The Inside Line: 5 Best Pistes in Sölden
Link or sink? This seems to be the mantra of many ski resorts throughout the Alps that are connecting existing ski resorts through additional lifts, creating ever-larger ski domains. As a result, it’s almost impossible to explore what any mountain has to offer within a weekend, and often within a week it’s not possible to discover all of a resort’s secrets. Sölden, with 145km of slopes is not the largest resort in Tirol or in Austria, but it is hugely spread out, and therefore quite hard to get your bearings. However, it is possible to sample some of the best of what Sölden has to offer – in terms of on-piste skiing – within a day. Here’s the inside line on the 5 best pistes.
Piste #21 (22 variation)
You want to get the timing right for this one. An abomination during the afternoon ski out, but heaven when you hit it late morning and have the entire descent to yourself. The run actually starts off as either the #19 (red) or #20 (black) just behind the Giggijoch station, featuring some exciting and genuinely steep pitches that roll down towards Hochsölden. A large natural halfpipe then funnels skiers and riders past the ski-in/ski-out lodging and mountain restaurants, and past the rickety old Rotkogl double chair. Things get more interesting as the run splits in two. Turn left and stay on the red #21, which is a real rollercoaster ride, twisting and turning through the forest all the way to the valley. Turn right, down the black #22, and the trail takes a much more direct route, with some beautiful fall-line pitches and some exciting changes of direction if you take this piste at speed. Over 900m vertical from top to bottom, and a quick gondola ride back up, makes this a cracking option to fit in a lot of quality skiing in a very short time!
Best time? After the morning crowds have cleared (around 10.30am) through until early afternoon (1.30pm) is the sweet spot for this run. Head there too early and you’ll get caught up in those who have opted for a ‘leisurely’ upload time, and too late and you’ll run into those who are heading down for early apres. Plus, instead of beautiful corduroy you’ll be battling a nightmarish bump run.
From the Giggijoch station, catch the Silberbrünnl quad chair up to the start of red piste #11. The top section can be extremely busy – the natural terrain funnels skiers together here – but the red #18 does provide a ‘go around’ option. Further down, after the #11 and #12 split, this piste is a super wide groomer with relatively few challenging sections. This makes it a perfect run for letting the skis go and carving long, arcing turns. There are even some excellent rollers to navigate, but if you take any air, be certain you can spot the landing – the piste can get crowded with skiers of mixed abilities. There’s a dedicated freeride area to the right of the piste, but to be honest there are a lot of areas directly adjacent that are good if you want to mix a few off-piste turns or moguls into your run. Ride the Langegg six seater if you’re up for repeat laps.
Best time? A decent run at any time of day, but there’s an excellent reason to make it the last run before a lunch break: The Gampe Thaya. This 350 year old mountain hut has enough cowbell to satisfy even Christopher Walken, and serves only local produce. Make it an early lunch so that you get a seat. Next door, the Gampe Alm is another good option for a break, and gets pretty lively on a sunny afternoon when the apres-ski action gets going.
This genuinely steep black piste starts from the top of the Schwarzkogl quad chair. In fact, it’s the only piste that starts from the top of the Schwarzkogl quad chair, meaning that a certain amount of chutzpah is required to even end up here in the first place. A steep, fall-line pitch straight off the top acts as a forceful reminder to turn your skis, and there’s a couple of hundred vertical metres of descent before it flattens out. The lower section of the piste is reasonably flat, making it the perfect spot to carry a bit of speed and then carve wide turns all the way back to the lift.
Best time? Because of it’s location, and the fact it doesn’t connect with any other lift at the top, the Schwarzkogl is typically overlooked by those heading higher up to the glacier slopes. This makes it a good bet at any time, but it’s particularly enticing in the early afternoon sun, when the south-facing aspect catches the rays and the snow has softened up just the right amount.
The Rettenbach glacier is best known for staging the first Alpine World Cup race of the season, typically at the end of October. Thereafter, it’s often overlooked as skiers skip over it to reach the larger, sunnier, and more developed Tiefenbach glacier ski area. But the far right-hand side of the Rettenbach is shady and sheltered, and for a glacier run, surprisingly steep. Beside the Seiterjöchl T-bar, piste #34 is a (steepish) blue that is both long, and has a very consistent pitch. The combination of north-facing aspect, high altitude and shade means that the snow quality is almost always outstanding.
Best time? This is the piste to seek out when everything else is past its best, courtesy of its shaded and sheltered aspect. If it’s spring time and you’re struggling in boot deep slush, #34 will deliver. If it’s gone all arctic and the wind has left the pistes with boilerplate ice, #34 will still deliver. If you’ve spent the afternoon up on the glacier and are making your way back home, make sure you make this one on your itinerary.
Generally speaking, the pistes on the Gaislachkogel (left-hand side of the piste map) tend to be quieter than across on the Giggijoch. Sure, much of this side of the mountain is dominated by the intimidating cauldron of chutes and couloirs under the 3058m Gaislachkogel, but there have been upgrades to lift infrastructure that make the lower mountain an appealing zone for intermediate skiers. The most recent upgrade is the Wasserkar six seater, from which the blue #2 piste descends. Although it’s not the longest run on the mountain, the piste affords spectacular views up the Venter Valley towards the Similaun, where Ötzi the Iceman was found. The piste itself is wide and rolling, and little trafficked. It’s the ideal spot for carving, without being exceedingly steep. Piste #2 is also the jumping off point for one of the most beautiful (and sunny) spots in the Ötztal mountains, the Silbertal.
Best time? The Heidebahn quad chair, which is the chairlift that services the #2 piste, catches afternoon rays of sun even in the depths of winter. This makes it the place to be on a chilly day when the other side of the Gaislachkogel already lies in the shade. Consequently, the mountain huts on this side of the mountain also keep the sun the longest, so the best time to hit the #2 piste is as a prelude to an end of day refreshment on a sun-drenched terrace.
For more information:
Sölden interactive ski map: www.soelden.com/ski-area-map