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New investments combined with old charm are putting Wildschönau – once a firm favourite amongst Brits, but frequently overlooked in recent years – back on the map.

Ski resort marketing thrives on superlatives: higher, longer, bigger, faster. Sure, kilometres of piste, number of lifts, and highest/lowest elevation are always going to be factors in the winter holiday decision-making process, but statistical pre-eminence alone is not the way to a skier’s heart. The allure of ‘Japow’, for example, is not inches snowfall – it’s the pursuit of a specific, and unquantifiable, feeling. But I digress, and Japan really is a long way from the Austrian Tirol.

My point is, if you get too hung up chasing the highest, longest, biggest or fastest, you’re unlikely to end up in places like Wildschönau. And that would be a shame. Despite being – in geographical terms – roughly equidistant from flashy Kitzbühel and the sprawling resorts in the Ziller Valley, Wildschönau still feels secluded and well removed mass-market ski tourism. Especially Auffach, which sits at the top of the valley with no through road, and ringed by gentle hills dotted with rustic Tirolean farmhouses. Most of the visitor accommodation here consists of private pensions and small hotels, lining the main thoroughfare, and a single gondola rises up from the centre of the village towards the main ski area at the Schatzberg. Now if you could quantify rustic charm, it’d surely score about 9/10.

There was a time when Wildschönau and its ilk were the ski holiday destination du jour for British skiers, but in recent years many have been lured away by larger resorts and the promise of more snowmaking, faster lifts, bigger vertical, and cheaper packages.

Link up with Alpbach

However, without sacrificing its natural charms, Wildschönau is eyeing the future, and making the sort of improvements that should out it firmly back on the map. A significant development came in the 2013-14 season, with Wildschönau (the Auffach/Schatzberg sector) joining up with neighbouring Alpbach, creating the so-called ‘Ski-Juwel’ area. Technically, the lift-serviced connection makes it one of the ten largest resorts in Tirol (but who’s counting), but more importantly it creates a combined area that can boast an excellent variety of terrain, as well as covering two of Austria’s most beautiful valleys with a single lift pass.

Speeding up the Schatzbergbahn

More recently, Wildschönau has invested in a new gondola to service the Schatzberg area – replacing the delightfully rustic, but undeniably cramped, 4-person bubble with a roomy 8-seater gondola. It has also cut the upload time from north of 20 minutes to around 13 minutes, meaning more runs and less of a wait at the bottom. The new Schatzbergbahn gondola has only been spinning since December 2017, but is a key investment for the combined area. It also makes for an easier upload to mid-station, where the beginners’ facilities are set within a sheltered mid-mountain plateau.

Also part of the ‘Ski Juwel’ area, though due to its location unlikely to be connected by lift any time in the near future, is the village and resort of Niederau. Gentle slopes at the base of the mountain are well served by surface lifts, with the mountain rising steeply behind, with only steep reds and a thrilling black piste. In other words, it’s great for beginners and experts – not so much for novices or intermediate cruisers. But its location is fantastic, with frequent bus connections to Auffach (and by extension Alpbach) as well as a short hop across to Hopfgarten – the nearest jumping off point for the massive SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser-Brixental area.

Covering the spectrum from ‘mild’ to ‘wild’ (in no particular order) here are eight more reasons that make Wildschönau the hidden jewel in Tirol’s crown:

1. Ski touring around Auffach

From quick 10-minute bootpack up from the top of the Gipfelbahn, through to full day outings to conquer the 2309m Grosser Beil, there’s a huge number of ski touring options around Auffach. What’s more, most of the routes that are well protected, and feature enjoyable rolling terrain through alpine fields and forested areas. Certainly not the most extreme routes in the Alps, but genuinely enjoyable and accessible ski touring. The bootpack-accessed descent over the Grasingalm is a great way to get a feel for the off-piste in the area (it doesn’t require touring equipment - though off-piste safety gear is a must), and the Breitegg Gern, accessed from the idyllic Schönangeralm, is a fantastic shorter day tour.

2. Tobogganing from Schatzbergbahn mid-station

Even more appealing now that the main Schatzberglift has been upgraded, with a quick and comfortable ride up to mid-station and the start of the descent. The toboggan route winds for 5km down through the forest, well away from the pistes, eventually emerging in Bernau – a pretty village that sits slopeside on sunny plateau above the valley floor. It’s also possible to navigate the track at night with the aid of a headlamp, with the bummelzug that takes tobogganers up to the Koglmoos Hut at approximately 8pm each night.

3. Ski-in, ski-out accommodation

In addition to the excellent range of family-run pensions and small hotels that are within just a few minutes’ walk of the Schatzbergbahn, there are also some genuine ski-in, ski-out digs, including the family-friendly Pension Luzenberg in Bernau. Sitting on a high plateau above the main valley, Luzenberg (and a handful of other hotels) have commanding views over the valley below, catch a bit more sunshine, plus it’s possible to click into your skis right outside the door (access via the 1b piste).

4. Niederau’s Rübezahl Hütte

Across in Niederau, just under the Markbachjoch, is the admittedly slightly kitschy but nonetheless charming Rübezahl Hütte. It’s the pick of the mountain huts in the Niederau ski area, with views out towards the Hohe Salve (centerpiece of the SkiWelt area) and the Kitzbüheler Horn beyond. Technically it’s also ski-in, ski-out, with basic dorm rooms through to comfy doubles on site.

5. Carving it up around the Schatzberg

Intermediate skiers are really Wildschönau’s sweet spot. Nowhere is this more evident than around the 1903m Schatzberg. The red pistes are ultrawide cruisers, with enough rollovers and changes in pitch to keep things interesting. The Wurmegg (piste 13) down towards Alpbach is a highlight, when freshly groomed, while later in the day the short fall-line pitches around the Gipfelbahn chairlift tend to stay in good shape as they get less traffic.

6. The Moosa Stadl

At the top of the Schatzbergbahn, before the first turns can be made, lies a little wooden hut – the Moosa Stadl. Generally speaking, Wildschönau does not boast the wildest après-ski, but this is the place to stop and enjoy a drink, soak in the last rays of sunshine, before tackling one final top to bottom descent.

7. Alpbach’s Hornbahn

Some of the most challenging lift-accessed terrain is accessed from Alpbach’s Hornbahn 2000, a four-seater chairlift that covers only 393m vertical, but features a clutch of rollercoaster reds, playful off piste terrain, and a couple of steeper blacks. Sure, there are no vertigo-inducing couloirs here, but the slightly higher altitude means that the snow conditions are reliable, and because it requires a longer traverse from the main Alpbach ski area it doesn’t get too crowded. Also, when the snow is good, there are marked ski routes extending below the bottom of the chair and leading all the way to Inneralpbach.

8. Schönangeralm

5km further up the valley from Auffach, Schönanger is the departure point for some of the best ski touring routes in the area, but it’s not necessary to break a sweat in order to enjoy this tucked-away corner of the Wildschönau. There are sleigh rides, snow-shoe trails, a cross-country loop – and capping it all off the cosy Schönangeralm with typical regional cuisine (and cheese produced on site). 

 

For more information:
www.wildschoenau.com
www.visittirol.co.uk 

Ski Juwel Alpbachtal Wildschönau is also covered by the Tirol Snow Card