Brandnertal (Brandner Valley) in Austria’s westernmost province of Vorarlberg is home to one of Austria’s most family friendly ski resorts with 55 km well-groomed piste skiing between 890 – 2,000m and plenty of affordable accommodation.
Brandnertal is easily reached from no fewer than four airports – Friedrichshafen (95 km), Memmingen (135 km), Innsbruck (140 km) and Zurich (150 km) – which makes it an excellent choice for a short break, especially when utilizing the frequency of flights operated by Swiss.com to and from Zurich.
The winding road climbs from the Brandnertal exit on the A14/E60 motorway through attractive pine forests to Brandnertal and the quiet village of Bűrserberg (890 m) just 7 km from Bludenz, then the main resort of Brand (1,000m), a further 4 km up the valley. Both villages offer easy access to Brandnertal's ski area with 55 km of piste skiing from 2,000m down to 890m.
Brand has set out its stall as a family ski resort with impressive facilities for children both on and off mountain. With or without a family in attendance, the area will suit skiers who are more concerned with a quality mountain resort experience rather than a vibrant night scene.
Brandnertal hotel choices include several affordable 4 star hotels, followed by a good choice of cheaper hotel properties descending through the star ratings as well as cute family run pensions and plenty of self catering apartments. Some hotels have a 'Family Friendly' accreditation, and depending on the level of facilities provided will qualify for 3, 4 or 5 of the 'Kiddies' symbols.
The surrounding snow capped peaks, dominated by the Scesaplana (2,964m) to the west, and Zimba (2,634m) to the east, seem to stand back from the valley allowing a sense of space as well as stupendous panoramic views.
The well-groomed ski runs are best for beginners and intermediates, with 22km for beginners, 30 km intermediate and just 3 km designated advanced. The longest of the runs is from Loischkopf to Burserberg, at 5 km, it is one of the longest in the Vorarlberg.
Despite the relatively low altitude of the valley, the ski season generally lasts from December - April with artificial snowmaking when necessary on over 75% of the groomed ski terrain.
Brandnertal's family friendly ski area is well-suited for beginners, intermediates and mixed ability groups. The ski area is characterized by wide, well-groomed pistes with much of the ski terrain below the tree line, although at the southern end of the ski area (Paludalpe), the Glattjochbahn chairlift takes skiers and boarders to the top station at 2,000m where there are several open, treeless pistes. Brandnertal's ski slopes are mostly served by an efficient ski lift system and around 75% of slopes have artificial snow coverage. Snow conditions on the predominantly east facing slopes hold up very well during the ski season, which lasts from December until April.
Brandnertal's 29 groomed runs total 55 km and comprise 14 blue runs (22 km), 14 red runs (30 km) and a single (3 km) black run. With all but one of 29 marked runs designated either red or blue the ski area is clearly best for beginners and intermediates . Advanced skiers would be happy here for a short break as the pistes are generally uncrowded and offer sufficient changes in pitch and direction to maintain interest.
First-time skiers are fortunate to have their own learner area in the centre of Brand complete with a slow moving draglift and magic carpet. This is perfect for young children before they venture onto the mountain. Once beginners have found their ski legs there are plenty of easy blue runs for beginners higher up the mountain including four blue runs at the top of the mountain in the Paludalpe area and an enjoyable blue run from the Faregglift across the ridge that connects Bűrserberg to Brand.
The designation of 14 red runs doesn't tell the full story, as they include a handful of 'red diamond' runs, which are unpisted and are more suited to confident intermediates and advanced skiers and boarders, rather than early intermediates. The distribution of blue and red runs is fairly evenly spread between Brand and Burserberg and many red and blue runs are in close proximity to each other and leading to the same lifts, making it easy for mixed ability groups to ski together.
Most visitors to Brandertal choose to stay in Brand, the bigger of the two villages, and this is reflected by the amount of uphill transport in Brand. The Dorfbahn gondola is in the heart of the village, and access is by escalator - so no trudging and jostling your way up flights of stairs with cumbersome equipment!
The ski area is adequately served by a mostly modern high-speed lift system capable of carrying 17,000 riders per hour. There are a few older 2-man chairlifts which work adequately well most of the time, but which will soon be replaced by new high speed chairlifts to reduce queuing at peak times.
On mountain dining is varied with six mountain restaurants (4 in Brand and 2 in Burserberg), and with a ski route back to the centre of Brand, its easy to take lunch in resort if you prefer, then ride the Dorfbahn gondala back up to the ski area.
In addition to downhill skiing and boarding, other activities include at least two toboggan runs, one of which is 6 km long, as well as 72 km of cross country skiing, which includes a glorious 15 km circular route at 1,250 m at Tschengla (Burserberg). Add to that snow shoeing and an extensive winter walking paths and all the ingredients are in place for a traditional Austrian ski holiday.
