Chris Taine scratches the surface of one of the most revered regions in the Alps.

Home of some of the Alps’ heavy hitters, the Tirol region of Austria also offers dozens of lesser-known gems – here’s our round up of the best:

Tiroler Zugspitz Arena

Zugspitzarena Facebook

Not a single interconnected resort, but six smaller skiing areas, all of which share jaw-dropping views of the mighty Zugspitze – the angular 2,962m peak that sits of the border of Bavaria (Germany) and the Austrian Tirol.

On the German side of the border, there’s a small ski area with gentle slopes nestled within a wide, glacier-carved bowl. On the Austrian side, there’s a precipitous drop to the valley floor, with the ski lifts only getting some purchase on the gentler slopes towards the bottom of the imposing limestone massif.

Here, the cruisy blues runs that dominate the family-friendly resort of Ehrwald receive plenty of sun, even in the depths of winter. Framed by the jagged peaks of the Wetterstein and Mieminger mountains, there are few places in the Alps that are as scenic, but at the same time so ideally suited to beginners and novices. The resort is actually three distinct ski areas; the Wetterstein ski area near the centre, adjacent Ehrwalder Alm and the snowsure Zugspitzplatt area on the Bavarian side, well above 2,000 m altitude.

A few miles away, the ski in ski out village of Lermoos (also known as the Grubigstein ski area) is a better bet for those in search of more challenging slopes, with red pistes covering over 1000m vertical, and a couple of challenging blacks. There’s also some interesting off-piste terrain around the Wolfratshauser Huette, which although difficult to access, rewards visitors with tasty home-cooked Tirolean fare. The real secret spot here though is Biberwier (or Marienberg ski area), an even smaller resort tucked in behind Lermoos, effectively served by just two chairlifts and two drag lifts. The north-facing slopes and relatively obscurity of this area make it the place to head on a powder day. All of these areas, as well as Berwang-Bichlbach, are served by the same lift ticket.

Much of the accommodation in Tiroler Zugzpitz Arena is geared towards families, with the Family Hotel Alpenrose (Lermoos), one of the top family hotels in the Alps,  as well as Familotel Kaiserhof (Berwang) and Naturhotel Family Alm (Biberwier), or the ski-in ski-out budget hotel My Tirol (Biberwier). Activities such as tobogganing add a further draw for families.

Galtür – Paznaun Valley

Galtuer Facebook

Often over-shadowed by its boisterous next-door neighbour – Ischgl – Galtür lies at the top of the Paznaun valley, rubbing up against the border of the adjacent Vorarlberg province. Although billing itself as family-friendly, the resort – presided over by the recognisable Ballunspitze – is predominantly made up of rollercoaster red pistes, plus a respectable number of off-piste ski routes. In short, it packs a lot of punch for an area that at first glance may not impress, with only 43km of pistes served by 9 lifts. But skiing’s not about statistics, so don’t let them deceive.

Galtür is also one of the finest spots in Austria for cross-country skiing, with prepared trails that take in spectacular vistas of the Silvretta mountains. And, if you do get sick of having Galtür all to yourself, Ischgl’s pounding nightlife is just a short bus ride away…

As well as Ischgl, there are two other resorts in the Paznaun Valley - Kappl and See – that are often overlooked. Both are well suited to families, while Kappl ranks as one of Austria’s most under-rated freeride hot spots.


Chris Taine

To be fair, Sölden has had its share of press recently, in large part due to its role in James Bond’s last outing, Spectre. The distinctive ice Q restaurant at 3,048m is the most recognisable location, but the long and winding glacier road also formed the backdrop for the film’s extended car chase scene. Beyond Bond, Sölden is often characterised as a party town – Ischgl-lite, if you will. 

But Sölden’s secret is that it is a surprisingly multi-faceted resort, worthy of a visit at any point during its long winter season. High-altitude glacier slopes are extensive, and the north-facing Rettenbach glacier boasts probably the best quality snow of any glacier ski area in the Alps – a large part of the reason it hosts the annual FIS World Cup opener. Not far from here, there are some epic off-piste descents from the top of the Gaislachkogel – the type best tackled with an experienced mountain guide. It might not be Chamonix, but the long, fall-line couloirs and expansive powder bowls rank amongst Austria’s best. 

Sölden’s serenity might be its most closely guarded secret though. The Silbertal is a secluded corner of the resort with a handful of restaurants and hotels, and spectacular views up towards the Similaun (home of the 5000-year-old mummy better known as “Ötzi”). There are secluded spots on the front side of the mountain too, the best of the bunch being the rustic Gampe Thaya, a 350 year old shepherd’s hut that serves local produce for breakfast as the sun rises over the Ötztal. 


Chris Taine

Basically every ski area in the Osttirol region could be considered a hidden gem… from the Hochstein and Zettersfeld lifts that rise directly out of the pretty medieval town of Lienz, through to little-known freeride spot Sillian in Hochpustertal. But the biggest of Osttirol’s best kept secrets is no doubt Kals-Matrei. Snuggled up beside the Hohe Tauern National Park, which contains Austria’s highest mountain peaks, Kals-Matrei – while largely unknown – is Osttirol’s largest resort and offers the most variety. 15 lifts serve 42km of pistes, the majority of which are classed as red.

The most interesting intermediate terrain is around the Cimaross chairlift, while beginners are best catered for down in Kals, where the Gradonna Mountain Resort’s ski-in ski-out chalets are the pick of the high-end accommodation. Although experienced and ambitious ski tourers will set their sights on the high alpine peaks within the Hohe Tauern range, there is some prime backcountry terrain accessed from the top of the Cimaross chair. On the culinary front, the Glocknerblick combines hearty Osttirol fare with glacier views. While the apres scene in both Matrei and Kals is subdued compared to many of the Austrian resorts that are favoured by Brits, that’s also part of the charm!


Chris Taine

Without a doubt this is the quieter side of Kitzbühel’s, but also the skiers’ choice. Jochberg’s central location makes both ends of the sprawling ski area (from the Hahnenkamm to Pass Thurn) accessible. Situated 10km south of Kitzbühel and with only 1,500 inhabitants, the pint-sized village boasts swanky digs like the Hotel Kempinski Das Tirol and TirolApart 1709, alongside the modest pensions (bed and breakfasts) that are a mainstay of Tirolean hospitality. While the village is fairly small, you’ll find the ubiquitous Schirmbar (umbrella bar) at the base of the lifts, ensuring that après-ski is not entirely forgotten, while more upmarket joints such as the Schwarzer Adler cater to more refined palates. 

Access to the slopes above Jochberg has been hugely improved with the replacement of the old Wagstätt double chair with a high-speed gondola, greatly reducing the time needed to reach the 1,739m Wurzhöhe. From here, heading towards Pass Thurn opens up some interesting off-piste terrain around the Bärenbadkogel and Zweitausender (the latter also the beneficiary of improved lift infrastructure), while heading across the big 3S tri-cable gondola brings you to the Pengelstein area, where Kitzbühel’s best red and blue cruisers descend nearly 1000m (vertical) down to Aschau.

All resorts mentioned above are covered by the Tirol Snow Card, which is valid in 90 ski areas across the Austrian Tirol, covering more than 4,000km of pistes and 1,000 ski lifts.