Winter break in Austria: skiing heaven

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Winter holidays are sublime in SalzburgerLand. In total, this Austrian state is home to 1,140km of blue runs, 1,305km of red and 305km of black – all accessible with the Salzburger Super Ski Card. Off the slopes, cozy mountain huts, horse-drawn sleigh rides, toboggan runs, snowshoe hikes and ice climbing await eager holidaymakers.

Photo: Tourismusverband St Johann in Salzburg

There are updates aplenty across the province this year, with a new “Panorama Link” ten-seater gondola connecting Flachau / Wagrain and Flachauwinkl / Kleinarl, creating one of the largest winter sports regions in Europe. St. Gilgen on Lake Wolfgang introduces the Zwölferhorn eight-seater gondola, adding a restaurant to the lift’s mountain station. For those eager to try out the latest accommodation: Hotel Blü is new in Bad Hofgastein, boasting a rooftop spa and yoga studio. The Stadthotel Oberndorf expands with 20 new modern rooms in the former town hall, just 10 minutes from the famous Silent Night Chapel. The award winning Mesnerhaus restaurant adds guest rooms to its offering, while the five-star Hotel Moar Gut in the Grossarl Valley reopens after renovations in October.

408km of SalzburgerLand’s pistes are available via Zell am See-Kaprun with the Ski ALPIN CARD, which grants access to the Schmittenhöhe, the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier and Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn. In this beautiful region of lakes and mountains, guests can test the latest ski models and join special workshops during November’s ‘Snow-How-Days’. Furthermore, from 11th – 13th and 18th – 20th December, holidaymakers can take part in the “Digital Winter Opening Schmittenhöhe”. SalzburgerLand is also home to the high altitude Obertauern, with its long November to May season and one of Europe’s steepest mogul slopes, the Gamsleiten II. For guests looking for some guidance before heading out onto such challenging slopes, there’s a new ski instructor format for 2020/21. “Bobby” is the new private ski instructor for families, whose instruction becomes exclusively available to all members of a family unit for a full three days once booked. Located just under 90 minutes from Salzburg airport, the cozy, serene and scenic region of St. Johann in Salzburg is also ideal for trips with children. The region’s infrastructure has been designed with happy memories of family holidays in mind, and kids big and small will love its 210km of slopes, ten winter hiking routes, snow park and toboggan run. From 28th March – 4th April 2021, the region will host its first ever winter “JoKiWo” children’s week, with an action-packed programme for younger visitors.

Photo: TVB Innsbruck Klaus Polzer

The western province of Tirol is one of Austria’s most famous and well-loved provinces for winter holidays from the UK, boasting 80 ski areas and more than 3,000km of skiable terrain. After hours of fun on slopes, sledges, ice-skates and snow-kites, visitors can be assured that hearty local dishes and warming drinks await in picture-perfect mountain huts and chic restaurants. In Tirol, a “gemütlich” welcome is always guaranteed. The region’s superlative winter offering is further enhanced this year with additions to its lift infrastructure and range of slope-side activities. In the family-friendly Fiss, for example, a new eight-person chairlift with heated seats and a child security mechanism is introduced, while the Steinplatte/Waidring ski resort sees the Kappellenbahn transformed from a six-person chairlift to an eight-seater to reduce waiting times. Winter walkers and cross-country skiers will be happy to hear about new routes in the Wipptal Valley, Kartitsch, Lienz and the Gschnitztal Valley, while a new toboggan run in Fiss is guaranteed to awaken childlike glee in visitors of all ages. Furthermore, the 2020/21 season sees a variety of new well-appointed, comfortable and stylish accommodation options for winter holidays, including the secluded Feriensuite Seppel apartment in Schirm, the 21 ten-person wooden chalets in Steinach’s Chaletdorf Bergeralm (each with its own Finnish sauna and wood-burning heater), and the family-friendly holiday homes at the Farm Resort Geislerhof, each of which has three bedrooms and a private spa.