The most popular lift from the village, which also has the greatest capacity, is the modern Dorfbahn gondolabahn in the centre of the village of Brand. The regular ski bus from Bludenz via Burs, Bűrserberg and the outskirts of Brand stops outside the main entrance to the gondola and many of Brand's hotels are within a short walk. A three-story escalator from street level eases the way to the gondola loading area - it couldn't be easier.
The other option in Brand is to continue south along the main street to the Palud lift, a 2-person chairlift of a certain vintage, which will take skiers at a leisurely pace to the Palud area at the southern end of the ski area. The ski bus also stops here and if you have a car, there is ample free parking.
A third way up to the ski area is from Bűrserberg (890 m), by way of the Einhornbahn1 double chair, which connects with two more chair lifts rising to 1,860 m at Loichkopf. There are two free car parks at the base, and of course the ski bus stops.
If approaching from Bludenz, Bűrserberg is the first village with lift access to the ski area via the Einhornbahn1. It's also possible to drive higher up above Bűrserberg to the Einhorn restaurant, beside the arrival point of the Einhornbahn1 and the departure point of Einhornbahn2, where there is more free parking.
The high speed Dorfbahn gondola connects to the 6-person Gulmabahn chair in the direction of Paludalpe, and the Panoramabahn cable car, which crosses the ravine between Brand and Bűrserberg and connects the two parts of the ski area. The Dorfbahn gondola is at the very heart of the Brandnertal lift system, and efficiently distributes skiers and boarders up the mountain, thus reducing the risk of severe queues. The opening of the Dorfbahn and Panoramabahn in December 2007 was a big step forward for Brandnertal, as prior to that the connection between the two areas was by bus.
Once up the mountain, the ski lift system is easy to use and apart from the occasional pinch point, traffic is well dispersed and much more time will be spent skiing than queuing. The Glattjochbahn and Gulmabahn are modern express, 6-seater chairlifts and though the other lifts are older, the system works well.
Non-skiers can take the Dorfbahn gondola, and connect to the Panoramabahn cable car that connects Brand to Burserberg by spanning the ravine between the two areas. The main omission in this respect is that there are no mountain restaurants at either end of the Panoramabahn.
A 6-day Brandnertal ski lift ticket costs from €152 in the low season to €179 in the high season. Children aged 8 and under ski free at all times, and there are discounts for older children and teenagers up to eighteen years. Discounts also apply for the over 60's.
In Brand village the Schedlerhof surface lift and nearby magic carpet give beginners their own area where they can learn the basics before heading up the mountain. Once on the mountain, the ski area includes plenty of gentle blue runs to help learners and to boost their confidence.
Always perfectly groomed, most of the blues are wide open tree lined slopes - a great advantage on those cloudy days when the light is flat. Two beginners runs stand out; blue run 1 off the Niggenkopfbahn in Brand meanders gently around the mountain and under the Dorfbahn before returning to the Niggenkopf. In Bűrserberg, the much shorter blue run 24 off the Tschengla surcface lift is wide and is slightly away from the other pistes, so is a run virtually reserved for beginners.
Brandnertal has a total of twelve blue runs totalling 22 km, and since the runs link well, there is no reason why beginners starting off in lessons with either of Brandnertal's two ski schools cannot progress to ski intermediate red runs and enjoy exploring most of the 55 km ski area.
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The well groomed runs are varied in pitch and direction, and given the generally uncrowded nature of the slopes, Brandnertal delivers a quality ski experience.
The Bűrserberg side tends to be even less frequented than the Brand side and the long, wide blue run 26 off the Loischkopf lift (1,680m ) is a superb confidence builder and a lot of fun. This run brings you down to the Einhorn chairs, and en route refreshment can be taken at the charming Rufana Alp restaurant. With a dozen or so blue and red runs on the Bűrserberg side, served by four lifts. there is plenty of variety and with three mountain restaurants - Rufana Alp, Fuchsbau and Restaurant Ferienpark - an enjoyable skiing day will soon pass.
There are two ways to get from Bűrserberg to Brand; either ski to the Panoramabahn cable car on the blue run from Loischkopf, and enjoy a scenic ride across the ravine that divided the two parts of the ski area, or from the Faregglift surface lift, ski across on blue run 25. This is a gentle and scenic run (which may require some poling) across the ridge behind the ravine crossed by the cable car. As you ski across, the off-piste terrain on the left looks inviting but eventually leads to cliffs and must therefore be avoided. Once across the ridge, the run drops down to the Gulmabahn six passenger chair and voila - you are on the Brand pistes.
