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Winter sports in Austria

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Ski resorts in [[Carinthia]] and [[Styria]] tend to offer better value than those in [[Tyrol]] and [[Salzburg (state)|Salzburg]]
Ski resorts in [[Carinthia]] and [[Styria]] tend to offer better value than those in [[Tyrol]] and [[Salzburg (state)|Salzburg]]
and are less crowded but this is often due to poorer conditions.
and are less crowded.
Large ski resorts have a tendency for mass tourism while smaller ones make more of an effort and offer a more personal service.
If you're skiing in late February or March it might be a good idea to head for resorts located at higher elevations (above 2000 m), as milder temparutures can turn the snow heavy and slushy (danger of knee injury) below that.
===Athletic experience===
===Athletic experience===

Revision as of 22:59, 25 March 2008

    This article is a travel topic

Austria offers a high density of ski resorts, most of them medium-sized. Most of Austria's ski resorts are not as spectacular and glamorous as the ones in Switzerland and France, but they are more cosy, less prone to mass tourism and a little cheaper. Due to the proximity most winter sport tourists in Austria come from southern Germany.


Winter sport tourism has become a billion euro industry in Austria and helped some towns to attain formidable wealth. Most Austrian ski resorts are former farming towns that have grown into many times their original size, but often retaining some of their charm in the old town core. A handful of ski resorts such as Obertauern were built completely from scratch in the 1960s and 1970s. Many resorts have responded to warmer winters by investing heavily in artificial snow generation. Some resorts are now so well-equipped that they're capable of offering excellent skiing conditions on most pistes even if the natural snow cover is just 5cm, as long as cold weather prevails during the night. All of this comes at a price of course, both environmental and financial . Ski pass prices have risen sharply during the last decade.

When to go

The ski season lasts from early December to late March. A small number of ski resorts keep their lifts open all year on glaciers.

The best conditions for skiing are in mid-January, the coldest time of the year. Late February is a good time for sun-seekers.

The most crowded time is the period from December the 25th until January the 2nd. Advanced skiers may want to avoid this time as slopes can be too congested to be enjoyable. All of February is also rather crowded because of school and university vacations.

The least crowded times are early December, mid-January and late March.

How to go

Package holidays are normally more convenient and often cheaper if you plan on skiing for a week only. Airport transfers, flights and accommodation are usually included.

However, they have the disadvantage that they mostly run from Saturday to Saturday, they feature few resorts outside the mainstream, and there is a distinct lack of self-catering accommodation or rooms in private houses in most brochures. These types, however, make up the most popular forms of accommodation in the country.

The increase in low-cost carrier flights to Salzburg, Munich and Friedrichshafen has meant that an increasing number of visitors arrange their own transport and accommodation.

Choosing a ski resort

Price, Size and Location

As a general rule, the larger the ski resort and the higher the elevation above sea level, the higher the price. Ski passes will consume a large proportion of your budget. Beginners will nomally find that they are unable to use most pistes covered by a ski pass in a large resort such as Arlberg.

Ski resorts in Carinthia and Styria tend to offer better value than those in Tyrol and Salzburg and are less crowded.

Large ski resorts have a tendency for mass tourism while smaller ones make more of an effort and offer a more personal service.

If you're skiing in late February or March it might be a good idea to head for resorts located at higher elevations (above 2000 m), as milder temparutures can turn the snow heavy and slushy (danger of knee injury) below that.

Athletic experience

Fast lifts (chairlifts and gondolas) mean more skiing than slow lifts (T bar lifts). You get what you pay for. Some resorts have a high proportion of black slopes and are less suitable for beginners.

Apres Ski

Apres Ski is about getting together after an exhausting day of skiing and talking to people in the many bars and pubs. Nowadays, larger resorts also offer organized Apres Ski gettogethers.

Other Activities

Some ski resorts are geared to ski and snowboard alone and others toward a wider range of activities or family tourism. If you're more after relaxation than skiing and partying staying away from purely athletic ski resorts will offer you better value for money.

Get in

By plane

The majority of Austrian ski resorts are no more than a 1-2 hour drive away from a large airport. Many packages include the flight and transfer to the airport. If you're travelling independently, you'll need to take a taxi and/or train/bus. Some hotels will offer shuttle buses for their guests for a good price. Salzburg, Zurich and Munich are good airports for resorts in Tyrol and Salzburg; Graz, Klagenfurt, Ljubljana and Venice for resorts in Carinthia, Styria and East Tyrol. Vienna airport is best avoided; it's a 4 hour drive away from the nearest medium-sized resort, and longer by public transport.

