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The sun shines a bit brighter, the days are getting longer… and the lure of après stronger

By Chris Taine

There are myriad reasons why spring is many skiers’ favourite time of year. Some of the reasons are directly related to nature; the promise of a late-season snowfall and untracked powder, the lure of smooth sun-softened corn snow, or at the very least the guarantee of a solid snow base. But for others, the allure of spring skiing is what happens off the snow; après-ski sessions on sun-drenched terraces, or the growing number of world-class events and festivals that take place in-resort throughout the spring. 

And the Austrian Tirol can certainly boast its fair share of those primetime spring events, with Snowbombing in Mayrhofen, the Freeride World Tour calling in at Fieberbrunn, Ischgl’s legendary Top of the Mountain concerts, or St Anton’s annual ‘White Thrill’ mass-start downhill race. 

Sure, there is plenty going on up on Tirol’s glaciers during the spring too – especially towards the end of the typical spring skiing time – but here are my picks for the best places to be during that magical March timeframe… when both powder days and perfect spring snow and sunshine are possible!

Mayrhofen & Hochzillertal

Chris Taine

Although many villages and towns along the Ziller Valley floor barely squeak over 550m elevation, high-speed lifts quickly shuttle skiers and riders up to expansive snowsure terrain high above. Across the Ziller Valley’s main resorts, the majority of the slopes and infrastructure lies between 1500-2300m, with extensive snowmaking to boot. And if there’s ever any doubt, there’s always the year round glacier – Hintertux – at the head of the valley.

Undoubtedly the place to be in spring though is Mayrhofen, a favourite amongst British skiers for its lively après-ski, which at it’s liveliest when the Snowbombing festival takes place (this year 9-14 April). The festival is spread across venues in town, up on the mountain, and even in the forest. There are some for whom the on-snow activities are clearly playing second fiddle, but Mayrhofen’s terrain is optimal for intermediate skiers and riders, with long rolling pistes and a vast interconnected area to explore.

Down the road, Hochzillertal is another resort that comes into its own as the days start to get longer. The beginner facilities are halfway up the mountain on a sunny plateau, the Wedel Hütte is one of the best in Austria, and the connection to Hochfügen ensures that there is world-class freeride terrain and ski touring just a lift ride away. Expect to hear plenty of German and Dutch on the pistes – the resort is not as well known amongst Brits – but that may soon change with a huge project underway to connect Hochzillertal to the Spieljoch ski area. 

Ischgl

Although not technically a glacier resort, Ischgl – with the majority of its pistes over 2000m and massive snowmaking infrastructure – has one of the longest seasons of any Austrian resort, and is one of the liveliest to boot. For many years now the highlight has been the ‘Top of the Mountain’ concerts at Alp Trida, which draws big names and big crowds.

Down in Ischgl itself, après-ski at the Trofana Alm, Kühstall, and Niki’s Stadl (amongst others) packs in the crowds as always, but skiing itself really shouldn’t be overlooked. The longer spring days are the perfect time for a ‘duty free’ run down to Swiss Samnaun, and there’s an abundance of exciting advanced and expert terrain out on the fringes on the sprawling resort. The Piz Val Gronda cablecar is a highlight, but there’s also some great skiing around the Höllspitzbahn and Gampenbahn chairlifts.

Obergurgl–Hochgurgl

Chris Taine

The linked resorts of Obergurgl and Hochgurgl nestle up against the main alpine divide, and reliably boast some of the best natural snow in the Alps, with cruisy blues and reds on north-facing slopes between 2000-3000m. While a glance at the piste map might suggest a resort closer to the ‘mild’ than the ‘wild’ end of the spectrum, Obergurgl-Hochgurgl is ringed by 3000m peaks, which are home to some outstanding high-alpine ski touring. Plenty of glaciers too – so this is an area where’s it is wise to take a guide. 

The high elevation of Obergurgl (1930m) and Hochgurgl (2150m) also means that the ski-in, ski-out accommodation, of which there is plenty, is still ski-in, ski-out right through to the end of the season – no trekking through muddy fields in ski boots required. 

Obergurgl-Hochgurgl has long been a Brit favorite (part of the reason they sponsor slalom ace Dave Ryding), partly on the strength of its charming and compact villages, partly the breathtaking panoramas. Being deep in the central part of the Austrian Alps, this means that even late in the season, views of glaciated peaks and endless white are all but guaranteed. 

For those looking to let their hair down, Sölden is just down the road, and hosts its own range of springtime events (most notably the Electric Mountain Festival) as well as having snowsure skiing and riding up on its glacier slopes through late spring. 

Kühtai

Mike Truelove

The pint-sized Tirolean resort of Kühtai, with a short transfer from Innsbruck, perfectly fits the Austrian or German expression klein aber fein – in other words, good things come in small packages.

Although you won’t find the longest descents in the Alps (in fact, it’s around 500m of lift-serviced vertical) the village sits at 2020m, meaning that it’s snowsure, and a perfect jumping off point for spring ski touring in the Sellrain Valley. Most accommodation lies along the main road, which runs through the village, and is within easy reach of the lifts that carry skiers and riders up to both sunny south-facing and protected north-facing slopes. Since Kühtai co-hosted the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games, it can also boast a top-notch park and halfpipe.

What it lacks in eardrum-popping slopeside music festivals, Kühtai makes up for with typical small resort charm, and the short transfer time to Innsbruck airport (45 minutes / 35km) means that it’s a good bet for a late-season weekend getaway, right through until mid-April. The pick of the accommodation for a cheeky weekend stay is the newly opened Hotel Mooshaus (with its alpine infinity pool).

St Anton am Arlberg

Burger Wolfgang

At its prime in the spring, perfect in deep winter, and a good bet for an early-season getaway. St Anton is a pretty strong candidate for almost any ‘best of’ list – and with good reason. St Anton’s geographic location on the Arlberg pass means that it tends to catch a lot of snow – meaning that March powder days are a pretty good bet. But if Mother Nature isn’t delivering the goods, last season’s lift link-up with Lech-Zürs (via the Flexenbahn gondola) makes it possible to explore vast areas of the Arlberg, seeking out the best spring snow. 

While après-ski is part of the St Anton experience at any time of year, doing it in the springtime means that it’s possible to party outside without the risk of frostbitten fingers, and that final schuss into the village can be done by daylight. 

St Anton’s classic off-piste routes – for example off the backside of the Valluga down towards Lech, around the Stuben sector or Rendl – tend to stay reliably good through until the tail-end of the season. 

However, one of the biggest events of the season takes place right in the heart of St Anton. The “White Thrill” – known locally as Der Weisse Rausch – is a cult ski race, where hundreds of skiers and riders gather under the Valluga for a mass start downhill (with some punishing uphill for good measure) that takes them all the way down to St Anton in as little as 8 minutes. Not one for the faint of heart – but even for onlookers an exciting time to visit the resort.