Before you head up the mountain, the run back to the Dorfbahn gondola station in the village is wide and perfectly groomed, and will stoke the skiing ego. Half way down, if you have a change of heart, take the Niggenkopf chair up to the Palud side of Brand. At the top of this lift there are two more mountain restaurants - the Niggenkopfstube and the wonderfully traditional Paludhutte. From here, ski across to the Glattjochbahn 6 seater chair lift which takes skiers to the highest point of the ski area at 2,000m. Here, unlike most of the Brandnertal, skiing is above the treeline and it is easy to pick your own way down, although there are marked pistes to follow as well. For a stiffer challenge, route 15 at the southern edge of the ski area is an unpisted red, that brings skiers back down to the Glattjochsbahn.
Brandnertal's ski area is best for intermediates and beginners. There are just 3 km of piste designated black including the top section of Brandnertal's longest run - the 5km run from Loischkopf in Burserberg to the base of the Einhornbahn (with a vertical drop of almost 1,000m).
There are also several off-piste options, including the black ski route 16 in the Lorenzital section of Brand which is a favourite of Brand's free riders. Still on the Brand side, red routes 14 and 15 from the Glattjoch chairlift down to Palud lift in the valley offer more off-piste options, and over on the Burserberg side, the unpisted red route 17 starts at the Fuchsbau restaurant and leaving the main routes, drops down to Tschengla.
Advanced skiers will also find plenty of opportunity to ski deeper snow between the pistes and there are some interesting off-piste opportunities through the trees and beneath some chair lifts.
There are limited but challenging opportunities for more adventurous experts including a steep off-piste descent which is visible to the right as you approach the top of the 6-person Glattjochbahn chairlift, but it can only be reached by booting up from the top of the lift and should not be attempted without a local guide.
Similarly, good off-piste skiing can be seen beyond the main ski area and hence it's not lift served, so you'll need ski touring equipment as well as a guide to reach it, but the rewards are there for those willing and able to ski the back country.
The Brandnertal ski area includes seven mountain restaurants. There are four mountain restaurants above Brand and three at Bűrserberg - a mix of mountain huts and larger (though not huge) self service style restaurants - offering hearty Austrian fare at modest prices.
For tradition and great views, the Palűdhűtte is the place to be. Inside it's traditional Austrian, - all wood and low ceilings - and the popular outside bar seems to be open in all weathers. The nearby Niggenkopfstube is a functional self service restaurant at the top of the chairlift.
There are two more restaurant options at the top of the Palud chairlift - the self service Hubertus is probably the biggest restaurant on the mountaion, and is notable for its umbrella bar. Close by is the popular Berghof Melkboden - a bit too big to be described as a hut, but nevertheless is charming and characterful, and also has outdoor dining.
Tel: + 43 (0) 5559 390
Tel: +43 (0) 5559 22450
Tel: + 43 (0) 5559 490
Tel: + 43 (0) 5559 543298
The Fuchsbau at the base of the Loisch lift is a popular little hut, and for something more spacious try the self service Einhornbahnstube at the confluence of the Einhorn lifts. Rufana Alp, which is on the piste towards the bottom of runs 22 and 26 is a popular restaurant and the perfect watering hole on that last run of the day back to your Bűrserberg base.
Tel: + 43 (0) 664 5559 390
Tel: + 43 (0) 664 528 2302
The Brandnertal valley is surrounded by a string of impressive peaks including the Scesaplana (2,964m) and Zimba (2,634m). In recent years Brandnertal villages have turned their back on mass tourism in favour of delivering a family friendly, quality experience for guests.
Brand is what would in America be called a ribbon resort, as the infrastructure of the village is either side of the long main street which winds its way for about 1.5 kms from end to end. The pretty centre of the village is marked by the church and a number of traditional buildings. The centre of Brand is also home to shops, hotels, the local tourist office and the modern Dorfbahn gondola.
The gondola is the gateway to a 55 km ski area featuring well groomed pistes nearly all of which are suitable for beginners and intermediates. The ski lift system of 14 lifts can carry 17,000 passengers per hour, so queueing is rarely a problem.
There are two ski schools in Brandnertal and with abundant beginner terrain and children are very well catered for at the Kinderland learning area in the middle of Brand for 3-5 year olds. There are several ski rental and equipment shops in Brand, including Bertel Sport in the ground floor of the new Dorfbahn building, MUK Sport and charming Montana Beck, and the impressive new R-Sport shop at Bűrserburg.
If you are seeking wild night life, then neither Brand nor Burseberg are the right destinations. The liveliest bar for apres ski, the Heuboda, is attached to the Sarotla Hotel, directly opposite the Dorfbahn, and the action carries on long after the last ski bus has gone. The attractive Műhlbach bar is also popular and features a large flatscreen TV above the bar which is handy for viewing major sports events.
