5 resorts close to Innsbruck Airport for early-season skiing and riding on snowsure glacier slopes

Down here in Munich, it’s usually not long after the last Octoberfest crowds have staggered home that the weather takes a turn for the worse. Or for us skiers, the better. The mornings are decidedly brisker, and the mountains to the south of city are often flecked with white after an autumnal rainstorm passes through. For me, that’s usually the motivation needed to dust off the skis (possibly a wax…) and head across the border into the Austrian Tirol.

There are five glacier resorts open during the autumn months, each of which has its own charms and character. All are within easy reach of the UK too, with Innsbruck airport serving as the gateway to the region. Early-season powder is always a possibility, but if not, there’s no shortage of events taking place both up on the slopes and in the towns and villages of Tirol.

Stubai

Andre Schoenherr

Typically open from late September, and the most easily accessible glacier resort from Innsbruck airport, Stubai can even be reached by a direct bus. This makes it convenient for a city break that combines skiing with a bit of city flair, and a visit in early December means visits to the pretty Christmas markets (and mugs of warming Gluehwein) can be combined with early-season skiing. The resort has invested significantly in new lift infrastructure to reduce wait times from the valley station at Mutterberg, with the new Eisgrat 3S gondola also halving the time needed to reach the main glacier slopes.

Early in the autumn, only the highest glacier slopes are usually open, served by T-bars and a couple of chairlifts. But as the winter approaches and the freezing level drops, a good dump of snow can open up some exciting freeride terrain between the Eisgrat gondola’s middle and top stations – and the new gondola makes it possible to pack in a lot of vertical.  Meanwhile the snowpark, up the Gaisskarferner, is home to one of the liveliest freestyle scenes in Europe, and it kicks into high gear in autumn. While there’s not much at the base of the mountain besides the sprawling car park (with the exception of rowdy après-ski at the Mutterbergalm), the nearby town of Neustift makes a good base, with all the necessary facilities and plenty of affordable accommodation options.

Sölden

Tirol Werbung Aichner Bernhard

Beyond its reputed full-throttle nightlife, Sölden is also known far and wide for its high-altitude glacier skiing, hosting the opening Alpine Skiing World Cup events each season in late October. Hot off summer training, men and women both compete in Giant Slalom races up on the Rettenbach glacier. Here you’ll find some of the steepest, shadiest, and therefore best glacier skiing slopes in the Alps.

Along with the adjacent Tiefenbach glacier, the upper slopes are snowsure from autumn until well into the spring, making for one of the longest ski seasons in the Alps. With the glacier-viewing platform at 3340m, Sölden also boasts some of the most spectacular vistas in the region, with views across the 3768m Wildspitze and the glaciers of the Oetztaler Alps. A bonus is that Sölden is not only a glacier resort – as natural snow and/or snow cannons boosts the snow cover lower down (though still over 1500m) more terrain opens up, including long rolling intermediate pistes.

Kaunertal

Tucked away in the southwestern corner of the Austrian Tirol, near both the Swiss and Italian borders, Kaunertal boasts both easy pistes high up on the glacier, set within a natural amphitheatre, as well as – snow permitting – challenging freeride terrain under the Ochsenalm chair. If you’re willing to walk (or put on skins) then there are even more possibilities for off-piste skiing and riding.

Kaunertal, like several other Tirolean glaciers, has a lively park scene during the early season. However, what Kaunertal does not have a lot of – compared to other glacier resorts – is race training. Whilst some might enjoy riding alongside gate dodging speed addicts, some may prefer a more sedate early season experience. There is essentially only one restaurant/base lodge for the resort, with everything else being located in Feichten, about a 30 minute drive away. This does mean that the resort feels rather isolated, especially compared with more cosmopolitan areas like Sölden, but therein lies its charm.

Hintertux

One of only two resorts in the Alps open for skiing year-round (the other being Zermatt), Hintertux lies at the far end of the Zillertal valley, which is lined with world-class ski resorts. But well before the lifts in Mayrhofen, Zell and Hochfuegen start spinning, it’s already peak season up at Hintertux. In the early hours you’ll be jostling with race clubs from across Europe, all anxious to get time on the slopes and a jump on the competition, but it’s usually possible to find a few quieter spots. For example, ‘over the back’ on the Schlegeis triple-chair, which is south-facing and bathed in sunlight while other slopes remain in the shade.

There are some good steep slopes up on the Gefrorene Wand to test your edges, and when the snow conditions are really good, the 10km long “Schwarze Pfanne” from the Tuxerjoch down to the resort base is pretty hard to beat. There are accommodation options abound throughout the Ziller Valley, but Mayrhofen is the place to stay if you’re not too fussed about catching the first lift, and fancy a more lively base for an early-season getaway.

Pitztal

At the top of a long valley, wedged between Kaunertal and Oetztal, Pitztal is often overlooked in favour of its larger and more well-known neighbours, but this shouldn’t necessarily be the case. It may not be the largest of the glacier resorts, but it is the highest – and with Austria’s highest refreshment stop possible at the rather factually named Café 3440.

Some of the glacier slopes are steep, fall line red pistes, and with good early snowfalls, the freeride potential of the area is also revealed. The nearby Rifflsee ski area (just down the valley) also opens its slopes as winter approaches, offering more variety.

Getting There

British Airways has increased the frequency of flights from London to Innsbruck from 4 to 6 flights per week for the 2017-18 season, while easyJet flies direct from London Gatwick to Innsbruck during the autumn and early winter months. Even for the most jaded traveller, landing in Innsbruck can be a thrill – coming in to land with the Nordkette mountains towering on one side, and the sight of ski lifts and pistes from the above get the blood pumping before you’ve even touched down.

More Information: www.visittirol.co.uk

Event Highlights:

32 Kaunertal Opening – 13-15 October 2017
Soelden FIS Alpine World Cup Ski Opening – 27-29 October 2017
Stubai Sportscheck Gletscher Testival – 9-12 November 2017
Hintertux Telemark Opening (including opening Telemark World Cup race) – 30 November – 3 December
Traditional Pitztal Mountain Advent (Plangeross) – 1-23 December 2017


Article contributed by Chris Taine, former Ski Club Website Editor, and current Alpine transplant and Tirol correspondent.