Which lift pass for Austria?

Heading to Austria and want to have more than just one resort at your disposal? Chris Taine takes at a look at a few of the ‘super’ ski passes available.

Decisions, decisions…

Spending more time in Munich, it has become apparent that a season pass will prove a worthwhile investment this year. But there are a lot of resorts, not to mention a lot of passes to choose from. This is of course a ‘luxury problem’, but the internal debate rages… ski at just one resort all season long (which will certainly save a few pennies) or opt for a pass that covers multiple resorts (variety is the spice of life, right?).

However, picking the right ski pass is not only relevant when shopping for a season pass,  but also for those heading out to the Alps for a week-long holiday. When you book months in advance, snow conditions can go either way, so having a pass that covers high-altitude ski areas can be a bit of a ‘safety net’. Exploring new areas, finding those local hotspots is also part of the fun of a ski holiday too.

While larger interconnected resorts in France – such as Portes du Soleil, Espace Killy and Les 3 Vallees – offer hundreds of kilometres of pistes, many Austrian resorts are more contained. However, what you do find is multiple resorts lying along a valley, often with frequent and reliable bus services shuttling between areas which are covered by one lift pass.

Here are the main ones, relevant for both 6-day passes (perfect for a week-long break) and season passes. All are accessible by car from Munich, as well as being a short transfer from the well-served airport in Innsbruck, which deposits you right in the heart of the Austrian Tirol.

Tirol ArlbergSki Arlberg
340km of pistes (plus another 200km of marked off-piste runs)
6-day adult pass €235
St Anton, Stuben, Sonnenkopf, Lech-Zürs, Warth-Schröcken

Pros: Promoting itself as the ‘cradle of alpine skiing’, St Anton’s off-piste terrain is as legendary as it’s apres-ski. The new lift connection between Lech and Schröcken means that the snowiest corner of the Alps is now covered by the Arlberg pass. For powderhounds, partyhounds and adventurous skiers, Arlberg is pretty hard to beat.

Cons: Although sharing a lift pass, you’ll need a bus to ‘commute’ between St Anton (on the Tirol side) and Lech-Zürs (on the Vorarlberg side), therefore most skiers tend to spend much more time on the side that they’re staying on. Prices in resort are definitely higher than elsewhere in Austria and weekends can be busy.

Olympiaworld InnsbruckOlympiaworld Skipass Innsbruck
300km across 9 ski regions
6-day adult pass €203
Nordkette/Seegrube, Patscherkofel, Axamer Lizum, Glungezer, Muttereralm, Schlick 2000, Stubai Glacier, Kühtai, Rangger Köpfl

Pros: Free shuttle linking up the different areas, which range from the snowsure slopes of Stubai Glacier to family-friendly Kühtai. As the name of the pass suggests, Winter Olympic venues such as Axamer Lizum are also covered, and skiing the Karrinne on the Nordkette high above Innsbruck is a unique experience. If you’re travelling with non-skiers, Innsbruck itself has plenty to offer too.

Cons: For true ‘city skiing’ it’s best to head to Innsbruck mid-season, as the local slopes do not get nearly as much snow as further up the Stubai Valley. Many of the areas are fairly small, especially when compared to the destination resorts a little further afield.

ZillertalZillertaler Superskipass
487km of pistes served by 178 lifts and free valley ski bus
6-day adult pass €224
Hintertux, Mayrhofen, Zell am Ziller, Gerlos, Kaltenbach, Hochfügen, Fügen

Pros: Freeriding in Hochfügen, partying in Mayrhofen, glacier skiing in Hintertux and endless pistes around the Zillertal Arena (Zell am Ziller).

Cons: Hmmm, that’s a tough one! Deciding where to stay. If you want to fully explore the Zillertal, be prepared to spend some time travelling. If you’re primarily interested in off-piste skiing, it’s best to aim for mid-season, when snow conditions are likely to be most favourable.

Kitzbueheler AlpsKitzbühler Alpen All Star Card
1000km across 10 ski areas
6-day adult pass €241
SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser-Brixental, St. Johann in Tirol, Kitzbühel, Ski Juwel Alpbachtal-Wildschönau, Fieberbrunn, Waidring, Hochfilzen, Zell am See-Kaprun, Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Leogang

Pros: This one has it covered really. Famous world-class resorts like Kitzbühel, longtime British faves such as Alpbach, and lesser-known gems like freeride-hotspot Fieberbrunn. While the slopes of the main resorts aren’t precipitous, this is as scenic as anywhere in Austria. The SkiWelt area alone has 278km of pistes, making it the largest connected area in the country.

Cons: While Kirchberg is the best place to stay if you truly want to explore the Kitzbüheler Alps, six days is really only enough to scratch the surface, so although it’s a vast area, choose your base of operations wisely. This eastern part of Tirol which borders Salzburgerland is quite low lying. Extensive snowmaking systems mean this is seldom a problem, however for good off-piste skiing aim for mid-season.

As for season passes? Well, when you know you’ll spend at least two full weeks and a couple of weekends in Austria, it’s pretty hard to beat the Tirol Snow Card. Covering 4000km of pistes, the only ‘problem’ now is deciding where to go!

Chris Taine
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