The SkiWelt in the Tirol, Austria, is among the largest fully interconnected ski areas in the Alps with 279km of prime intermediate slopes ideally suited to families and groups of mixed abilities.
Home to the traditional Austrian villages of Soll, Scheffau, Ellmau, Going, Itter, Hopfgarten, Westendorf and Brixen im Thale, the SkiWelt is Austria's largest fully interconnected ski area. With 279km of very intermediate-friendly slopes and over 90 mountain restaurants, a superb lift system, state-of-the art snowmaking and plenty of good value accommodation in traditional valley villages,
The Ski Welt has long been an extremely popular ski area, allowing skiers to get a sense of travelling from peak to peak. Soll and Ellmau are the main destinations, but since a new gondola was installed in Brixental properly linking it to the slopes at Westendorf a few years ago, Brixental is also now an attractive base for exploring the area fully, and there are so many options here you can see why people return year after year.
Skiing in the Ski Welt
A predominantly intermediate area for those who like to cruise around on tree-lined blues and reds, there are a few beginners' slopes at Ellmau and Soll, and off-piste opportunities for the adventurous on one of the SkiWelt's highest skiing peaks, Hohe Salve, at 1,829m. The SkiWelt runs east to west, close to Salzburg and the German border. Starting on the northern side of the mountain, opposite the Ski Welt's highest peak the Wilder Kaiser at 2,344m, is the small village of Going, followed by two of the area's larger resorts, Ellmau and Soll, with Scheffau in between. Itter and Hopfgarten are at the western end of the Ski Welt while Westendorf, whose slopes take you towards Kitzbuhel, and Brixental, which links the main SkiWelt area with Westendorf, are on the southern side. Most of the slopes are beneath the tree line and blue and red runs make up 90 per cent of the pistes, plus there are 70 mountain huts and bars dotted around the area. If you want straightforward skiing in a charming setting, the SkiWelt is the place to come.
A stalwart resort for many beginner and intermediate Brits, Soll is a small friendly village with attractive chalets surrounding its onion-domed church. Appealing to both groups of young adults and families alike, it manages to cater to their different needs with a mixture of lively but unintimidating après bars and great childcare facilities. The gondola to the SkiWelt skiing is about a 15-minute walk from the centre of the village, served by ski bus. At the base of the gondola are also a couple of beginner slopes, but most visitors will take the gondola to mid-mountain and head in one of several directions - towards a network of blues above the geographical heart of the SkiWelt, Scheffau, and Ellmau and Going beyond it, longer reds back down to the valley floor, a further gondola to the highest peak Hohe Salve or to more challenging reds down through the trees to Hopfgarten and Brixental. While many of the slopes may be relatively short (compared to say France's Tarentaise) there are plenty of them and there are enough fast lifts around to avoid frustrations. A good-value lunch is available from any of the individual mountain huts, and a jolly atmosphere pervades. Après ski rolls into the evening at several lively bars, including the Salven-Stadl, Whisky Muhle and dancing on the tables at Moonlight.
One of the prettiest villages in the SkiWelt, Scheffau is between Soll and Ellmau and is a great spot for accessing all of the SkiWelt. Some of the area's most challenging reds are above this charming base while for early intermediates there is a swath of excellent blue runs at Brandstadl, at the top of the near-parallel gondolas from the village. The village centre is 1km from the lifts to the slopes at Blaiken. Connected by bus, there are a couple of good hotels at both Blaiken and Scheffau but not much else. For a quiet peaceful holiday it's spot on.
One of the more convenient villages on this northern side of the SkiWelt, Ellmau has some excellent nursery slopes and is also well-placed for some of the SkiWelt's best easy cruising at Astberg and longer blues to progress to from Hartkaiser. The funicular to the slopes runs from the edge of the village and is served by an efficient ski bus. The village is fairly lively - Memory is the place for dancing on the tables, but there are also other activities available, such as sleigh rides and the leisure centre.
The neighbouring resort of Going is much smaller and more rustic but is a great location for the nursery slopes between it and Ellmau. Both resorts have mainly hotels including the luxurious 5-star Bio Hotel Stanglwirt and pensions, and a few apartments.
A few kilometres down the road from Soll towards Hopfgarten is the tiny village of Itter. A gondola runs from the village edge to the slopes below Hohe Salve, and there are a couple of beginner slopes on the valley floor.
Situated between Itter and Westendorf, Hopfgarten is ideally placed for accessing the higher slopes of the SkiWelt under the Hohe Salve. Beginners aren't so well catered for at this end of the region, but adventurous intermediates should be happy. Gasthofs make up most of the accommodation and après ski is a little quiet but there are plenty of off-slope activities.
Brixental's more charming cousin, Westendorf is out on a limb from the main SkiWelt circuit but is convenient for exploring the slopes towards Kitzbuhel. It has some challenging local slopes plus some long blues on its lower mountain for beginners to progress to from the excellent nursery slopes in the village. One of the more convenient SkiWelt villages, most of the hotels and pensions are a five-minute walk from the lifts, and there are several unexpectedly lively après spots, particularly Garry's Inn on the nursery slopes.
A traditional village that has an excellent location for accessing both the SkiWelt on one side and the slopes above Westendorf and leading towards Kitzbuhel on the other, Brixental suits confident intermediates better than recent converts to the snow. Quieter than Soll or Ellmau, the only major drawback to the area is the home runs from the SkiWelt are south facing so may suffer from poor snow, but if the snow's good this is an excellent base. As with many of the villages in the SkiWelt, the main centre of the village with its hotels and pensions is a bus ride from the base of the lifts, but at least the gondolas going to the two opposite areas are next to each other.
Getting to the Ski Welt
The SkiWelt is approximately 80km and an hour by car from both Salzburg and Innsbruck airports, and 120km and an hour and a half from Munich, which are served by airports across the UK. Train stations are nearby at St Johann in Tirol and Kitzbuhel.