Tirol is special all year round, but winter might just be the best season of all. When the mountains are covered in snow, the region comes alive with everything from ski resorts to Christmas markets whirring into action. It’s the reason I moved here four years ago, and one of the major reasons I stayed. Every season I discover something new and wonderful about winter here — there’s so much to see and do. So how to experience the best of Tirol if you’re only here for a week or two? Here’s my five-step guide to planning a perfect trip and making the most of winter in Tirol!
Step 1: Choose your ski resort
With around 100 ski areas, the toughest part about planning a winter trip to Tirol is deciding where to go. But it also means there’s a winter resort to suit almost everyone. It’s only a matter of working out what kind of holiday you want:
Made for beginners
First time on snow? Then your best bet is somewhere easy to reach, gentle and not too pricey. That’s why I tend to take beginners to one of the small resorts around Innsbruck, like Muttereralm, Patscherkofel and Rangger Köpfl. Around 20 minutes from the airport, they are the perfect size for finding your ski feet and tend to have both good value hotels and lift passes. Plus, if you need a break from snowplough turns, you can always while away an afternoon or two in Innsbruck’s historic city centre.
Skiing with the kids? You’ll want good childcare, ski schools and first-rate convenience. SkiWelt ticks all the boxes, with 22 ski schools and childcare for the little ones. Most of the 280 km of runs are wide and gentle, making them ideal whether you’re five years old or 50. And there’s plenty to keep the young ones entertained in the evenings, with tobogganing and night skiing on offer. If you prefer cosier ski areas then small-but-perfectly-formed spots like Hochoetz and Schlick 2000 are also worthy contenders.
Hooked on skiing or snowboarding? Then pick a resort with plenty of pistes, reliable snow and fast, efficient lifts. Ischgl, a 238-kilometre behemoth of a ski area, might be the place for you. Spanning the Austrian-Swiss border, it’s snow-sure, and has everything from ego-boosting blues to easy-access powder runs, along with a roaring après-ski scene.
If you’re looking for something a little calmer, then Fieberbrunn is another of my personal favourites. The mountains are lower here, but just as snowy. In fact, Fieberbrunn regularly clocks some of the best snow depths in Tirol. Since 2015, the resort has been linked to the Saalbach area, so there’s 270 km of slopes and acres of off-piste to explore.
Into the wild
Addicted to skiing but bored of pistes? Then it’s time to give ski touring a go. This involves heading up into the mountains using skis with skins and special bindings to power over the snow. It can be hard work, but the lure of nature, outstanding views and untouched snow make it all worthwhile. If you’re new to it, then Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis is a good place to start. The resort offers regular guided tours for newbies. If you’re experienced, then Obergurgl makes a splendid base, with both short and multi-day tours close by.
Not into skiing or snowboarding at all? Never fear —Tirol is about more than pistes and ski lifts. In fact, one of my favourite winter activities is hiking up to a hut, drinking a hot chocolate and then tobogganing back down to the valley. Others come here for the world-class cross-country skiing, to snowshoe through the woods or even to relax in the spa. If that sounds like your thing, then consider a trip to Seefeld. This idyllic village is a mecca for cross-country skiers and hikers alike, all a 20-minute train ride from Innsbruck.
Step 2: Pick a date
We’re pretty lucky here in the Tirol. Thanks to five glacier ski areas, the season never really ends. Hintertux is open all year round, while Stubai, Pitztal, Sölden and Kaunertal typically open in early autumn. If you can’t wait until winter proper, then head to one of these in October or November.
Late November and December is Christmas market season. Tirol has some wonderfully atmospheric markets, from the bustling Glühwein stands of Innsbruck to the tranquil festivities of Rattenberg. But if you do want to ski at this time of year, be sure to go high, or book at the very last minute. Places like Obergurgl and Kühtai are usually safe bets. Come Christmas week and New Year, most resorts should be open. Prices tend to be higher at this time of year, but watching the fireworks illuminate the mountains on NYE is something else.
The last three weeks of January tend to be some cheapest (and quietest) of the winter. The snow also tends to be at its best too, so you can expect everywhere to be in full swing — just make sure to wrap up warm. My favourite time of year is spring, when the days are longer, the snow soft and the skies blue. But if you’re planning a visit in late March or April, it’s worth considering higher resorts where the snow tends to hold longer.
Step 3: Where to stay
Next up, you need to sort your accommodation. There’s plenty to choose from, from 5* luxury spa hotels to homely self-catered chalets. Personally, I can’t get enough of small, family-run Austrian hotels — ones with wood-clad walls, first-rate service and excellent food. If they have a spa and quick access to the slopes, even better. A couple of favourites include Hotel Lenz in See and Hotel Rose in Mayrhofen, but there are hotels like this in pretty much every village in Tirol. The www.tyrol.com website is a good place to start looking.
Step 4: Plan your journey
Innsbruck airport is the gateway to this part of the Alps, with most resorts within an hour or two’s drive. There’s a good choice of direct flights from the UK during the winter months, including Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton, Bristol and Manchester. If you live elsewhere in the UK, it can be worth flying to Munich instead, which is only a couple of hours from most of the Tirolean resorts and well-served by bus, train and transfer companies.
Don’t rule out driving either. Calais is only an 11 hour-drive from Tirol, and the ferry can be considerably cheaper if you’re travelling with friends or family. Plus, it means you can cram in all your gear and skip those expensive luggage charges. I know a lot of people who even make a road trip out of it, stopping off in Stuttgart to visit the car museums or Luxembourg City for some sightseeing.
Step 5: How to pack
Packing for winter in Tirol means one thing: layers! Sat on a chairlift at 2,000m altitude in mid-January is (unsurprisingly) chilly. But what often shocks people more is how hot they get when skiing or hiking in the mountains. I usually have a baselayer (merino wool is best), followed by a midlayer. A waterproof, windproof, breathable outer jacket goes on top. On the bottom, I’ll wear merino leggings and either a thin or insulated pair of trousers, depending on the time of year.
Here’s my complete packing list for a week-long winter holiday in Tirol:
- Two sets of baselayers (top and bottom)
- Three pairs of ski or hiking socks, depending on your planned activities
- A midlayer or two
- A waterproof outer jacket or insulated ski jacket
- Ski pants or shell pants
- A day pack, for skiing or hiking
- Water bottle or flask
- A pair of good winter gloves, and a spare pair just in case
- A thick winter hat
- A neck buff
- A pair of goggles (skiing/snowboarding only)
- A helmet (skiing/snowboarding only – can be rented)
- Swim gear
- Underwear, pyjamas and essentials
- Outfits for the evening
- A sturdy pair of winter boots
- Ski or snowboard equipment (can be rented)
Once your bags are packed, you’re ready for an awesome week experiencing winter in Tirol!