5 reasons to visit… Alpbach
Or should I say ‘5 reasons to visit Ski Juwel Alpbachtal Wildschönau‘, though that really is a bit of a mouthful. This somewhat ungainly resort nomenclature is the result of a project to join Alpbachtal to neighbouring Wildschönau during the 2012-13 season. The ‘marriage’ of these two quintessential Tirolean ski areas is fast approaching its third anniversary, and while no longer the newlyweds (that honour goes to Fieberbrunn and Saalbach-Hinterglemm this season), the enlarged area continues to develop and attract new visitors.
Alpbach was one of the very first Austrian resorts to develop a following among British skiers, and its ‘secret spots’ have been passed on down the generations – but for those whose forebears have not given them the inside scoop on Alpbach and Wildschönau, here it is…
Unlike North American resorts, where high-speed chairlifts proudly bear names like ‘Treasure Stoke Chairlift’ or the ‘Imperial Express Superchair’, the gondola connecting Alpbach to its neighbour is rather unspectacularly called ‘J1’. It connects with (massive surprise) ‘J2’, which finishes the task, bringing skiers up to the 1903m Schatzberg. But it was the construction of these two gondolas that has breathed new life into these mountain valleys, creating a connected ski area that ranks as one of the 10 largest in Tirol. And that’s no small feat in a region that boasts mega-resorts such as Ischgl, Kitzbühel, St Anton and Sölden. With 145km of pistes, the combined area has hugely increased its appeal to week-long holidayers, reflected in the fact that year-on-year the number of arrivals from the UK has increased 8.4%.
Off-piste skiers have double the terrain to explore, and intermediates (for whom the resort is ideally suited) can stretch their legs and explore across several mountains. Put simply, J1 and J2 form the lift connection that is a lifeline for a sustainable future for these valleys, which through pooling their resources can offer a much more expansive and multi-faceted resort experience.
While the naming of lifts in Austrian resorts is oftentimes ‘by the numbers’ (literally… see aforementioned J1/J2), the same cannot be said of the mountain huts. Case in point, the Rübezahlhütte, which sits atop the Niederau ski area. Although Niederau is actually on the same lift ticket as the rest of the ‘Ski Juwel’, it does not having a direct lift connection to the rest of the area. Nonetheless, it’s worth jumping on the ski bus and spending a day here – there are some fantastic fall-line red pistes and some genuinely steep blacks – punctuated with a stop at the Rübezahlhütte for lunch. The sunny terrace of this rustic hut boasts impressive views across the Karwendel Mountains, and a kitchen that does all the Tirolean classics, as well as serving locally distilled schnapps.
3. Freeride for the uninitiated
The fact that Alpbach is overlooked by many off-piste skiers and riders is exactly why it’s a great resort to give it a go. No rush to get first tracks on a powder day, and ample gentle terrain close to the pistes to build confidence. There are 3-day Beginner Freeride Camps priced at 435 EUR, which covers guiding, lift ticket, and accommodation. Courses take place 10-12 January, and 28 February – 1 March. For capable and confident freeriders, a run from the top of the Wiedersbergerhorn is a must, and there are also long off-piste descents from the Schatzberg that descend all the way to the Auffach in the Wildschönau valley.
All that delicious Tirolean food can leave you wanting to take an afternoon nap rather than getting back out on the slopes, but that’s exactly where a tactical Schnapps comes into play. Anyone who has had a few Austrian ski holidays will have a schnapps-tale or three, most involving some late nights staring deep into the glass, but locals will tell you that a post-meal tipple is the perfect way to get the digestion going, and therefore get you raring to go and back on the snow. Luckily, they know a thing or two about schnapps round these parts. Pay a visit to Siegfried Kistl in Oberau if you want to learn about how apricots, rowan berries and quince are turned into subtly flavoured white spirits. Less conventional is the Krautinger Schnaps, distilled from turnips and quite unique to the region.
5. Austria’s Prettiest Village
There are many places in both the Alpbach and Wildschönau valleys where you can find accommodation that is a snowball’s throw from the lifts, including Niederau, Auffach, and Inneralpbach. However Alpbach itself is not one of them. Despite this, or maybe partially because of it, Alpbach is perhaps the most idyllic ski town in the Alps. Situated on sunny plateau at 1,000m, with a population of 2,600, Alpbach’s homogenous architectural style and immaculately kept traditional chalets clustered around the Heiliger Oswald have won it the accolade of “Austria’s most beautiful village”.
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