Austrian suffers from a prejudice against its ski resorts. Heightism, it could be termed, as in the height or altitude of many of the ski resorts.
“Sea-level resorts,” scoff the fans of French apartment holidays or trips across the Atlantic to some Rocky Mountain powder nirvana.
Of course, that’s not exactly correct – if it had been Austria would never have developed a thriving winter industry.
But it has a kernel of truth in it and, despite the benefits of early-season snowmaking and the fact that many Austrian pistes have a base of mountain pasture rather than scree, those who have never visited Austria before tend to plump for the safer option of altitude.
So here, presented for all who are nervously considering a vacation in Austria, are the top 5 high-altitude ski resorts in Austria:
Obergurgl is the kind of resort that attracts repeat visitors. One skier I met had been visiting before there were any lifts built here.
The resort itself is an old high farming village at just under 2000m which has been transformed into a cluster of luxury hotels and apartments.
The neighbouring mountain ranges play host to the Tyrol’s highest mountains and the slopes run up to the high passes bordering Italy. For those who are adventurous, it’s also a paradise for ski touring and mountaineering.
This is Salzburg’s answer to Obergurgl – a resort built at around 1750m on the pass separating Salzburg and Carinthia.
Photo: The Austrian ski resort of Obertauern
It’s not as attractive as its Tyrolean counterpart, but the ski area is probably slightly larger and it’s easier to get to (straight down the motorway from Salzburg for much of the way).
Austria’s ski team has a high-altitude training centre up here.
Kühtai would beat Obergurgl as the Tyrol’s highest proper village if anyone really lived up here year round.
It’s not actually that far from Innsbruck airport or the Inn valley but whichever side you approach it from you are in for a scenic and winding trip on mountain roads.
The ski area, starting at just over 2000m, is a favourite of locals from the Innsbruck area and traffic will be heavy on the weekends as ski tourers head up into the surrounding mountains. The access roads can become problematic in heavy snowfall.
This is Obergurgl’s louder, more brash (and, whisper it, probably more fun) neighbour.
Photo: Austrian ski resort of Sölden
Just down the valley (the Obergurglers sniffily point out that this means that the day-trippers stop at Sölden) at a height of just under 1400m, the resort makes it into this list because of its main ski slopes running up to over 3000m above the town.
Additionally, it has an extensive glacier skiing area which is linked to the main slopes and where the runs are even higher. A very popular resort for boarders and for après-ski.
5) The Glaciers
This fifth point might be cheating slightly, but for all its reputation of having “low” resorts, Austria has more large glacier ski areas than France.
So try, amongst others, Kaprun (Kitzsteinhorn glacier ski area); Mayrhofen (Hintertux glacier ski area); Neustift (Stubai glacier ski area); and the glacier areas at the end of the Pitztal and the Kaunertal.
About the author: Steve Rout is an ex-journalist and current mountain walking guide who has skied many resorts around the world. He currently writes about resorts such as Obergurgl on the Ski-Austria website.