The Austrian Tirol at its most idyllic: Sunshine, snow, schnitzel and schnapps

By Chris Taine

The early bird gets the… pick of the pistes. Catch the ski bus to Inneralpbach in time to upload promptly on the Pöglbahn gondola, and score the first turns down Alpbach’s best (and longest) rollercoaster red pistes (43/44). Continue past the midstation of the somewhat antiquated Wiedersbergerhorn gondola and enjoy the fresh corduroy on the Schoberreid piste (42) to complete a thigh-burning warm-up run. Don’t worry though, you’ll have plenty of time to catch your breath coming back up the long gondola that marks the westernmost point of the main ski area.

Head back up the Wiedersbergerhorn gondola, and the next time down – if you’re feeling it – take the steep black piste (41/41a) which is used for FIS races. If you want the ski one of the steepest sustained runs in the entire resort, it’s best to do so before it gets skied-out and icy later in the day.

From the top station, scoot around underneath the Hornboden restaurant to reach the Kohlgruben quad chair, for some hot laps on a short chairlift that takes advantage of the west-facing aspect. Although the runs are short, but if there’s any fresh snow it’s usually possible to score a few powder turns right on the side of (or between) the pistes.

Duck into the Dauerstoa Alm for a mid-morning refueling stop. Cappuchino and some Apfelstruedel should be sufficient to keep you out on the slopes when others head in for lunch. The Dauerstoa has views over both the Inntal and Alpbachtal, and when the sun terrace isn’t a starter, the inside is suitably warm and cosy.

Roll down (via 44 and 46 pistes) to the Gmahbahn, a new six-seater chair that has replaced an old triple chair. Heated seats, weather bubble, the whole works – but from the top of the lift there’s a much more appealing destination: the Hornbahn 2000, which reaches the highest lift-serviced point in the resort at 2025m. The blue connector piste (52) will get you there with minimal excitement, passing above the top of the snow park.

Head up the Hornbahn and scope out the terrain – red and black groomers plus some fun and accessible off piste. From here, experienced freeriders hike to the 2128m Wiedersbergerhorn, which affords panoramic views into the neighbouring Ziller Valley. If the snow is good out on this side – and it normally is – it’s worth making several laps.

Continue past the bottom of the Hornbahn, following the marked Baumgarten ski route, which leads all the way back to Inneralpbach. It’s a bit off the beaten path, and from here it’s possible to eye up some of the terrain that makes Alpbach popular with ski tourers, many of whom tackle the 2424m Grosser Galtenberg or the 2228m Standkopf. The ski route can require a bit of a walk through Inneralpbach at the end of it, but when you reach the draglifts it is usually possible to skate across to the not-so-imaginatively named ‘Connection’ lift that joins Alpbach to Wildschönau.

The combined Ski Juwel area (Alpbach plus Wildschönau) was created in 2013-14, with a lift-serviced connection and combined pass elevating the area to become one of the 10 largest in Tirol. 145km of pistes (109km fall-line) served by 47 lifts has widened the appeal of these two valleys that have long been considered amongst the prettiest in the Alps. The new two-stage gondola quickly reaches the top of the Schatzberg, the jumping off point for Wildschönau’s expansive intermediate terrain.

Explore the rollercoaster red runs around the Hahnkopf six-seater chairlift, which also accesses some fun gullies and natural features off the side of the pistes. There’s more of the same further out on the Gipfelbahn. Make the most of these pistes, which can get crowded, while other skiers and riders are in for lunch.

As the restaurants and huts empty out, claim a spot in the sun at the Gipföhit. The panoramas from here are unbeatable, and the schnitzel’s not bad either. Wash it down with big glass of Schiwasser (raspberry cordial with sparking water), which is much better value for money than cola etc.

Get the blood flowing again with a cruisy top to bottom run (pistes 1 and 2) that will take you all the way down to Auffach. The main access point for the Schatzberg lifts, Auffach is a traditional Tirolian village lined with rustic chalets and farmhouses, and largely untouched by the large-scale developments that have detracted from many traditional resorts. If staying for a longer stretch, it’s worth exploring further down the valley – especially the challenging black pistes at Niederau that are covered by the same lift pass.

Return to the top via the Schatzbergbahn (not one for the claustrophobes) and if the body if still willing zip down to midstation and squeeze in a few off-piste turns. Ski Juwel is definitely not on many powderhounds’ radars, so if you strike it lucky with the snowfall, you’ll have plenty to yourself.

The oddly-named Wurmegg piste is the best way to return to Alpbach at the end of day, though a combination of protected wilderness area and geography does make it necessary to download the bottom stage of the gondola.

Upon reaching Inneralpbach, turn into Joe’s Salettl for a well-deserved drink. Don’t linger too long though, as the main village of Alpbach is definitely worth a look.

Exchange ski boots for street shoes, and take a stroll around Alpbach’s streets and alleyways. Situated on sunny plateau at 1,000m, with a population of 2,600, Alpbach’s homogenous architectural style and immaculately kept traditional chalets clustered around the Heiliger Oswald (church) have won it the accolade of “Austria’s most beautiful village”.

Post up at the Postalm for hearty, traditional Tirolean fare. It’s a big place with plenty of cosy corners, where it’s easy to eat and drink away the evening. The schnapps is plentiful – and good – in this corner of Austria, so make sure to try some of the local stuff. For food, try ‘Hutessen’ (grilling your own meat at the table), and if you still feel the need to burn off some calories, there’s often live music to take you through to last call…