5 reasons to visit… Steinplatte
In those winters when Mother Nature is more frugal than usual, skiers and riders typically set their sights on high altitude resorts, where glaciated snowfields guarantee good cover. But even in more spartan seasons, some resorts at lower altitude can offer surprisingly good conditions, courtesy of geographical anomalies. For example, the resorts that lie along the northern barrier of the Alps. Why? The ‘Nordstau’ phenomenon. Steinplatte, which straddles the border of Germany and the Austrian Tirol, is one of those resorts. Lucky for our Munich based correspondent, Chris Taine, who recently visited.
The looming limestone cliffs of the Lofer Mountains and the Wilder Kaiser create a dramatic – almost menacing – scene when observed from the top station of Waidring Steinplatte, but the resort itself is actually one of Austria’s best family destinations, and certainly nothing to be feared. In fact, quite the opposite. And although relatively compact, the proximity to some of Austria’s largest and most popular resorts makes it an easy and satisfying diversion away from the known.
The view from the edge of the Alps
While the appeal of some ski resorts is their 360 degree mountain vistas, some resorts – Steinplatte included – sit on the very edge of Europe’s biggest mountain range. This makes for a unique perspective, with towering limestone cliffs on one side, and the flat pasturelands of Bavaria extending to the horizon in the other direction. Steinplatte itself is a broad flat peak (which is why it’s ideal ski terrain) but is surrounded by the imposing Lofer Mountains, the jagged peaks of the Watzmann massif (including Germany’s third-highest mountain) and slightly more distant the majestic Wilder Kaiser. Away to the north, it’s possible to catch the sunlight glinting off Lake Chiemsee, a large body of water in Bavaria’s farming heartland. On a good day, it’s a view that’s hard to beat.
One of Austria’s best family ski areas
There are bigger ski areas, and there are gnarlier ski areas, but few Austrian areas are better set up for families. Down in Waidring, a sheltered bunny hill takes care of the beginners, while there are snowsure blues and reds immediately at the top of the Steinplatte gondola. The Kapellen six seater chairlift, which also serves the well developed snow park, is the best area for novices, who can then progress to the more challenging slopes around the Stallenalm. The Bäreck chairlift accesses the most challenging skiing – both on and off-piste – but watch out for areas where the braided red runs cross paths. The layout of the ski area, with gentle slopes mid-mountain and more challenging terrain under the 1869m Steinplatte, makes this a real confidence-building resort, and also one where
Quiet and sedate… but within easy reach of Tirol’s mega-resorts
A powder day at Steinplatte will bring out a few of the local powderhounds (though bear in mind this is no Chamonix or Verbier), but on the whole Steinplatte is a quiet and sedate little resort. The good thing is, however, that it’s within easy reach of Tirol’s mega-resorts, in including Kitzbühel/Kirchberg, SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser-Brixental (better known to Brits as Scheffau or Söll), and the newly linked-up Fieberbrunn-Saalbach-Hinterglemm. These resorts might offer dozens of lifts, hundreds of kilometres of pistes, and more than enough variety for a week-long holiday, but they can get crowded at mid-term or other peak times. Steinplatte, only a half hour drive away, is the ideal spot to escape the maddening crowds. It’s also conveniently covered by the Tirol Snow Card, and the regional Kitzbüheler Alpen Allstar Card.
Two countries, one ski pass
Some of the most famous resorts in the Alps span international borders, giving visitors the novelty of breakfasting in one country and lunching in another. Zermatt straddles the Swiss-Italian border, sprawling Portes du Soleil covers plenty of terrain in both France and Switzerland, and the ‘smugglers run’ down to Swiss Samnaun is practically a right of passage when visiting Ischgl. Steinplatte, with 42km of pistes, isn’t in quite the same league, but still offers the excitement of border-hopping courtesy. The lift-served connection with the Winklmoosalm – where a clutch of slopeside hotels deliver the prerequisite Bavarian Gemutlichkeit – makes it possible to log a few turns in Germany, though the terrain on this side is very flat. This does make the area popular with local families, but it also means that the entire Steinplatte area (via Reit im Winkl) can be easily reached from both Munich (1.5hrs) and Salzburg (1hr) airports. For the most typical German (but really Bavarian) experience, swing by the traditional Almstüberl.
And of course… the Nordstau!
Reaching only 1869m, Steinplatte can’t boast high altitude slopes, but it’s favourable location on the northern edge of the Alps does mean that it benefits from the ‘Nordstay’. When cold, moist air masses make their way south from the Scandinavian Arctic, these mountains are the first major obstacle that they encounter, forcing the cold air upwards and typically leading to much higher precipitation than in resorts in the middle of the Alps. Of course, it goes the other way too, and a warm Foehn wind from the south can take its toll, but the point is that it’s worth looking beyond purely resort altitude when choosing a resort, to see if there are other factors that make a resort prone to powder. Steinplatte is one of those little gems that if you get there on a powder day, you won’t have to share with too many others.
Winter panorama Waidring Steinplatte (piste map)