cannons were working away to keep the slopes in mint condition for the Christmas week. There were no queues for the lifts, and with many fast 4 and 6 man chairs with padded seats and covers, we were snug as we headed up the hill. We were soon gliding our way towards Scheffau under sunny skies, between conifers with sagging branches under the weight of the sparkling snow – all adding a special Christmassy feel to the surroundings. Overhead, paragliders were spiralling in the thermals coming off the Hohe Salve in the December sunshine.
Back on the nursery slopes, ski school with Fritz was going well. Despite some inevitable falls, everyone had mastered the button lift and was happy to hear they would be progressing to go up the gondola the following day.
We squeezed in a quick afternoon tea back at the chalet, (with some very tasty lemon drizzle cake which went down rather well!) then off for a look around the Hotel Tyrol and dinner.
The Tyrol was lovely, very traditional in style and lovely views over Söll towards the slopes, and the 4 course dinner was delicious.
After dinner, we got the ski gear back on and headed back to the gondola to get some toboggans. Up to the mid-station, and after a quick demo, we threw ourselves down the 3.8km toboggan run. Being at night, at least we couldn’t see over the sheer drops off the side of the run. Everybody loved the toboggan ride, racing and bumping down the track out of control at some points! The victor of the race was Gareth, but only by playing some dirty tricks and pushing Julie out of the way. Everybody thoroughly enjoyed this activity, particularly the beginner skiers – who got a real buzz from careering down on the snow at speed.
Another early start, as we headed off to meet the Crystal Reps in Söll who were off up the mountain on lift for a day of training for their ski escorting service. We loved being guided around the mountain for the day, not having to worry about getting lost of constantly referring to what was now, a very battered looking piste map. We got some great tips on the best runs, and saw so much more of the mountain than we did on our own the previous day.
We headed over towards Scheffau, with no queues and lovely quiet pistes to enjoy around the Scheffau bowl area, cruising around some lovely wide, open and undulating red runs. We met up with Dave, the Ellmau rep at the top of the Hartkaiser, carried on with the ski escorting training before a tasty lunch in the Rühbezahl-Alm mountain hut. This place was amazing, tardis-like from the outside, as you ducked through the ‘5 foot nothing’ high doorway, a maze of wood paneled areas appeared. We grabbed one by the stove, taking off skiboots to warm up some frozen toes, and warming up on the inside with a hot chocolate topped off with fresh cream. A fulfilling afternoon skiing back, with our legs feeling the strain as we tried to keep up with some of the speedier reps out on the hill, was rounded off with a delicious hot apple cider as we came off the slopes.
The guys in ski school were doing well too – having mastered the basics they were up on the gondola to the mid station – and all came home extremely happy (and relieved!) to report they has all successfully skied down their first blue run, pretty amazing stuff considering this is only day 2 of ski school!
That afternoon we had a tour around the hotels in Söll, starting at the Gansleit, (a favourite with Crystal customers for years) where the owner, Steve, gave us detailed tour around, showing us the beautiful rooms in the main building, and the great family rooms across in the annexe. We then headed up into the town centre to have a tour around the new Party Hotel Rubin with the manager, Brett. The ground floor of the hotel has been completely renovated, with 2 large bar areas open until 2am, complete with DJs, dancefloors, and plasma screen TVs. It’s certainly proving to be just what customers in Söll have been looking for, with many of the weeks for the forthcoming season already sold out.
A furious throwing of our kit into bags and suitcases, and we were leaving Söll behind us, and heading about 30 minutes drive away, to the pretty resort of Niederau.
Pulling up at the Hotel Sonnschein, there were plenty of ‘wows’ coming from the minibus. A very impressive looking 4 star hotel was our home for the next 2 nights, and Gill, the British owner, was there to greet us. We were well and truly spoilt as we were given superior rooms in the new wing, huge in size, with king sized beds, amazing views over the village and an ample sofa that converted into another king sized sofa bed.
