Last season The Ski Club of Great Britain returned to the Austrian Tirol region to film season two of their 7in7 series, visiting seven different resorts. Follow their videographer’s journey as he shares his impressions of the resorts from a filmmaker’s perspective!
Just after season one, I promised myself I would never ski seven resorts in seven days again. I was exhausted. And yet I found myself sat in seat 7F on an Innsbruck bound Boeing 727 to do it all over again, and I couldn’t wait. Yes it’s tiring travelling to a new hotel in a different resort each night and skiing flat out all day every day, but no pain no gain.
Travelling has always been a passion of mine, exploring new and beautiful places is something I will never pass up. Even though last year wasn’t my first trip to the area, the Tirol constantly surprised me last year not only in the ski areas but also the culture and the people. How could I turn down doing it all again? I only had one real concern as I sat there on the runway at Gatwick waiting to take off; would this year’s trip live up to expectations? I can safely say it did.
Landing in Innsbruck, there was a definite déjà vu moment with a flashback to twelve months ago. This year however would be different. We were heading to seven new resorts starting off in Fieberbrunn, then heading to St Johann then Söll, followed by Alpbach, Sölden, Kühtai and finally Stubai.
Kev, Nicole and I had arrived in Innsbruck the night before, picked up the car and headed straight for our hotel in the city for an early night before what was sure to be a demanding week. The following morning we were up early to head straight for Fieberbrunn.
Even without any of my infamous dodgy driving we managed to get to Fieberbrunn in the North East of the Tirol in less than 90 minutes. I’ve always loved cruising through the mountains and the infrastructure in place here makes getting around the Tirol a breeze.
Fieberbrunn was a resort I’d wanted to tick off my list for quite some time. Having seen it on the Freeride World Tour I couldn’t wait to sample some of the legendary backcountry this huge resort has to offer. The variety of terrain really surprised me; our guide Seb showed us that Fieberbrunn has much more to offer than the huge faces I had seen on the Freeride World Tour videos.
The “Powairia” was a definite highlight for me. The mix of freeride and freestyle suited my riding down to the ground and it’s really nice to see such progressive features in a resort environment. Make sure you have your helmet on though it’s no ride in the park! Having local boy Seb showing us around really paid dividends when taking advantage of the great snow conditions. He led us up to the peak of Marokka, a 20-minute hike. The accessibility of such a vast amount of varied terrain was really highlighted here, so close to the lifts yet so far from anyone else. The steep descent was a real leg burner for me, and it was only day one!
That night it was fair to say there wasn’t a lot of energy for a party, but thankfully Fieberbrunn has a number of cosy bars, one of which we took shelter in for a well deserved beer.
The next morning we woke, surprisingly I wasn’t too stiff after the long day we had had before. We made the short drive to St Johann, parked up and jumped straight on to the gondola in the centre of town.
With only 43km of runs and peaking at 1600m, St Johann doesn’t boast the same mileage as its surrounding resorts. However with skiing right down to 600m there is still plenty of vertical to be had. Thankfully all of the runs are below the treeline as it was snowing heavily and visibility was less than ideal.
Whilst the resort may lack in mileage, it makes up for it by oozing alpine charm. The resort is everything you imagine Austrian skiing to be. Wide open quiet pistes through forests of snow-laden trees. Whilst this may sound perfect for a family holiday don’t let this put you off if you are a little more adventurous. With all the fresh snow that was falling we couldn’t resist venturing away from the pistes where we found some great powder runs in the trees. Filming here was a joy, everywhere I pointed my camera was dreamy, if only the weather had been better!
Unfortunately the weather was so bad that we were unable to go paragliding that afternoon as we had originally planned, so we rescheduled for later in the week. It was a tough decision to make however the alternative was riding more powder, tough life this! The heavy snowfall made my job filming much more difficult though.
When we returned later that week to go paragliding I couldn’t help but wish we had been skiing in the resort on a clear day; the views of the surrounding valley were stunning.
