With an almost infinite number of ski resorts in Tirol – each with a multitude of great runs – you might think it impossible to pick out some special pistes. But I’ll give it a go anyway.
First of all, we have to decide, what makes a great ski run in the first place? Is it the length? The things you see on the way down? The snow conditions, or some unquantifiable mix of everything? That illusive x-factor for skis maybe.
Well it’s hard to say, but I believe that picking a great run is not a science, but an art, and the following five runs represent nothing more than magical moments and experiences that I have discovered with skis under my feet. Maybe you’ll agree, or do you have different runs in Tirol that I should know about?
Ok here’s my list:
#1 – The Streif Piste, Kitzbühel
Let’s start off with perhaps the most famous run in Austria: the legendary Streif Piste, home of the Hahnekamm downhill run. Races have been held on this flank of the Hahnenkamm peak since 1937, and it’s still considered one of the most difficult, dangerous and as such – watchable – downhill races in the world. And the course piste – the Streif – is also open to the public. With gradients of up to 85% in places (40.4 degrees) it’s quite a challenge, though skiing down it will give a new appreciation to the course record set by Fritz Strobel in 1997, who averaged 107km per hour to post a time of 1 minute 51.58 seconds. See the Streif on a piste map.
#2 – The Patscherkofel Olympic Downhill Run, Igls, Innsbruck
Another famous downhill course: this time from the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Olympic Games where Franz Klammer sealed his legendary status with a with a time of 1-minute 45 seconds; enough to secure the gold medal for Austria. Of course you don’t need to try and match this, it’s just as much fun to take it easy and enjoy the great views over Innsbruck with the Nordkette mountains towering in the background, as it is to tuck into a schuss and to tap into the run’s iconic heritage. See this on the piste map.
#3 – Direttissima Piste, Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis
Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis is one of the best resorts in the world, and the Direttissima run is the most interesting – in my opinion – in the resort. Start at the Zwölferkopf, 2,596-metres above sea level. Take the black-graded Direttissima piste, then the red Kerbboden run and you’ll enter the Zwischenholz piste at just under 2,000-metres. Then it’s through the Langwiesen piste all the way to Fiss, finishing at 1,436-metres. See this on the piste map.
#4 – Piste via the Wilde Grub’n, Stubai Glacier
The Stubai Glacier is Austria’s largest glacier ski area and has views that many consider to be the best in the country too. My favourite run down starts at the top of the 3,333-metre Schaufelspitze peak from which it’s best to take the blue run down to the Gamsgarten mid-station, then the high-alpine, ski route Wild Grub’n to the bottom at 1,750m, a total descent of just over 1.5 vertical kilometres, so expect your legs to be burning at the end. See the run on the piste map.
#5 – Palinkopf Mountain via the Höllkar back to Ischgl
If you’ve ever wanted to stand with a foot in two different countries, this is the ski area for you. You can have one half of your body in Austria, the other in Switzerland. The Silvretta Arena ski area – now connected to the Swiss Samnaun is snow guaranteed too, so this run will be open if you choose to take it. Start at the top of the 2,864-metre high Palinkopf Mountain and take the black, then three red runs and you’ll arrive in Ischgl after a long and varied piste. See the run on the piste map.
Of course there’s nothing to stop you doing any of these runs on a snowboard too, and might we humbly suggest that to top your day off, finish any one of the five pistes mentioned above with a classic pancake and plum compote (and maybe a Tirolean Jägertee too).