You don’t need to be ‘doing a season’ for a season pass to be worth the investment – here are the top passes covering major resorts in the Austrian Alps

Living in Munich, on a good day there’s only an hour’s drive separating my front door and the nearest major Austrian resort, so a season pass is a no-brainer.

But for those UK-based skiers or riders looking at two or more weeks on snow each winter, season passes can also be a worthwhile option to explore.

Beyond the potential cost savings, the real selling point of a season pass – or multi-day pass covering multiple resorts – is freedom. Freedom to ski for only a couple of hours – for example on arrival and departure days. Freedom to book a cheeky last-minute ski weekend based on flight or accommodation deals – the ski pass already paid up front. Freedom to head up the valley or around the corner to explore a little-known gem that’s covered by your pass but usually overlooked.

The popularity of such multi-area or regional passes has grown in recent years, as resorts and tourism boards have clicked that making their area part of a larger and more comprehensive ski offering can be crucial in attracting and retaining visitors. As a result, prices are more competitive than ever – though it’s still wise to crunch the numbers, look at the various types of passes available before jumping in boots first.

While similar passes do exist across the Alps (Mont Blanc Unlimited, Dolomiti Superski, etc.) the trend seems particularly pronounced in Austria and its high density of resorts. Here’s a quick round-up of what’s on offer:

Chris Taine

Zillertal Super Ski Pass

Covering the Ziller Valley, due east from Innsbruck (but also accessible from Munich airport), skiing extends from 560m all the way up to 3,250m. From Mayrhofen’s more cosmopolitan flair, to high alpine mountaineering terrain, the Zillertal has all the variety you need packed into a single side valley of the Inn River.

Although there are various smaller satellite ski areas, roughly speaking the Zillertal can be divided into 4 main zones. Hochzillertal and Hochfügen at the entrance to the valley, then Zillertal Arena, Mayrhofen, and at the far reaches of the valley the Hintertux Glacier.

Hintertux is the obvious choice for early or late-season skiing, but Hochfügen – with its base at 1500m – also boasts a long season, and has (deservedly) a well-developed freeride scene. Hochzillertal and Zillertal Arena are comparable in size to Mayrhofen, but lesser-known, and the quality of the off piste in these areas is often underestimated. Of course, when springtime does roll around, Mayrhofen is the place to be. Why? Snowbombing.

Passholders are entitled to local buses and train travel, making it easy to get around without a car. Zillertal is also easily accessible by train from Innsbruck.

How much does it cost? 720.50 EUR (season)
Validity? 2 December – 15 April
What does it cover? Hochzillertal, Hochfügen, Spieljoch, Zillertal Arena (including Gerlosstein), Mayrhofen (including Ahorn, Tux-Finkenberg areas), and the Hintertux Glacier. Total of 515km of pistes, served by 179 lifts.

Chris Taine

Ski Pass Arlberg

Steeped in ski history (it’s considered the cradle of alpine skiing) St Anton has cemented its legendary status – both on and off the snow. Now that St Anton is connected by lift to luxurious Lech-Zürs (not by shuttle as was previously the case) it will only further cement that status. The new ‘Flexenbahn’ was opened last season, closing the missing link, and creating Austria’s largest inter-linked ski area in the process, and one of the 5 largest in the world.

The off-piste terrain – especially around the 2,810m Valluga – is the biggest draw for powder junkies, but it’s far from the only spot where its steep (and potentially deep). The après-ski action that unfolds each afternoon at the Mooserwirt and the Krazy Kanguruh is not for the faint-of-heart either.

Although there’s no glacier, and a top elevation just over 2,800m is not in itself impressive, the Arlberg region is snowsure and enjoys a long season – it tends to bear the brunt of snow that arrives from the west.

How much does it cost? 820 EUR (season)
Validity? 1 December – 22 April
What does it cover? The entire Ski Arlberg region: St Anton, Stuben, Lech-Zürs, Warth-Schröcken. 305km of pistes, and a claimed 200km of off piste routes.

Oeztal Tourism: Ernst Lorenzi

Ötztal Powdercard

A new joint ski ticket that is available for the first time in 2017-18, the Ötztal Powdercard covers the valley’s two premier world-class resorts. First, Sölden, which although primarily known for its hard-partying ways is actually a solid all-rounder. Recent lift improvements have made the intermediate terrain under the Gaislachkogel more accessible, while the top of the Gaislachkogel is the departure point for some serious freeride descents. The Giggijoch side of the mountain has also seen access from the valley recently improved with a high-speed gondola. The high alpine glacier terrain on the Tiefenbach and Rettenbach glaciers means that there’s no danger of early or late season visits falling flat due to a lack of white.

Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, by contrast, is rather quieter – some would say more refined – but consistently boasts perhaps the best quality natural snow in Austria. It sits right on the main alpine divide, and while it’s primarily geared towards intermediate and advanced piste skiers, there’s high alpine ski touring and some good lift-accessed off piste too.

The Powdercard is by no means that most comprehensive pass in the region, but with Sölden and Obergurgl both having their aficienados, and the accessibility from Innsbruck airport, there are definitely skiers and riders for whom this could be a good shout.

How much does it cost? 640 EUR (season)
Validity? 16 November – 22 April
What does it cover? Sölden, Obergurgl-Hochgurgl. Total of 254km of pistes served by 55 lifts.

TVB Paznaum Ischgl

Silvretta Arena Ski Pass

Ischgl book-ends its long winter season with a pair of mountaintop concerts, which over the years have attracted some world-class acts, but that’s far from the only reason to spend some time in the Paznaun Valley.