Innsbruck is Tirol’s iconic capital, with a superlative ‘SKI plus CITY’ pass that grants access to its 13 nearby ski areas as well as 22 cultural sites of interest and wellness experiences. The city welcomes a new attraction this year in the shape of LUMAGICA: a light installation in the Hofgarten Imperial Gardens. Up in the mountains, a fast six-seater chair lift is introduced in Kühtai, in addition to a newly installed ticket office to increase access points and minimise queues. Another Tirolean destination with a new lift for the 2020/21 season is the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena – a region made up of seven small, charming towns and home to 142km of slopes, 7.9km of toboggan runs and 131km of cross-country tracks. This year, its winter sports offering is further strengthened with the addition of the Thanellerbahn – a fully automatic, six-seater chairlift with weather protection and a liftable conveyor belt, starting at the Thanellerkar valley station. Further to the east in the province of Tirol lies SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser-Brixental. This collection of nine villages forms one seriously sizeable ski region, offering visitors 288km of pistes. Here we find two new ski lifts for 2020/21: the ten-person Hexenwasser gondola and the Salvistabahn, which adds a 650m extension in its run up to the middle station. SkiWelt also adds to its already impressive eco-friendly credentials this year with the construction of the Brantlalm Lake for hydropower generation. The Schindlergratbahn is this year’s new addition in St. Anton am Arlberg, the region situated in the heart of Tirol with 305km of slopes and 200km of freeriding terrain. This modern gondola lift drops off experienced skiers at the former top station, before continuing for a further 420m towards gentler downhill runs. There’s an addition to this region’s culinary scene too: two new dining lounges, a winter garden and terrace await 2020/21 winter guests in the Verwall Valley’s Wagner Hut.

Zillertal is an immense ski region, with 542km of slopes spanning across four areas, all accessible with the Zillertaler Superskipass. Alongside its first-rate winter sports scene, visitors can expect some outstanding food and drink. For hearty Tirolean cuisine after some serious skiing, head to the newly renovated Platzlalm. Another new addition for 2020/21 is the expansive exhibition area at the Zillertal Beer BrauKunstHaus, which holds regular tours and tastings of Tirol’s oldest private brewery. Foodie travelers will also enjoy the region of Ischgl, home to nine toque-awarded restaurants at which to enjoy high cuisine and Tirolean delicacies. In line with the region’s extensive COVID-19 protective measures, après-ski will not be available this year. However, with a myriad of activities on offer from winter hiking, snowshoeing and night tobogganing to fat biking, paragliding and ziplining, there’s no shortage of alternative experiences with which to enjoy one’s time in the region. Unique events are also lined up for the 2020/21 season, such as January’s “Shapes in White” snow sculpture competition. Another eccentric event can be found in St. Johann in Tirol, which will host its first ever Dirndl and Lederhosen Winter Games on 20th March 2021, with a programme of ski races, beer mug lifting, snowball target shooting and zipflbob racing. Alongside such festivities, this charming and family-friendly region is home to 43km of slopes and a myriad of slope-side activities, from its 100 winter hiking and snowshoeing routes to the exciting 531m long Flying Fox Winter Course zipline.

Photo: Christoph Johann, Zillertal Tourismus GmbH

The neighbouring Kitzbühel is a legendary winter location, with a history of skiing reaching back over 125 years. Its long October to May ski season and pistes starting in the town mean that guests have plenty of opportunity to explore its 234km of slopes, snow parks and extensive freeride areas. This year, the Kitzbühel Alpine Trail (KAT) – popular with hikers is summer – receives its own two-part winter version with the introduction of the seven-day KAT Ski Tour and the 60km KAT Walk Winter. Another region with a long winter season is Ötztal, which boasts 363km of slopes across six ski areas and two glaciers – all of which can be accessed with the Ötztal Super Skipass. A dynamic pricing system is new for 2020/21, which lets visitors benefit from lower prices when booking early online, and extra off-slope experiences included free of charge when booking for at least six days. Whether it’s a trip to Sölden with snow sports pros or a family holiday in cozy Gries, this new system guarantees great value. For more family-friendly winter sports, visit the picturesque Ski Juwel Alpbachtal Wildschönau, with 109km of slopes and over 100km of cross-country skiing and winter hiking routes. Those new to winter sports can complete their first turns on the wide, gentle runs, while more advanced skiers enjoy 67km of red and black pistes. A holiday here isn’t complete without sampling the local cuisine: indulge in a family size Kaiserschmarrn at the Markbachjochalm hut and join craft beer tastings at the Kristallbrauerei.

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