From Wales and Yorkshire, to East Tirol, via Croatia
What do you get if you cross a globe-trotting couple from Yorkshire and Wales, a successful holiday business in Croatia, and a charming guest house high above the small but perfectly formed ski resort of Grossglockner Kals-Matrei in the East Tirol area of Austria?
The answer is one of the most enjoyable weeks’ skiing I’ve ever had.
A few years ago, Craig and Xania Wear gave up their careers as international school teachers, bought a house on the idyllic Croatian island of Vis, and set up Wearactive, offering ‘relaxingly active’ summer holidays. Guests can try out a variety of activities, including sea kayaking in the crystal-clear water of the Adriatic, mountain biking and yoga.
The Wears also happen to be accomplished snowboarders, and have spent the last few winters touring Austria’s ski areas to feed their passion for snow. They eventually decided that they wanted to offer a similar experience in the mountains to the one by the sea in Vis, so they looked for a suitable area and property, and found MoaAlm, a delightful guest house set high in the mountains above the village of Kals. They bought it, renovated it, and are now offering their own brand of bespoke holidays in the snow.
But why did they choose Grossglockner instead of one of the bigger, better-known resorts? “We looked around Austria for the last 4 winters”, says Craig, “and we really wanted our guests to feel like they were in the mountains. Lots of places had bigger ski areas, but when we found Kals it was one of those perfect days with blue skies and fresh snow, and we really liked the feel of the village. It still feels a little like a farming community. We loved the fact that there are cross-country skiing and walking routes straight from the front door, and we were pleasantly surprised with the ski area, both the pistes and the opportunities for touring”.
And what about the Wearactive philosophy? “Skiing from first lift to last lift is great”, continues Craig, “but we want our guests to discover that there’s more to the mountains than simply skiing, and to use the area like the locals do. If the conditions are poor for skiing, then you can stay in the trees and do some cross-country, or snow-shoe hiking. We ideally want our guests to try a bit of everything, and get the full mountain experience”.
As mentioned, the resort is small. But the skiing is fantastic – long, varied and rolling red runs that stretch from the top of the ski area all the way down to the village, through the trees at lower levels, are perfect for intermediate on-piste skiers. There are some lovely quiet slopes for beginners to learn on, and a great local ski school offering lessons for all levels. Despite it being half-term for UK schools, we never had to queue longer than a couple of minutes for a lift, and regularly found ourselves alone on deserted pistes. The food on offer in the various mountain restaurants was hearty, delicious and excellent value.
For the more advanced and adventurous there’s some great off-piste skiing and touring routes. The Wears regularly take their split-boards and hike up the mountain to take advantage of the conditions.
Guests staying at MoaAlm enjoy a delicious breakfast, afternoon tea and three-course dinner prepared by the in-house chef, Oskar. And the isolated location of the house isn’t a problem when it comes to getting down the mountain in the mornings – the hosts transport their guests to their chosen activity in their trusty Land Rover, whether it’s regular skiing, cross-country skiing or snow-shoeing. Or for maximum fun you can jump on a sled and slide all the way down the road to the little car park where your skis will be waiting for you in the Wearactive minibus – it’s an exhilarating way to start the day! The local farmer regularly bashes the road so you can also ski down, take a quick detour via a cross-country run through the woods, and join the piste to the chairlift.
The renovation of MoaAlm will continue this spring, with new wood cladding and windows to match the stylish interior. MoaAlm will also be open in the summer, offering guided hiking, mountain-biking, yoga and a range of other activities.
For someone like me, who’s only ever skied in big, busy mega-resorts, it was a real eye-opener. The terrain was so varied and enjoyable to ski that it didn’t matter one bit that the resort was on the small side, and my days of partying late into the night after a day’s skiing are behind me, so the lack of après wasn’t a problem at all. If you’re after a resort where you can spend a week and never have to ski the same run twice, or where you can walk out of your accommodation in the evening on to a street full of bars and shops, then it might not be for you. But if you want uncrowded slopes, a true mountain experience, and the peace and quiet that comes with it, then a stay at Grossglockner, and particularly MoaAlm, is perfect.
I’ll definitely be returning to this hidden gem.
You can read more about the resort of Grossglockner Kals-Matrei on the Ski Club website here.
For more information on Wearactive holidays in Austria and Croatia, visit www.wearactive.com