Skiing in Austria

Austria may not have the highest slopes in the Alps, but it has some of the greatest resorts, including mighty St Anton and Kitzbühel of Hahnenkamm fame. Also famous are the Austrian après-ski scene, with the legendary table dancing in ski boots, the comfortable accommodation and the Austrian gemütlichkeit.

Austria, more than any nation, is the country most richly and irrevocably linked with skiing. It is Austria's national sport. It may not have the highest slopes, but it has some of the greatest resorts, a galaxy of small ones, and its skiers - from Sailer and Schranz to Klammer, Eberharter and Maier, and from Rosi Mittermaier to Annemarie Pröll - have dominated the ski racing world in recent decades.

The mighty resort of St Anton-am-Arlberg - once the playground of Austria's most famous skiing son, Hannes Schneider, who gave the world the Arlberg ski technique - with its near neighbours, Stuben, Lech and Zürs, scarcely need an introduction. Kitzbühel, with its celebrated and feared Hahnenkamm downhill, is a by-word for skiing history and excitement.

Ski amadé, a region with 270 lifts serving 540 miles of skiing in two dozen Salzburgerland resorts, with just under 90,000 tourist beds, is one of the biggest skiing conglomerates in the world. But it's not all about size. Almost every Austrian mountain village has a lift or two: hundreds all told.

Generations of British skiers have learnt their sport in Austria, at quintessentially traditional Tyrolean resorts such as Mayrhofen, Niederau and Alpbach. What attracted them was that unique and seductive combination of cosy alpine charm, picture-postcard villages with onion-domed churches, cheerful (in the main) yodelling instructors, and that special and irresistable Austrian welcome known as gemütlichkeit.

The Austrians may have lower slopes than the French, but you won't find any futuristic, "space-age" purpose-built resorts of the type so common in the Alps of Austria's biggest rival ski destination. What you will find, which simply doesn't translate into French, is the Austrian party scene, complete with folk music, oompah bands, drinking songs, Europop, schuplatter (slap-dancing), dancing with ski-boots still on, sometimes on tables, umbrella and igloo bars on the slopes, and other examples of effervescent Austrian après-ski, invariably accompanied by rivers of beer and schnapps.

Austria's mountains are alive with the sound of music, merriment and mirth - and you can hardly fail to feel very much alive too, until perhaps the following morning, when a brisk descent on skis might be required to blow away your hangover.

After this kind of riotous party scene, as well as a hard day's skiing, comfortable accommodation is desirable, and again Austria has a second-to-none reputation for luxurious hotels of all shapes and sizes. Helped by government grants, there's scarcely a ski village, however small, that doesn't have a modern, comfortable yet traditional hotel with three or four stars, along with a cluster of spotlessly clean rustic family-run chalets or guest houses.

On the culinary front, there is still a tendency to specialise in a carnivorous diet. Pork, veal and dumplings tend to dominate menus, and traditional puddings, like Kaiserschmarren, (shredded pancake, topped with powdered sugar & cinnamon, with vanilla sauce), Apfelstrudel, and Salzburgernockerln (dumplings with currant jelly or raspberry sauce) though tasty, can be equally waist-threatening. Don't expect to lose weight during an Austrian ski holiday - no matter how hard you ski!

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