Whether you’re in the process of finding your ski legs or a wannabe downhill champion, the Austrian resort of Obergurgl is where it’s at writes Kaye Holland
Want a spot of sun this winter? So does every other man and his dog. For a seasonal escape, swop the sand for snow. After all you’re probably spending Christmas lying on a sofa, so you won’t need to lie on a beach...
Winter holidays have a glamour all of their own. Perhaps its the thrill of swishing through perfect powdery snows, the apres ski or the gossip (guessing which celebs are on the slopes, where they’re staying and, crucially, with whom).
It took me 33 years to find my ski legs but as the old adage goes: good things come to those who wait. I embarked on my first skiing holiday earlier this year and discovered that the action packed days and decadent nights were great for those, like me, who can’t bear being idle.
My first skiing trip was to a ski resort near Turin in Italy but for my second, I decided to head to the off beaten track Tirol in the Austrian Alps, which will soon be landing on more traveller’s radars with the news that scenes for the new James Bond movie, Spectre, are being filmed here. Well if it’s good enough for Daniel Craig and co…
Attempting to select the best ski resort to visit in Austria is akin to pick the spottiest dog in a kennel full of Dalmatians but after much deliberation I plumped for Obergurgl - a resort that’s only two hours from Innsbruck airport although (thanks to a combination of unspoilt scenery, a traditional Tirolean atmosphere and the friendly intimate nature of the village) it feels like a world away.
I opted for Obergurgl partly because of its moniker (the diamond of the Alps) and partly because it’s snow-sure owing to the resort’s impressive height (between 2,000-3000m) and the presence of a snow cannon (one of the most comprehensive artificial systems in the Alps).
After collecting my ski hire from Sport Scheiber, I was positively itching to get into my salopettes and hit the slopes with the rest of my group and Richard, our wonderfully patient instructor. Richard’s enthusiasm for skiing and love of Obergurgl is infectious – the veteran has been teaching children and adults alike how to ski in the Austrian resort for over 40 years and claims that “’everybody has got the ability to ski better than they ever thought was possible.”
Sounds like a severe case of hyperbole? That’s what I thought too but if you are serious about improving your skiing (and want to get fitter and healthier in the process) then a week with Richard at Obergurgl means you might just achieve it.
Richard’s top tips included advising us not to look down at our ski tips (tougher than it looks as having long planks attached to your feet isn’t exactly the most natural feeling in the world) and to “bend ze knees” (the tendency is to want to straighten them).
And after a few days under Richard’s tutelage, our entire group had swapped snow ploughing for parallel skiing (the sort of skiing that looks good on the slopes) and were racing downhill with the wind whipping our faces. Result!
We were helped by the fact that in early December (the time of my trip) the slopes seemed deserted meaning that our group got to learn the basics without worrying about having our legs broken by 20 something blokes, tearing down the pistes. Another benefit of visiting Obergurgl at the start of the season, when the slopes are relatively crowd free, is that you don’t have spend an age queuing for a chair lift (later on in the season there can be a Godot like wait for a lift).
Given that ski holidays can be bankers’ bonus expensive (when you factor in prices for ski passes, boots, accommodation and food, it soon adds up), I arrived in Obergurgl determined to spend every single waking second on the slopes. However a spontaneous stop at Nederhütte – Obergurgl’s best apres ski spot for DJs and dancing – saw me change my mind. A few rounds of gluhwein (even if the weather isn’t keeping you warm, this mulled wine drink will) with new friends at 4pm made for an incredibly fun afternoon. You could easily spend hours at Nederhütte – and many do – sipping cocktails and soaking up the stunning mountain scenery and atmosphere, before heading back down the mountain.
You can arrange for a car to collect you but, feeling gung-ho after numerous glasses of gluhwein, our group opted to ski (a tad wildly, true) back to the beautiful Gletscherblick chalets – part of the four star Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl – and our base for the duration of our trip. My pretty traditional chalet – whose ambience is suspended somewhere between a very impressive private home and a chic guest house - soon felt like home although it hardly looked like it offering, as it does, mountain views, open fires, bathrooms with underfloor heating (amazing!) and family sized baths that could have fitted Aunts and Uncles. As you may have guessed such sumptuous accommodation isn’t cheap but if your asking yourself “Chalet or shan’t I?” splurge than the answer is yes. The Gletscherblick chalets ooze charm and character (you can throw a lot of money at a property and still end up with a place so intent on being cool that it forgets to be characterful or comfortable) making it accommodation that is worth your time and money.
The downside to staying at the chalets? The nightlife is far from fab but then nightlife is not what Obergurgl is about. Rather it’s about restaurants (let’s be honest if you haven’t any other reason to travel, food will always do) such as Hohe Mut Alm or the one at Hotel Edleweiss & Gurgl. It’s hard to think of a better way to top off another day on the slopes than by tucking into stomach filling Austrian dishes such as Wiener schnitzel (a thin, bread-crumbed and deep fried escalope made with veal),Spaetzle (potato dumplings that will have you purring with pleasure) and apple strudel – all washed down a good glass of wine, natch. And don’t worry about going up a dress size for you will, after all, be warding off the weight gain on the slopes. That’s the great thing about skiing: it’s as much fun burning off calories as it is consuming them!
But there’s more to do in Obergurgl and the surrounding area than simply ski should you – heaven forbid – become sick of the slopes. If you’re visiting during the festive season, check out the Christmas markets at Innsbruck. I spent an enjoyable hour or so wandering around the magical market on Maria-Therese-Street that sells everything from stollen to sauerkraut and traditional handicrafts, before hoovering up Kaiserschmarrn (aka thick, fluffy and utterly addictive Austrian pancakes).
Alternatively you could seek out the impressive Aqua Dome - a temple of a thermal bath in nearby Langenfeld – and make the most of the water jets, jacuzzis, showers, saunas, steam rooms and ice caves (akin to climbing into a freezer) that are great for getting rid of the previous night’s toxins. Although prudish Brits, be warned: naked is name of the game. It’s de rigueur to wander about theAqua Dome in your birthday suit…
But what felt best for my body was simply being out on the slopes in mountain air so fresh it gives you a (natural) high, where the only views you’re unlikely to see are high rise skylines and bright city lights.
Sure after a costly Christmas, money is no doubt tight but you can either look back on January 2015 and say “I spent it skiing in Obergurgl” or you can whack on the heating at home and watch Celebrity Big Brother. I know where I’d rather begin the New Year… see you on the slopes!
IF YOU GO
Inghams (www.inghams.co.uk; 01483 791 114) offer a choice of 15 properties in the resort of Obergurgl, including the 4* Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl. A week’s half board starts from £849 per person, including flights from Gatwick to Innsbruck and transfers. A ‘first-time’ ski or board package includes six day lift pass and equipment hire as well as five days tuition (four hours daily) and costs from £390. For more information about Tirol www.visittirol.co.uk or about Obergurglwww.obergurgl.com
The GO SKI GO BOARD (www.goskigoboard.org.uk) programme includes six hours of instruction or slope time ideally over six weeks, with courses available from beginners to improvers and to recreational skiers and snowboarders. The programme is on offer at over 30 indoor centres or outdoor slopes across the country. Run by Snowsport England and supported by the Tirol Tourist Board, as destination partner, prices are all inclusive and cover everything you need to take part.