Weekend at the top of the Ötztal: Sölden
Leaving the compact and convenient centre of Obergurgl, it’s only a few kilometres and a handful of hairpin bends before you reach the cluster of huts and houses at Zweiselsteintajen and the turn-off to the remote mountaineering village of Vent.
In less than 20 minutes we arrive in Sölden, where the main road splits the village. Traditional pensions and hotels lie on the wider side of the valley, with shops, bars and restaurants wedged between the road and the ski resort which climbs the flanks of the mountains to the west.
Where Obergurgl is a nearly traffic-free cul-de-sac, Sölden buzzes with traffic. Where Obergurgl feels refined and sophisticated, Sölden is lively and brash. Just driving through the village it’s evident that this is a town that likes a party. While the two resort villages might seem like kalk und käse, the resorts do share similarities. High-altitude terrain, traditional Tirolean mountain huts, modern lift infrastructure and impressive alpine vistas.
Though it hasn’t snowed overnight, the conditions are much as they were the day before in Obergurgl. Well groomed pistes underneath clear blue skies, and best of all – plenty of untouched snow still there for the taking.
For those who like the idea of Sölden without quite so much Jägerbomb-fuelled apres, Hochsölden sits up at 2090m. It’s a bit of a drive up there, but the Giggijoch area is on the doorstep of the ski-in ski-out accommodation.
Looking upwards from here, steeper black pistes rise to the right, easy blue runs occupy a wide plateau, and more challenging reds lie beyond. Further in the distance, a gondola crosses the valley carrying skiers and snowboarders across to the Rettenbach and Tiefenbach glaciers. There’s a reason that the first fixture of the FIS Alpine World Cup season traditionally takes place here – the lifts rise to over 3300m. The high-altitude slopes are a draw for late-season holidaymakers too. High-altitude they might be, but these glaciers are as tame as the apres is wild. Plenty of wide open blue pistes up there, but it’s still mid-winter and across the Rettenbachtal the Gaislachkogl calls…
The Gaislachkogl at 3058m is reached by an enormous modern gondola. From the saucily-decorated lift there are couloirs and gullies far below. Challenging off-piste terrain well away from the groomed slopes. If you’re looking for big mountain terrain in the Ötztal accessed straight off the top of a lift, this is the place.
The snow is superb, and again a relative scarcity of skiers mean that it’s possible to ski different variations in this zone without it getting tracked out. Like Obergurgl, Sölden isn’t primarily known as a freeride destination, but that’s once again fine with us!
The Wildspitze is the second highest peak in Austria, its precipitous 3774m peak looming off to the southwest. But you definitely don’t need to go sky high to find on snow thrills. The best snow of the day is found mid-afternoon, in the gentle gullies and wide open powder slopes that reach down to the bottom of the Rettenbachtal.
With a long drive ahead unfortunately there’s no chance to stay and sample the legendary off-snow offerings in the Ötztal’s party capital – all the more reason to come back later in the season. One day of skiing is enough to scratch the surface, but I’ve got the feeling there’s more to see around these parts…
For more information:
Sölden is included in the Tirol Snow Card, which provides access to 4000km of pistes, more than 1000 lifts and 86 ski areas throughout Tirol.
Read the previous blog about nearby Obergurgl.