By train

Some ski resorts are poorly served by rail services due to their remoteness. Arlberg, Bad Gastein, Kitzbuehel, St. Johann im Pongau and Zell am See are larger ski resorts served by frequent rail services, and are easily accessible by train from neighbouring countries. Most large ski resorts that don't have a rail station can be accessed by train followed by a 30-45 min bus transfer.

By bus

Most resorts are served by public transport. The skibus networks are normally very well organised and punctual and almost always included in the lift pass.

By car

Austrian ski resorts are compact and pedestrian-geared so you're unlikely to need a car during your stay in a resort. Some areas (such as Ski Amade in Salzburgerland) offer many different towns spread about a large area all on one ski pass so if you wish to try different places to ski each day then a car is advisable. If you arrive in your own car, bear in mind that driving conditions can be challenging on routes to some higher resorts although roads are often cleared, gritted and salted very regularly. However, it is a good idea to take snow chains and to have some experience in winter driving. It is often cheaper to connect by taxi on departure/arrival.


Food in resorts is well priced and often offers many Austrian specialities. Some larger restaurants have a canteen styled service but the quality of the food is normally very good. It can be hard for a vegetarian to have a varied diet throughout their stay as even the salads are often served with chicken. In towns the guest houses can provide you with traditional cuisine but it is always easy to find a Kebab or Pizza/Italian restaurant.


Book accommodation as far in advance as you can. The number of beds in most resorts is limited, and the later you book the less likely you are to find good value. Be aware that accommodation in some cheap packages is not located in the main ski resort, rather in a nearby town from which you must connect by bus.

Many hotels in Austria are family run and offer personal service and surprisingly good facilities at reasonable prices, especially in smaller resorts. Going to the sauna after the pistes to warm up and relax tired muscles, as well as fine dining is considered as important as the skiing itself by many Austrians. You'll miss out on a great part of the Austrian ski experience if you book accommodation without sauna facilities.

Self-catering accommodation is also widely available, but bear in mind that the difference in total price between a half board hotel and a self catering appartment is not huge, and many skiers find they have little energy or desire to cook a meal and clean up themselves after a tiring day on the pistes.


Avalanche danger

As with all ski resorts, avalanches are an underestimated hazard. Off-piste skiing is available and there are often Itinerary Runs. Some ski areas offer a 'Free Ride' area. This is a 'safe' area to ski and board off piste. Skiing off-piste is always an excellent activity but never be unprepared and ski safely! If in doubt, go with a guide.


There are numerous ski and snowboard rental shops in every larger resort. The choice is normally best made by convenience to the slopes or to accommodation.

When hiring equipment it's a good idea to turn up early, and since Austrians get out of bed early in general, that can mean before 8:30 am. Queuing for an hour to have your ski boots fitted can be very frustrating when you're eager to get to the pistes. It is almost always better to try to arrange ski hire, ski lessons and lift passes as soon as possible after arrival in the resort. Most of the offices will stay open until late afternoon on a Saturday (the main resort changeover day).


Austria's ski and snowboard instructor industry is centrally regulated by the government. Licensed ski instructors must take a series of comprehensive state exams to climb up the hierarchy of Skilehrer (conventional ski instructor, mostly part-time workers) , Landesskilehrer (regional ski instructor) and Staatlicher Skilehrer (national ski instructor). Courses can be taken privately or in groups (Ski school). Beginners normally book a ski school for their first week.

List of Ski Resorts

Austria's Best and Largest

  • Lech and Zürs am Arlberg - famous for its royal clientele, but an underrated ski area
  • St. Anton - the Tyrol's best-known resort and hardest skiing
  • Ischgl - a progressive resort with a link into Switzerland and the village of Samnaun
  • Sölden (Ötztal) - popular with snowboarders and apres-ski enthusiasts

Other popular resorts

  • Kitzbuehel - famous for its nightlife, which attracts Austria and Germany's "beautiful people". Host to the annual Hahnenkammrennen, arguably the world's most important ski race.
  • Flachau/Wagrain - cosy, good for beginners and intermediates
  • Obertauern - compact, very good snow cover due to location and altitude but can be problematic in bad weather
  • Nassfeld - popular with italian tourists
  • Mayrhofen - a busy resort, popular with foreign tourists
  • Zell am See - a scenic situation on a lake attracts visitors for skiing and walking
  • Bad Hofgastein - famous for thermal baths too.
  • SkiWelt -Largest ski area covering villages of Scheffau, Soll, Ellmau, Brixen, Hopfgarten, Westendorf.

Off the beaten track

Summer ski resorts