Brandnertal accommodation includes over 3,000 guest beds. There are several four star hotels in Brand including Hotel Legant and Hotel Scesaplana which offer guests a high level of comfort and amenities and it is little surprise, given the family friendly nature of the resort, that guests are happy to return to their creature comforts at the end of the skiing day.
Bűrserberg is a very quiet, bucolic village occupying a sunny position 4 kilometres from Brand just before the road winds down to Burs and Bludenz. The lower village landmarks are the chuch and the 4 star Hotel Taleu, and its a short walk from anywhere in Burserberg to the Einhorn chair. From here, the road winds up the mountain to the plateau of Tschengla (upper Burserberg) and its cluster of hotels and amenities beside the cross country course and the Einbahn chairs.
One of the main reasons for choosing the tranquility and traditional feel of Bűrserberg is easy access to the ski lift system, and guests who choose Bűrserberg happily do so in the knowledge that after skiing their local options will most likely be limited to their own hotel, or those nearby.
Recent developments above Bűrserburg at Tschengla include the impressive Landal Brandnertal holiday village offering holiday apartments for purchase and rental. Newly constructed in 2009 this spacious, modern development includes restaurant, bar, large swimming pool, sauna and wellness facilities and R-Sport ski hire shop and offers ski-in, ski-out convenience close to the top of the Einhorbahn1 chairlift, but can also be reached by road.
The tourist board lists about 30 establishments in Brand and Bűrserburg including restaurants with regional specialities, excellent restaurants in several hotels, and a smattering of bars and cafes in the centre of Brand.
Of the two Brandnertal villages, Brand has the greater choice of bars and restaurants. After a day on the slopes, there are three après ski hot spots in Brand - the Heuboda, Muhlebach and the Papageno Bar at the Alpentenne Restaurant.
The Heuboda is just across the street from the Dorfbahn, and it's advisable to get there early as its the most popular apres ski bar in Brand. A heady blend of music, cocktails and energetic people come together in the setting of a rustic wooden bar next to the Hotel Sarotla.
Also near the Dorfbahn is Muhlebach, popular for cocktails and drinks after skiing, and also has a nightly programme of events, including live music and a large flat screen TV above the bar mostly screening sports events.
The Papageno Bar is close to the Palud chair and après ski there means music, games and fun, so be prepared to let your hair down. For a quieter après ski experience, many hotels in Brand and Burserberg have welcoming bars that are open to the public.
Many of the Brandnertal hotels have restaurants offering good food (including regional specialities) and excellent service, including the Hotel Scesaplana and the Wallisherhof in Brand and the Taleu and Schillerkopf in Burserberg.
Away from the hotels, Brand also has a good choice for dining including the Alpen Tenne and Colrosa Stuble offering Austrian and regional dishes. The pretty Dorfschenke is a traditional cafe restaurant and a favourite place, but not to be confused with the stylish Dorf Cafe in Brand which is also popular for afternoon tea.
If you can't go for a week without a visit to a club, a trip down valley to Burs will be required to George@Joe, a popular night spot with locals, and has its own disco, The Factory.
6708 Brand, Vorarlberg
Tel: + 43 (0) 664 441 2397
6709 Brand, Vorarlberg
Tel: + 43 (0) 5559 22582
Papageno at Alpen Tenne
6708 Brand, Vorarlberg
Tel: +43 (0) 5559 350
6708 Brand, Vorarlberg
Tel: +43 (0) 5559 22550
6708 Brand, Vorarlberg
Tel: +43 (0) 5559 420
6706 Burs, Vorarlberg
Tel: +43 (0) 5552 34734
Brandnertal has a total of 82 km of marked cross country trails. Tschengla is a plateau at 1,250 m and is a superb cross-country ski area, with a circuit of 15 km giving beautiful views over the five valleys of Bűrserberg.
Even if you don't ski that's no reason not to come to Brandnertal. There are 150 km of well signed winter paths, ideal as well for snowshoers, who can use them before taking off the beaten path and following special marked routes for snowshoe itineraries. Guided tours are available through the Brandnertal ski schools.
Try the Schattenlagant toboggan run under Brand's Dorfbahn gondola - 6 km of unbridled fun, and perhaps refresh your self with a Gluwein between runs. Toboggans are readily available for hire from ski hire shops. Guests staying in Bűrserberg will be pleased to learn that there is a similar run from Tschengla that winds down to the bottom of the mountain at Matin.
Not surprisingly, other options include ice skating and ice climbing, and for something completey different, try the indoor archery at the Sporthotel Beck in Brand or visit the Paarhof Buacher Musem, next to the Hotel Schäfle in Bűrserberg. The museum is in fact a house that's fully furnished and equipped as it would have been one hundred years or more ago and shows the lifestyle of an extended Brandnertal family in the 19th Century.