The roots of Alpine heritage and ski culture are entrenched as a way of life in Austria, but the skiing there is often overshadowed by other European resorts in the Alps. It’s in the heart of the Eastern Alps where the Austrian culture and skiing history are found and a pilgrimage to Austria is a journey to experience the soul of skiing. We can also help mitigate any myths about Austrian ski vacations being inaccessible due to cost or skill level, so read on to learn why a trip to Austria this ski season is a good fit for everyone and may not totally be out of budget reach.
Skiing is not only widely embraced in Austria, but many of the common practices surrounding ski culture as we know it today came from Austrians. While you’re visiting the slopes, you can stop into one of the world’s top five ski manufacturers, a few of which include Atomic, Fischer and Blizzard, all of which are based out of Austria. The world’s largest manufacturer of trams and ski lifts, Doppelmayr, also originated in Austria. A few other Austrian claims to fame in the skiing world include the invention of electric ski passes, the modern skiing technique from Hannes Schneider and the record for the country with the most Alpine Skiing World Cup victories of all time.
While a little over 70% of Austrians speak English, Gemutlichkeit is the word you ought to most familiarize yourself with before visiting. The term itself does not have a direct translation but is used to describe the welcoming ambiance visitors step into and notice right off the bat during their trip to Austria. This term and overall attitude embody the Austrian culture and provide another reason why one may opt to travel to Austria over another ski destination in Europe. The influence of Gemutlichkeit and the attention to comfort in between runs out in the rubs off on tourists making for a warm, positive environment with a unique sense of familiarity. Those who arrive in Austria to visit for the first time hardly feel out of place or away from home for very long.
As far as places to visit along the way, we recommend Arlberg, Innsbruck and Kitzbuhel within the Tyrol region. From a visit to the oldest alpine ski run in Kitzbühel to exploring the Olympic history of Innsbruck or skiing the run of fame in Arlberg, no matter where you stop in Tyrol, you’ll experience superb skiing and culture. Plus, those visiting Europe for the first time, can begin their journey in Amsterdam and take the new overnight train to the mountains of Austria this season.
The fifth largest city in Austria sits in proximity to 8-9 different ski resorts and has an “old town” filled with history and culture for those looking to supplement their ski trip. Enjoy traditional Tyrolean cuisine after a day of sightseeing and museum visits, or enjoy a ride up in the funicular to the Cloud 9 Igloo for a cocktail and unbeatable panoramic mountain views.
Expert skiers will appreciate the challenge of Nordkette, which has one of the steepest runs in Austria and is closest to the city. Our Mountain Travel Experts (MTEs) described the skiing at Nordkette as an aggressive intermediate mountain. There are multiple resorts and passes to choose from in Innsbruck, but the Ski plus City pass rolls multiple resorts, non-ski activities and bus transportation to and from the city all in one. This pass includes 13 total resorts, with Stubai Glacier’s noteworthy skiing, a little further from the city and with a large amount of terrain and runs to choose between. You can also visit the Kuhtai Ski Resort with the pass, only a 45-minute shuttle ride from the city, and best known for its tree runs, wide slopes and skiing amongst local cows on the mountain.
Skiing at Kitzbühel can be described as a “piste-paradise” with buckets of snow falling every year and the widespread terrain amongst the surrounding resorts. Because of all the Kitzbühel Alps have to offer, it’s also popular to go on “ski safaris” to tour multiple resorts during your visit. Find one that meets your needs, from family-friendly terrain to glacier adventures, there are routes for everyone to enjoy.
Whichever mountain you end up on, be sure to explore the slope-side dining options. There is a variety of cuisine, different than typical American slope-side eats, at reputable restaurants for a gourmet taste of Austria. Some even are set up chalet style, so you can rent a room as well as dine and enjoy après there, then the next morning you wake up right on the mountain.
There are plenty of activities for the non-skier to do in Kitzbühel as well. At the city center, there’s a pedestrian zone filled with shops and restaurants, providing a very cosmopolitan feel while near the mountains. Kitzbühel is probably best known for the Hahnenkamm downhill route. The world-famous course is where some of the best international athletes compete every January since the 1950s when it was first built. Visit the Hahnenkamm to take in the alpine skiing history, spectate the races if you’re there in January or even try the course for yourself if you’re feeling up to the challenge.
If you’re searching for a more luxurious type of stay, Lech is the perfect option. It’s separated into two areas- Lech and Oberlech. The first is filled with great shopping, upscale hotels and fantastic après spots, and the latter you’ll get to via a gondola that goes over the town and brings you to a system of tunnels. While whimsical, the Oberlech tunnel infrastructure can also be confusing to new visitors however there is the main walkway connecting all the main hotels.
Skiing the Ring Circuit allows guests to go all around the Arlberg resorts and over from Zurs. Our MTEs recommend getting a guide to take full advantage of the route and make sure you’re back to the resort in time for après. When skiing you’ll be impressed with the fast speed of the lifts and technology, including enclosed bubble chairs with heated seats, some of which can seat up to 8 skiers at a time.
Zurs sits in between Lech and St. Anton and is the ideal spot if your top preference is having excellent ski-in and ski-out access. It’s a small village but some of the hotels have their own nightlife if guests are looking for that kind of experience. You’ll be staying in a picturesque European village with an abundance of world-class spa services, for the ultimate relaxation after a long day of skiing and soaking in all the mountain views.
A ski trip to St. Anton is happening and attracts a younger crowd with all the live music and DJs on a nightly basis at most bars and restaurants. Our MTEs said St. Anton is the “party town” counterpart, to a more mellow stay at a resort in Lech.
The grooming technology in Europe is also superb and depending on where you want to ski, there are plenty of groomers and backcountry to go around. MTEs said for guests who assume skiing Europe is too challenging, to note the grooming and to keep in mind that the Lech and Zurs resorts are more beginner-intermediate friendly.
The inter-resort lift is the Flexenbahn, a high-speed, 10-person gondola that will bring guests between the resorts, to get a taste of all the skiing Arlberg has to offer. When staying in St. Anton, you’ll be able to unwind and kick off the après at the local recreation center with a pool and sauna. You can close out the night with one of the various DJ sets at Happy Valley or the Piccadilly Bar and drinks before heading back to your resort and doing it all again the next day.
Don’t just take our word for it—connect with a Ski.com agent today or explore our Austria vacation packages and get ready to say ‘Guten Tag’ to a ski adventure unlike any other.