Austrian Mountain Sports
Hiking and Climbing
Tyrol has an abundance of the more than 35,000 miles of well-maintained mountain paths that thread the country. Hiking is one of the best ways to experience the truly awesome Alpine scenery, whether you just want to take a leisurely stroll around one of the crystalline lakes mirroring the towering mountains or trek your way to the top of one of the mighty peaks. Mountain climbing is a highly organized activity in Tyrol, a province that contains some of the greatest challenges to devotees of the sport. The instructors at the Alpine School Innsbruck are the best people to contact if you want to make arrangements for a mountain-climbing holiday.
Downhill was practically invented in Tyrol. Legendary skiing master Hannes Schneider took the Norwegian art of cross-country skiing and adapted it to downhill running. No matter where your trip takes you, world-class—and often gut-scrambling—skiing is available, from the glamour of Kitzbühel in the east to the imposing peaks of St. Anton am Arlberg in the west.
Close to the Arlberg Pass is St. Anton, which, at 4,300 feet, proudly claims to have one of the finest ski schools in the world. The specialty at St. Anton is piste skiing—enormously long runs studded with moguls (and few trees), some so steep and challenging that the sport is almost the equal of mountain climbing. In fact, this is the only place in Austria where you can heli-ski. It was here in the 1920s that Hannes Schneider started the school that was to become the model for all others. A short bus ride to the top of the pass brings you to St. Christoph, at 5,800 feet. If you care to mingle with royalty on the lifts, the upscale ski villages of Zürs and Lech, on the Vorarlberg side of the pass, are likely for you.
Farther along the Inn is the Ötz Valley. From the Ötztal station you can go by bus to Sölden, a resort at 4,500 feet that has become almost as well known for its party scene as for its superb skiing. The up-and-comer of Austrian ski resorts is Ischgl, in the Paznaun Valley bordering Switzerland, where good snow and a long ski season are assured on high-altitude slopes with a top station at 9,422 feet. Kitzbühel, chic and charmant, is perhaps most famous for its "Ski Safari," a far-ranging system of ski lifts and trails, some floodlit at night, that allows you to ski for weeks without retracing your steps. Alpbach is one of the most popular resorts for families, with many not-too-challenging slopes and a reputation for being one of the most beautiful villages in Austria, full of heavily timbered traditional chalets surrounded by thickly wooded runs. The area east of Innsbruck is collectively known as the Ski Welt (Ski World), where the villages of Soll, Ellmau, Scheffau, Itter, Going, Brixen im Thale, Westendorf, Hopfgarten, and Kelchsau form Austria's largest linked skiing area dotted with cozy, welcoming mountain huts, also family-friendly. Innsbruck itself is at the center of a group of resorts easily reached by bus from the city; the best time to ski Innsbruck's slopes is January through March.
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