By Chris Taine
First lift! Upload the Giggijoch gondola, which will take you from 1362m up to 2283m in only 9 minutes. The gondola, which is new for the 2016-17 season, massively increases the upload capacity of the gondola that it replaces, thus eliminating one of the biggest bottlenecks in the entire resort. It supposedly is capable of whisking 4500 skiers and riders per hours skywards, but you’ll still want to make sure you’re among the first on the mountain, to make the most of the freshly groomed pistes.
At the top of the Giggijoch gondola, continue up the Hainbachkar quad chair, which passes over the top of the manicured snowpark. From the top of the lift, at about 2500m, it’s a cruisy warm-up run over 500m vertical down a undulating red piste (number 11) that eventually turns right and descends into the Rettenbachtal. From the Langegg six seater you’ll return to near your starting point, while getting magnificent morning views towards the high alpine Gletcherstrasse, where car chase scenes for the recent Bond film Spectre were filmed.
That red piste is still remarkably uncrowded (the advantages of a resort where the nightlife is as renowned as the skiing), so take another run down towards the Rettenbachtal, but this time stop at the Gampe Thaya, an ancient mountain hut with spectacular views towards Obergurgl and the main alpine divide that separates the Austrian Tirol from Italian Südtirol.
Right on time for that reservation at the Gampe Thaya, a mountain farm hut that has been standing for around 350 years, and serves the best breakfast with the best views in the entire Oetztal valley. Especially at this early hour, the quiet mountain hut stands in stark contrast to Sölden’s party-hard image. Scrambled eggs, cured ham, cheese, yoghurt, and homemade marmalade are served with liberal amounts of fresh bread and fruit juice, all locally sourced, and in some cases coming from 30 odd cows and handful of goats that graze the fields around the hut in the summer months.
Soelden ski area
The chairlifts further up the valley in Obergurgl are already shimmering in the sunlight, a timely reminder to get back on the skis and start ticking off some Sölden’s many ‘must-ski’ runs. Taking the Langegg chair back up to the Rotkogljoch, head across towards the Rettenbach glacier. A schuss down a blue piste, a chairlift and finally a gondola will get you as far as the main glacier station, and from here another 8-person gondola ascends the steep slope that traditionally hosts the first slalom and giant slalom events of the FIS Alpine World Cup each season. The shady, high altitude glacier slopes provide a thrilling venue for the season opening races (held late October), but are otherwise reasonably quiet.
The more expansive and varied glacier slopes are found on the Tiefenbach side, accessed via a ski tunnel, and also the highest lifted point in the entire resort. The main lift here is the 8-seater gondola, from the top of which the views over into Pitztal and towards the 3774m Wildspitze (Austria’s second-highest mountain) are superb.
After a few runs on the sunny side of the glacier, the Seitenkar chairlift can be used to return to the Rettenbach glacier. The snow quality of the blue number 33 piste tends to be excellent, and is perfect for really testing your edges. It gets crowded towards the bottom as it funnels into the valley below the hairpin corners of the Gletscherstrasse. Continue on down the red piste (number 7a), past the drag lifts in the sprawling beginners’ area, and all the way to the valley station of the impressive Gaislachkogl gondola.
After nearly 2000m vertical descent, the legs have earned a break, and riding back up in the spacious and modern 3G gondola gives you the chance to do exactly that. The gondola provides a vantage point for scoping out some of the steep black pistes, or even the freeride terrain in the Wasserkar.
Take a few minutes to soak in the view from the 3048m Gaislachkogl, surrounded by the glacier-capped peaks of Oetztal Alps. And take a moment to check out another Bond filming location. The modern glass is in reality a stylish high-end restaurant – the IceQ. Worth a stop if you’re feeling spendy, but from here some of Sölden’s best runs are at your ski tips.
Conditions (and ability level) permitting, there’s some incredible off-piste skiing and freeriding in the Wasserkar, directly under the top stage of the gondola, but it really does need to be approached with caution – preferably with a guide. On the north side of the mountain, however, there’s a long red piste (number 1) with some good fall-line sections, returning eventually to the Gaislachkogel midstation. Head on past the bottom of the lift station to reach the Wasserkar six-seater, which in 2014-15 replaced an old fixed-grip chair in the same area.
The black piste (number 3) from the Wasserkar chair is worth at least a couple of runs. Because of its location, amongst a brace of gentle blue pistes, it tends to get overlooked, and over lunchtime is a particularly good spot for some big, fast turns.
Turn into the Heidealm (it’s on the very far left corner of the piste map) for a late lunch, as the crowds clear. Grab an outside table, weather permitting, as the views up the valley towards the mountaineering village of Vent are awesome. Also awesome are the Tirolean dishes, such as Groestl and Kaiserschmarrn.
Back up the Heidebahn quad chair and traverse across towards the Rettenbachtal, again taking the Langegg chair back up to the main Giggijoch ski area. The slopes can be crowded here in the mid-afternoon, so be careful while negotiating down the blue piste (number 13) beside the snowpark.
The Rosskirpl chair is on the very right-hand side of the piste map, and despite being so close to the busy Giggijoch, the skiers’ left of the main piste is a beautiful area for some easy access off-piste. Descend far enough and you’ll spot the hamlet of Hochsölden just below, with its cluster of 4-star hotels and pensions. Continue on down the piste, underneath the antiquated fixed-grip double chair, and where the trail splits head to the right (the black number 22 piste). Though it’s the steeper option, it tends to be less crowded at the end of the day than the red piste, but it can still be icy. The legs should be pretty tired by now, so the apres-ski bar at the bottom of this run will come as sweet relief.
Beer o’clock. Roll into Zum Kuckuck and try and grab some real-estate before it gets too full. A couple of Weissbier (wheat beer) will help the rehydration process. The schnapps, not so much, but that’s no reason not to indulge in one or two.
Head back to accommodation to shower and refuel. The resort has a wealth of simple pensions through to four and five star hotels, but one of the best spots in town is the new Chalet Resort Sölden. The cluster of tastefully done natural timber chalets (five in total, each accommodating 2-10 people) are as solid as solid as the mountains themselves. The Holzhütten take on – and succeed – in the challenge of being luxurious, without it coming off as pure kitsch. They’re self-catering too, so if you’ve prepared adequately, you can cook up a hearty feed before heading back out on the town.
Get back into the swing of things at the Partystadl, a local nightspot that walks a fine line between Tirolean charm and kitsch. As the bar fills, it’ll get loud… and while a few might still be rockin’ the ski boots after an extended après session, you’ll appreciate the downtime and the change of footwear as the night wears on.
If you’ve still got a bit left in the tank, head back along the main drag to Mogul Bar and Music. The party will last well into the night, with the (mostly) young crowd fuelled up on vodka red bull and fresh mountain air. Sölden nightlife is up there with the rowdiest in Austria, and with good reason. Make it to last call… if you can!
Explore Soelden with the Ski Club.
If you want to make the most of your visit to Soelden explore nearby Obergurgl too, why not ski with our Ski Club Leader service, where trained Leaders show you the best parts of the resort, on and off piste. Find out more here - Obergurgl Leaders.
The club also runs several Freshtracks holidays to the Soelden area, see the full calendar of trips here - Obergurgl Holidays.