That evening we wondered the streets of St Johann, one of the largest towns in the area. It was so rich in culture and quintessentially Austrian, everything I was expecting from a town in the area. After day two I was really starting to feel at home in the region.
After a short 20-minute drive on another pristine road we arrived in Söll, where we met Petra who was our host for the day. With a little under 300km of pistes to rocket around in SkiWelt, Austria’s largest ski area, surroundings were bound to feel a little different from the previous day. The 90 modern lifts connect 9 villages, and being used to the mega resorts of the Tarentaise I couldn’t help but feel at home here.
Even though the resort tops out around 2000m, one thing we were all impressed with was the quality of the snow, particularly on piste. The hard work of the piste bashers combined with the luck we had had with the recent conditions yielded some incredible corduroy runs. Under perfect blue skies we had some inspiring confidence building pistes to ski, I really loved getting my euro carve on
here! SkiWelt is another resort perfect for families and mixed ability groups alike and with one of the most advanced lift systems in the area it’s also one of the easiest to navigate.
After getting lost in the vast maze of tunnels inside the Alpeniglu we headed down the hill to sample some infamous Austrian après ski. There are a number of bars in Söll for revellers to enjoy each afternoon. However with only 24 hours in resort I wasn’t able to break out my full repertoire of cutting edge dance moves as we had an appointment with some toboggans at the top of the gondola. Trading standing on planks to sitting on sleds we embarked on this mega 4.5km floodlit run. Open till late in the evening this is a major attraction of the area and well worth trying. I’m sure Kev will argue this, but I was definitely the fastest.
Wow. I’d heard whispers about how beautiful Alpbach was before I left the UK, so naturally I was keen to visit, but nothing could really prepare me for the real deal. Following a short drive we rolled through the traditional alpine town and a few of the surrounding villages.
There are over 100 active farms that have called this valley home for over 100 years, and on the surface it doesn’t appear that much else has changed over the last century either. Although many of the buildings in the main town have been built in the last 60 years, the town still maintains it’s old world charm. It’s a quaint and uniform collection of shops; restaurants and a few quiet bars, if you were hoping for a wild party town then you would most definitely feel lost here. Alpbach really lived up to the hype of being one of Austria’s prettiest villages.
One thing that has evolved recently however is the lift system. Alpbach was linked to Auffach in the Wildschönau valley in December 2013, creating the Ski Juwel area, home to a respectable 100km of pistes. Although this is by no means the largest area we would visit on the trip, like the town it was definitely one of the prettiest. The skiing wasn’t half bad either; we hit the groomers and sampled some powder too all without queuing for a single lift all day.
Of the few people we saw on the pistes all day we didn’t hear one word of English however Brits have been visiting this gorgeous corner of the Tirol since the 60s, and you can see why. The combination of some great skiing and beautiful views from the mountaintops right down to resort level make this the ideal break for anyone looking to escape the hustle and bustle.
I would have loved to stay longer but we had to jump in the car and head to our next stop Sölden over on the other side of Innsbruck.
Skiing here starts in October and as a result Sölden hosts the first World Cup of the season. Watching the slalom on my laptop back in my London flat on a grey October’s afternoon seemed like an eternity ago when we arrived at the resort mid season.
The glacier and three 3000m+ peaks encompassed in this ski area provide not only snow security but also some breath-taking runs. Combine this with the tree lined lower slopes and you have a diverse
selection of runs and off piste itineraries. The sun was shining and the pistes were in fantastic condition. I couldn’t resist a quick dip in to the park just before lunch, the features were all perfectly shaped and provided a real mix of challenges, if you’re an aspiring freestyler this resort should definitely be on your list.
