On his snowboard, photographer and terrain park designer Rudi Wyhlidal shows us around the favourite spots of his adopted hometown Sölden. Here are his tips to give yourself that insider’s edge once you get here and start exploring this world famous destination for skiing.
Sölden holds a special place in the hearts of party people worldwide. However, Sölden isn’t just a party; it’s a way of life. That’s what we learnt from our day with Lower Austria native and in-the-know local Rudi Wyhlidal, who came to Sölden in Tirol’s Ötztal Valley 18 years ago to work here as a snowboard instructor for some time. He never returned to his Lower Austrian home, but ended up living here, working as a photographer and married to a girl from Sölden. Today, Rudi is going to show us “his” Sölden.
Our day with Rudi starts over a cup of cappuccino at s’Rimele Café, a fave hangout for locals. Rudi has become one of them in the meantime; he has married a girl from Sölden. Just around the corner is the base of the new Giggijochbahn Gondola, an eye-catching contemporary building of steel and concrete, located next to an old log cabin. Forget the early-morning rush – the lift introduces a new queuing system to avoid mass build-ups at busy periods. Resembling an underground station, the cabins move through in a straight line, enabling skiers and snowboarders—and us—to enter a cabin quicker. “That’s an incredible improvement compared to the former gondola,” says our guide Rudi.
After our first run down the Fun Slope, Rudi showed us the unparalleled views from the top of Roßkirpl Chair Lift down into Pollestal Valley. “I’ve been in this valley once in the summer, riding my mountain bike. That’s truly an awesome tour,” he tells us, smiling. “Riding the Schwarzkogllift Lift gets you up even higher, that is quite impressive and shouldn’t be missed.”
The scenery is breathtaking from almost every run but especially on the top of Tiefenbachkogel and Schwarze Schneid Mountains at the Glacier Ski Resort, two of the Big 3, Sölden’s three lift-served Three-Thousanders. We visited the third of them, 3,058-meter Gaislachkogel Peak later that day. “I kind of like this place,” Rudi says with a generous dose of understatement. A spectacular photo opp, the top of Gaislachkogel Mountain affords 270-degree killer views of Venter Tal Valley, Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, Timmelsjoch Col on the border to Italy and down to the village of Sölden. It is one glorious line of snow-covered peaks, scary and thrilling and vertical.
As a diehard snowboarder and former park designer, it’s only natural that the Sölden Snow Park atop Giggijoch Mountain is one of Rudi’s favourite spots around the ski area. “It might not be the most massive of terrain parks, but it contains features that are truly for everyone – from challenges for the expert getting ready for the X Games to surface level features for the beginner who has never been in a terrain park before, and everything in between.” The Snow Park and the Media Obstacle have made Sölden a world famous destination for boarders and skiers. “At the end of each winter season, we have built a giant obstacle. Skiers, riders, filmmakers and photographers flocked here from around the world. That was definitely fun.”
Giggijoch Mountain is awash with superlative groomed runs, the bespoke terrain park and some stellar family-fun and learning runs. “Gaislachkogel really is the expert’s mountain,” Rudi tells us. “Great and challenging terrain, with steeps and deeps that are perfect for freeriding.” The ski area at Rettenbach and Tiefenbach Glaciers is the perfect spot to get a head start on the new ski season as they start spinning their lifts for the public each year in fall. It offers acres of intermediate and wide-open terrain, similar to the runs of Giggijoch. Except the formidable racecourse that is challenging an international roster of top athletes each October, when Sölden’s Rettenbach Glacier hosts the first events of the Alpine Skiing World Cup.
When morning skiing left us famished, Rudi took us to Gampe Thaya, a rustic trailside cabin. “A true gem, this is perfect for a decadent Alpine-style lunch. They serve outstanding mountain comfort dishes, prepared with the finest, locally sourced ingredients and with much love for the detail.” Well, having enjoyed a feast of spaetzle, dumplings and Kaiserschmarrn, we can only agree.
Small yet beautiful Bratkartoffelhütte Lodge and Hühnersteige in Rettenbachtal Valley are serving up fresh, local cuisine in unique locations, too. When it comes to bigger market-style eateries, Rudi suggests Giggijoch Restaurant is a good choice, “their on-mountain food is among the best in the ski resort.” Perched on the top of the Gaislachkogel gondola trip is the resort’s premier dining spot, ice Q, a place so cinematic that it played the leading role in the Tirol sequences of Spectre, the 24th film in the James Bond series. “This is the ski resort’s top restaurant. Literally. This is where you dine in elegance with unparalleled views, gourmet cuisine and fine wines – at 3,000 meters above sea level,” says Rudi. Regardless of which restaurant you’re opting for, everything tastes better at altitude.
At the southern edge of Sölden sits Sporthütte Fiegl, Rudi’s favourite sports store: „This is my source for everything I need. They always get me set up in the right gear for the mountain. Of course, all stores across Sölden offer a superb selection of equipment, apparel and mountain expertise.”
In Sölden after dark, the scene is set for you to really let your hair down. Rudi suggests the Bierhimmel, which has been THE place to be in Sölden for many, many years. “They offer good times, party rocking live shows and great beer.” Aptly named Live, the small cabin at the heart of the village has live acts where you can party every night of the week. Or, get your groove at Katapult, Sölden’s classic night time music and dancing spot. An electrified nightclub with music, people and guaranteed good fun. And when it comes to nightlife events, the Electric Mountain Festival delivers world-class DJ entertainment. “Although I am much more a rock fan than an electric music devotee,” says Rudi. So there is nothing extravagant about the JaTi Burger Restaurant, Rudi’s favourite after a long day of skiing. The place’s home-away-from-home vibe is just one small part of the reason that he likes it a lot. This is where we meet Rudi’s wife Anja and Jussi, their son. The restaurant serves wonderful craft beer along with superb burgers named “Black Beauty” and sweet potato fries. The décor is inspired by an antique shop with upcycling touches.
Looking for a place that feels more like a friend’s vacation home and won’t break the bank? Sölden offers a diverse selection of accommodation for every budget—such as condos and B&Bs, like Sun Alpin – Rudi says it’s newly renovated in modern Alpine style and it’s cosy. If you are looking for a full-service hotel that surrounds you in luxury, consider the Five Star Hotel Central, the Die BergeLifestyle Hotel, the Hotel Bergland or the Hotel Vaya. When Rudi first came to Sölden 18 years ago, he stayed at the place where today’s Vaya Hotel is located. Newly built, it is chic, modern and stylish and gets rave reviews.
The Bottom Line: Encircled by “Three-Thousanders”, high altitude peaks averaging 3,000 meters in elevation, Sölden is a world-class resort that combines innovative ski lift technology with fine dining on-mountain restaurants, quaint and rustic Alpine lodges with great skiable terrain and a legendary terrain park—skier or rider, Sölden has something for everyone. While the ski area is world-renowned, the resort is truly defined by a collection of unique and unmatched experiences. Sölden is the perfect Alpine ski town, loaded with great sports stores, restaurants and bars and clubs to dance the night away. You’ll find these experiences are as unique as the lofty mountains that surround them. See you soon in Sölden, Ötztal Valley!