Dinner was served for us – a delicious feast with a tasty salad, followed by tender pork with vegetables, all washed down with a lovely Italian red. John, the Crystal rep in Niederau briefed us on the next couple of days, and then, re-fuelled, we were off the pit our wits against each other in the Crystal quiz. It all got very competitive, and it soon became clear some us are fountains of knowledge on unusual subjects – Julie, for example, was unstoppable on songs from musicals!
Up for a hearty breakfast, with delicious freshly baked bread, cured meats and cheeses, then down for ski fit in the Hotel Sonnschein’s own ski hire shop. John took 4 of us up to explore the Niederau mountain, with Julie coming up on the gondola with us to take some photos and admire the views. Niederau is in the Wildschonau – or ‘wild and beautiful’ valley, and it certainly lives up to its name. Snow covered fir trees, and lovely tree-lined runs led down from the summit, where we could see all the way back over across to the Hohe Salve in the centre of the Ski Welt. Did you know it is only a 20 minute drive away? Plus, there’s a free bus on Thursdays and Fridays from the Sonnschein and the Harfenwirt taking you over to Hopfgarten, so it’s easy to ski the Ski Welt and stay in Niederau.
Niederau’s skiing was immaculately well looked after, with the piste bashers working hard to groom the slopes before Christmas. We had great fun skiing down the fresh corduroy they left behind, and cruising the red and blues under John’s capable leadership, even though, after a summer away from skis, our legs were feeling the strain by this third day on the slopes! The snow conditions were fantastic, and with nil wind and gorgeous sunshine, we could not have asked for a better morning. Niederau is a stunningly pretty little town, with an impressive ski area – ideal for families, beginner and intermediates wanting a friendly ski area to build up confidence. With the links to the Ski Welt, it is also a possibility for more experienced skiers, perhaps in a group of mixed abilities, who want a spot of variety in a magical wintery wonderland setting.
After a long lunch, we head over to explore the other ski area included on Niederau’s lift pass – Auffach. 20 minutes on the free (and very plush) ski bus, and we were on our way up the gondola to the summit of Auffach. With fast 4-man chairlifts reachable from the top of the gondola, we were flying down the red runs in the winter afternoon sunlight, before taking the wonderful 7km route all the down to village level. What better way to round of the day on the slopes then with a few beers at the bottom of the piste, before heading back to the Sonnschein, where more pampering was awaiting us. We were soon relaxing into the bubbles of the whirlpool, and soothing away the aching muscles in the steam room, before taking a relaxing swim in one of the hotel’s 2 indoor pools. All that left us feeling like new again, all aches and pains evaporated.
In the evening, we had dinner in a typical Tirolean mountain hut, tucking into delicious ribs, with potatoes and sauerkraut, whilst being entertained with traditional Christmas Tirolean songs played on the accordion by the restaurant’s owner, accompanied by his daughter on the clarinet.
Our last morning arrived, and we spent time before lunch seeing the other hotels in Niederau available through Crystal, including the beautiful Harfenwirt hotel, complete with spa, indoor pool and Pepi Penguin and Whizz Kids Clubs. Up the other end of town, was the cosy Hotel Hannes and Pension Enzian, run by the same family, who were very friendly and welcoming to us all. Fuelling up for lunch at the Hotel Austria, Lucinda and I shared a delicious Spatzle with speck and cream, before heading down to Innsbruck with John on the transfer. In little over an hour, we were pulling up at the airport, and checked-in for our flight. We were extremely grateful that our flight was more or less on time, considering the chaos with the closure of Gatwick in the last 24 hours, and had one of the best experiences on our flight home – as we were the only 10 passengers on a 233 seater aircraft as this was the first charter flight of the season! We took the opportunity to have a look in the cockpit and chat with the Thomson Airways crew, who gave us a brilliant return flight back into a very snowy Gatwick.