After an extended traditional Tirolian lunch on the sunny terrace of Gampe Thaya, Sölden’s oldest mountain restaurant, we headed for the imposing and impressive Ice Cube restaurant, of James Bond fame. As excited as I was to follow in Daniel Craig’s Spectre footsteps, I don’t think I anticipated how much Kev was looking forward to this. Terrible Sean Connery accents and cheesy taglines came thick and fast that afternoon, thankfully the breath-taking views on offer from this incredible building helped distract me.
We couldn’t leave Sölden without sampling some of the legendary après ski, where I finally got to show the crew the rest of my experimental dance moves. Après finishes at around 9pm, leaving everyone visibly upset that they wouldn’t be seeing any more of my shape cutting in to the night, however it was probably just as well as we had an early start and a big day planned at Kühtai the following day.
At only a 30-minute drive from Innsbruck airport, Kühtai’s high altitude slopes seem so close to the UK. The resort is centred on family skiing, from all accommodation being ski in ski out to the ultra modern lift system everything in resort is as convenient as that 30 minute transfer.
The wide-open runs really allowed us to get our edges in and carve up some of the 50km of fantastically groomed pistes. Freeriders wont be disappointed here either with some great access off piste and touring, a recurring theme that we are finding throughout the region. As one of the resorts covered under the Ski Olympia pass, Kühtai is right at the heart of Innsbruck’s thriving snowsports scene. With Austria’s largest halfpipe, the only Olympic sized one in the country in fact, and one of the best parks in the Tirol it was clear to see why so many kids were giving us a run for my money in the freestyle stakes. When meeting the resort staff and park shapers, I was impressed by the resort’s progressive ethos in recognising freestyle as a market that should be catered for, especially in the youth demographic.
Just in case we hadn’t had enough of Kev’s 007-eat-your-heart-out exploits, we rocked up to our evening activity: Der Ziesel. These caterpillar tracked, head lamped electric wheelchairs zipped around the pistes almost as fast as we had skied them earlier in the day. It was safe to say that Kev wasn’t the only one like a kid at Christmas after this activity!
Austria’s largest glacier resort has been a pre season training base to so many of the world’s elite in recent years. It was easy to see why with its high altitude glacier the snow was some of the best we had all trip. This was a resort I was really keen to visit. As early as October the glacier had been
reporting some great powder skiing and videos from the worlds best racers and freestylers training pre season on the glacier are enough to wet anyone’s appetite.
At less than an hour’s transfer from Innsbruck, Stubai is another resort that seems like a stone’s throw away from blighty. Rising to the “Top of the Tirol” we really enjoyed the views on offer and the altitude we were skiing at ensured that the snow was second to none. The sunny conditions would turn most resort’s pistes to a sugary slush, however the Stubai glacier worked it’s magic and we enjoyed world beating piste conditions all day.
Don’t think this resort is all about the pistes though, the off piste offers up something for all levels, from wide open powder fields to steep narrow chutes, this resort should be another one on a freerider’s hit list, however if tree skiing is your bag then you may wish to head to one of the other resorts in the Stubaital.
The jewel in the resort’s crown is the Stubai Zoo; an expansive snowpark where every other rider in it’s peak season is an X Games medallist. The race camps here are pretty world class too. It’s no coincidence then that Austria has such a stronghold in almost all competitive snowsports disciplines.
Unwinding at the end of the day we had a little luxury in store; we were staying in the 5* Relais & Chateau Hotel Jagdhof. Unwinding in the hotel’s excellent spa facilities I had a chance to reflect on the trip.
I couldn’t believe we had all explored 7 new resorts that we hadn’t even touched in the previous series. We couldn’t help but feel we had all still barely scratched the surface of this beautiful area. Over dinner we relived all of our favourite moments of the week and argued at length over which resort was best, which run, and of course where served the best lunch. We could all agree on one thing at least…
We couldn’t wait to come back!
Jonny Cass – A Brighton raised Londoner who can be found shooting in the mountains or skateboarding the streets of Europe if he’s not editing in the office. Jonny is the Ski Club of Great Britain’s video producer and travels around the world filming and photographing anything and everything to do with snowsports.