Round up of the best resorts that have something unique to offer to non-skiers and mixed groups

Wait a minute, best ski resorts, for not going skiing? Must be getting towards the end of the season, right? Well, the non-skier can in fact be a play a critical role in a successful ski holiday. Sometimes non-skiers are the doting grandparents who tag along to take care of the toddlers so parents can get in some turns, sometimes they are the long-suffering partner who indulges their other (skiing) half’s wintry obsession, when they’d really rather be at the beach. The non-skier is the friend who stays home and has makes sure the beer is cold or the Gluehwein hot when you return at the end of the day, or the non-skier could be the mate who came undone last year’s ski holiday, and is stuck nursing an ACL or MCL (or both) back to full health (but couldn’t resist tagging along in an observing capacity). 

Oxy-moronic as it might sound, non-skiing activities and attractions are hugely important to ski resorts too, and often prominent in their marketing. But a truly great ski resort for non-skiers needs to offer more than a sleigh ride and some boutique shops. Here are my top Tirol picks, in no particular order. 

Kitzbuehel

The Locals' Project - Kitzbuhel

 

Every year in late January thousands of non-skiers gather at the bottom of the Hahnenkamm to watch the Streif, Kitzbühel’s famed downhill circuit, which attracts – in addition to genuine ski racing fans – assorted celebrities, high society folk, footballers, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But the pretty medieval town is a good bet at any time of the winter for non-skiers (although the fatter your wallet the more fun you can have). The main street is lined with boutiques and high-end sports stores, with a good mix of restaurants and pubs, and an abundance of charming medieval architecture. 

One of the big appeals or the Kitzbühel area is that it is set in a wide valley and gets plenty of sun, unlike many of the high-altitude resorts that lie to the south of the Inn Valley. This makes it much more pleasant for winter hikes, sightseeing (for example up the Kitzbüheler Horn) or even catching the local train that is well connected to nearby towns and villages. 

The Kitzbüheler Alps area also boasts some of the best restaurants and coziest traditional huts in the region, so taste buds are definitely not left wanting. The Kirchberg area is great for families too – overall Kitzbühel is a good bet for mixed groups that cover multiple generations, as it has (to use a well-worn phrase) something for all ages. 

Ischgl

Ischgl

Ischgl is a perennial favourite for early and late season blasts, not just because of its high and snowsure slopes, but also because of the spectacular mountaintop concerts that bookend the November to May season. Skis or board are not necessary to make the trip up to the Idalp for the mountaintop concert series, which have attracted some big names (Elton John, Katy Perry) over the years. 

Stepping into some of Ischgl’s famed après-ski spots, such as the Trofana Alm and the Kuehstall, you wonder if some of the patrons bother with the snow whatsoever. In fact, some of them don’t, and Ischgl has built a reputation for itself as a wintertime hedonistic haven. Beyond the party scene, there’s plenty of fine dining, and some pretty villages (such as Galtuer) in the Paznaun valley. However, it’s less family-friendly than other resorts on this list, so Ischgl is the place to go if you’ve got non-skiers in the group for whom ‘Ibiza on Snow’ is more attractive a proposition than ‘rest and relaxation’. 

Alpbach

Ski resort marketing thrives on superlatives: higher, longer, bigger, faster. But Alpbach is proof that there’s more to the perfect ski town that just statistics. Alpbach, and neighbouring Wildschönau which is now linked by lift still feels secluded and well removed mass-market ski tourism – and it lies between the ski resort meccas of Kitzbuehel and the Ziller Valley. Rustic farmhouses, genuinely good hospitality, hearty food and extensive winter walking paths make this the non-skier destination of choice for nature lovers… or those who just enjoy the simple pleasures.

The village of Alpbach itself is one of the prettiest in Europe (it has the awards to prove it) and remains unsullied by large-scale hotels, cheaply built apartments or rows of shops. It’s no surprise then that guided snow shoe walks and horse-drawn carriage and sleigh rides are part of the non-ski activity offering.

Hopfgarten (Skiwelt)

Chris Taine

With nearly 300 on-mountain restaurants, huts and après-ski bars, SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser-Brixental (for the sake of simplicity, henceforth SkiWelt) is a foodies paradise. Skiers and riders are kept happy with access to Austria’s second-largest ski area (after St Anton), encompassing 284 km of ski pistes served by 90 lifts. The area, with the recognisable cone of the Hohe Salve at its centre, can be accessed from nearly all sides, but it is the village of Hopfgarten that makes the best base for those not taking to the slopes. 

The market town is one of the sunniest in the region, with the Kelchsau valley directly to the south letting plenty of sun into its cobbled alleys and pretty town centre where a twin-towered baroque church stands. As one of the larger towns in the SkiWelt area, it has a good selection of restaurants and accommodation, and access to the Hohe Salve area for sightseers is easy thanks to the modern Salvenbahn gondola.

Innsbruck

Chris Taine

Not really a ski resort at all, but in fact the regional capital of Austria’s Tirol province, and home to 130,000 people. Although to be fair, the Nordkette Cable Car does take skiers and riders directly from the city up to the slopes of the Seegrube and the Hafelekar freeride routes. And there are a half-dozen world-class resorts within striking distance of the city. Buses run up the Stubai valley to the glacier area that offers superb skiing in autumn and spring, and local ski areas Patscherkofel, Oberperfuss and Axamer Lizum are all close by. Not much further are Kuehtai and Seefeld, both of which hosted events during the 2012 Youth Olympic Games.

For the non-skier, the appeal of Innsbruck is its blend of cosmopolitan flair and mountain town vibes, sense of history (there are numerous quality museums) and spectacular views from either the Hungerburg district or from riding the Nordkette Cable Car. Perhaps the best views of all though are those from the air – taking off or landing at Innsbruck airport is unforgettable. The nightlife is far removed from your average ski resort; Innsbruck is a vibrant university town so there are plenty of affordable bars and pubs are well as more sophisticated joints.

Innsbruck is the place to go if skiers are the minority in a large group – the select few who want to escape for some turns during a city break – as opposed to ski group looking for entertainment for a non-skier. It’s also a great shout for an early or late season weekend away, with Stubai valley easily accessible and one of best glacier resorts in the Alps.

For more information: www.visittirol.co.uk

Article contributed by Chris Taine, former Ski Club Website Editor, current Alpine transplant and Tirol correspondent. All resorts mentioned in this article are covered by the Tirol Snow Card.