Skiing is part of the cultural fabric in this snow-blessed
country, and there are plenty of other wintry activities to enjoy too.
At the 2,604m peak of Schareck by the village of Heiligenblut, skiers can play on 34 miles
of snow-sure slopes in the shadow of Grossglockner, Austria’s highest mountain.
Schareck itself is easily accessible, making it the perfect terrain for
beginners and the more easygoing Alpine sport enthusiast. Cable cars can also
take you to the mountaintop viewpoint.
The resort of Bad Gastein is famous for its thermal waters,
which heat up to around 45˚C before gushing forth at 18 different springs in
the area. One great place to go for a soak is at Felsentherme Gastein, a spa which
shelters grotto-like pools and an outdoor thermal bath with pummelling massage
jets as well as stellar views of the region’s snow-covered peaks all around
(Bahnhofplatz 5; day tickets £18).
The Millennium-Express cable car – Austria’s longest –
climbs for nearly four miles from the valley station at Tröpolach, up to the
ski resort of Nassfeld, on the border with
Italy (returns £9.60). This is one of Austria’s most popular winter resorts,
with 30 ski lifts and 70 miles of groomed pistes, including the impressive
4.7-mile Carnia run. There are also snowboard and free-riding areas, and one
piste is open for night skiing on Saturdays (half-day passes from £12).
Centre and east
The Wienerwald (Vienna Woods)
cover an area of gentle hills west of the Austrian capital. This forest,
beloved by Beethoven and Franz Kafka, forms the northeastern end of the Alps.
Its walking trails are often overlooked by tourists: in winter, its beech and
oak trees are shrouded in snow and silver light. Walking route maps are
available for free from local tourist offices.
From the ski resorts of Ramsau
and Schladming, a number 960 bus links to gondola that ascends to the Dachstein Glacier, which offers ski
touring and a panoramic restaurant. More unusual is the Ice Palace – rooms and
sculptures carved into the streaked ice of the glacier. More than a little
kitschy, it’s impressive all the same, and feels a bit like getting lost inside
a giant icecube (cable car and Ice Palace admission £35).
Above the village of Obertraun, a cable car climbs to the
peak of Krippenstein (2,109m),
affording views of white-topped houses in the valley below and the curving lake
of Hallstätter See (returns £21). At the top of the lift, the eerie 5 Fingers
viewing platform juts out boldly over a precipice. In winter, Krippenstein
becomes a free-riding area, with no set areas or tracks, for skiing and
snowboarding (day ski passes £28).
The two-and-a-half-mile toboggan run in the village of St Anton am Arlberg is an
exhilarating way to work up a thirst – ruddy-faced sledders stop to defrost
over schnapps at the halfway hut, Rodel-Alm.
The run is floodlit on Tuesday and Thursday evenings for nighttime runs
(admission £8.50, sled rental £6.50).
From a series of stations designed by Zaha Hadid, a
funicular and two gondola lifts whisk
you up to a station under the peak of Hafelekar (2,256m), where the views of
the snowbound Alps are astounding (returns £22). The Alpenzoo, accessible by funicular on the way
down, is home to a variety of mountain-dwelling species including ibex and
chamois (admission £5).
Snowshoeing makes a great alternative to skiing on a crowded
slope, especially when you have plenty of fresh powder snow to make tracks
across. In the Kaunergrat Nature Park,
the visitor centre offers a range of routes, from beginner level to six-hour
expeditions, taking in forests and mountainsides in a secluded part of the
province of Tyrol (Fliess; snowshoe rental and tour £10).
Where to stay
The Hotel Weisses Kreuz in
Innsbruck has played host to guests for 500 years, including a 13-year-old
Mozart. Guestrooms feature country-style décor with chunky pinewood (from £80;
Seehotel Grüner Baum is superbly set in
Hallstatt, by the village’s namesake lake. Most of the tastefully furnished
rooms have balconies or patios looking out onto the water (lake view rooms from
£110; Marktplatz 104).
Royalty and A-list actors have all stayed at Hoteldorf Grüner Baum, a cluster of alpine
chalets in a side valley near Bad Gastein that’s more hamlet than hotel.
There’s a thermal spa as well (Prince’s Room from £200; Kötschachtal 25).
Innsbruck, Salzburg, Vienna, Graz, Linz and Klagenfurt all have direct
flights to the UK, with the widest choice of routes via Ryanair from Stansted (Salzburg from £80) and
easyJet from Gatwick (Innsbruck from £85).
Other carriers include Austrian, BA, Flybe and a number of charter airlines
serving Innsbruck and Salzburg for the ski season. Austria’s main rail provider
is ÖBB, which has an extensive countrywide
network (Innsbruck–St Anton return from £35). Postbuses
run to most towns and villages outside the train network (Obertraun- Bad Aussee
The article 'Mini guide to winter activities in Austria' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.