Closer to the entrance of the valley, the mid-sized resorts of Kappl and See are family-friendly affairs, but with enough to keep more advanced skiers and riders interested too. Kappl, in particular, catches plenty of sun making it a comfortable place for kids to find their ski legs. Don’t be fooled though – it’s also hosted a stop of the Freeride World Tour, so it’s got freeride credentials to match.

Ischgl is without a doubt the main attraction though, with stunning panoramic views of the Silvretta Alps, oodles of high-altitude terrain (also covered by state-of-art snowmaking capabilities), epic long pistes (including the ‘Smugglers Run’ to Swiss Samnaun), and outrageous nightlife. Accommodation is predominantly 4-star hotels, so for more reasonable digs look outside of the main village, or up the road in Galtür which is another excellent mid-sized resort covered by the pass.

How much does it cost? 326 EUR / 280.50 EUR (7 day pass – peak/low season)
Validity? 23 November – 1 May
What does it cover? Ischgl, Engadin-Samnaun, Galtür, Kappl, and See.

Chris Taine

Innsbruck Olympiaworld Ski Pass

What unifies the 9 ski areas covered by this pass is their proximity to Innsbruck – and that’s about it. Stubai is a glacier area with stunning views across the Alps, Kühtai is a ski touring Eldorado, and Axamer Lizum is a smaller family-oriented resort that has also hosted Olympic alpine ski races.

Innsbruck is the logical place to stay if using this pass (up to 7 days), to get a taste of what the area has to offer. None of the resorts is particularly large (by Austrian standards), but combined with the cosmopolitan flair of Innsbruck make for a unique winter holiday.

For my money, Kühtai is the pick of the resorts included on this pass, but the Nordkette/Seegrube is also not to be missed – ski slopes with a view directly down on Innsbruck city centre, and a pair of classic couloirs to test your mettle. And for anyone with an interest in Olympic history, there are a number of sites that have hosted the 1964 or 1976 Games, as well as the recent 2012 Youth Olympic Games.

How much does it cost? 253.50 EUR (7 day pass)
What does it cover? Nordkette/Seegrube, Patcherkofel, Axamer Lizum, Muttereralm, Kühtai, Rangger Köpfl, Glungezer, Schlick 2000 and Stubai Glacier. 90 lifts, 300km of pistes across 9 ski areas.

Chris Taine

Kitzbüheler Alpen All Star Card (Super Ski Card)

Combining the Kitzbüheler Alps with many of the mega-resorts in neighbouring Salzburgerland, the Super Ski Card covers almost as much as the Tirol Snow Card, though admittedly with a little less variety. That said, while many of the resorts that are included are at lower elevations (and typically offering less in the way of thrilling steeps) what is on the menu is probably the best and most-extensive intermediate skiing in the Eastern Alps. Many of the resorts – such as Alpbach-Wildschoenau and St Johann – are also renowned for being family-friendly, and there’s certainly no shortage of traditional villages and bucolic scenery across the region.

A real upside of this set of resorts is that both Innsbruck and Salzburg airports provide excellent entry points. This definitely provides some flexibility when booking travel from the UK, especially if booking last-minute.

If there is a downside (and this is really being picky) it is that there are relatively few true high-altitude resorts – so those who want to ski either early season or late in the spring will have less options than say, with the Tirol Snow Card, with its 5 separate glacier ski areas.

How much does it cost? 697 EUR (season)
Validity? 14 October – 1 May
What does it cover? 23 ski regions across the Austrian Tirol and neighbouring Salzburgerland, including SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser-Brixental (Scheffau, Söll, Westendorf, etc.), Alpbach-Wildschönau, Kitzbühel, Zillertal Arena, Steinplatte-Waidring, St Johann, Zell am See, Kaprun, Fieberbrunn, Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Gastein, Schladming (amongst others). Total of 2,750km of pistes serviced by 900 lifts.

Chris Taine

Tirol Snow Card

The mother of all ski passes. 91 ski resorts, including five glaciers, and more than 3,000 total piste kilometres served by 1,100 lifts.

If you skied every single day that the card is valid that is a whopping 227 days on snow. That averages 3.33 EUR/day – at prices like that, who needs to work anyways?

Early and late season are well covered by glacier resorts, some of which (Kaunertal, Stubai) are departure points for some incredible ski touring. Resorts in the Kitzbüheler Alps tick the box for family-friendliness and chocolate box pretty villages, mega-resorts such as Sölden and Ischgl don’t disappoint on the nightlife front.

For me personally, the best thing about the Tirol Snow Card is the freedom to simply go where the snow is good… is where the mood dictates. The dozens of smaller and lesser-known resorts (Hochoetz, Venet, Christlum, to name a few) mean that there is much more than a single season’s worth of exploring to do on this pass.

How much does it cost? 756 EUR (season)
Validity? 1 October – 15 May
What does it cover? A total of 91 ski resorts (or rather, mountain lift companies, many of which are inter-linked) – including Ischgl, Kitzbühel, Alpbach-Wildschönau, Mayrhofen, Stubai Glacier, Sölden, Obergurgl... the list goes on. Notably, the parts of the Arlberg region (St Anton) that are in Tirol are not covered by the Tirol Snow Card. Other than that, the region is covered pretty comprehensively, including resorts that cross into neighbouring Salzburgerland (including Zillertal Arena and Kitzbühel-Pass Thurn, and dozens of small resorts.