There are few surprises as you ski from one resort to the next, so this is an ideal opportunity for improving beginners and intermediates to enjoy the thrill of being 'on the road' rather than exploring just one resort. But it's well worth remembering your route and consulting the piste map from time to time. You could do worse than use your first day to get your bearings before further exploration. There are three principal routes: the Salven circuit via Brixen, Westendorf, Hopfgarten, Itter and Söll, the Kaiser Route via Brixen, Scheffau, Ellmau and Going, and the Westendorf circuit via Westendorf and Brixten.
The SkiWelt is perfect for intermediates and mixed ability groups and there is also a wide selection of runs for beginners. With just a scattering of steeper black runs, like the steep short pitch from Söll's Hohe Salve (1829m) stronger intermediates will find sufficient to keep them amused too - not least the scenery, with stirring views of the craggy Wilder Kaiser peaks to the north, and the Kitzbuheler Alps to the south - but there's very little challenging terrain for experts. With 284km of on-piste skiing the biggest challenge for advanced skiers is to see how much of the SkiWelt they can ski in a day. There's more than enough groomed skiing to keep even the best skiers busy skiing different runs all week and it'll take many visits to gain expert knowledge of more than 70 mountain restaurants and bars.
The SkiWelt is situated south of the Wilder Kaiser mountains and the road that runs between Sőll, Scheffau, Ellmau and Going (11km east from Sőll) and to the east and mostly north of the road that connects Sőll with Itter, Hopfgarten, Westendorf and Brixen im Thale (20km from south east Sőll). The entire SkiWelt Wilder-Kaiser ski area covers 284 kilometres of slopes between 620m and a maximum 1,957m above sea level.
Although it's not especially high, the SkiWelt gets plenty of snow each winter supplemented by SkiWelt's extensive snow-making capabilities. More than 1,400 snow cannons and lances covering more than 80% of groomed runs, which helps ensure a good snow base throughout the ski season and prevents steeper and narrower runs from icing over so quickly. Compared to more mountainous, higher altitude ski resorts there are fewer rocks so less snow is needed to create good ski conditions. SkiWelt's treeless, grassy summits and grassy runs between forested lower slopes can easily be made skiable with just 30-50cm of snow.
Of a total of 284km of groomed ski pistes, SkiWelt has 122km (43%) of easy blue runs and 129km (45%) of red runs for intermediates. Black runs are 33km (12%) in total, but no steeps or mogul runs for experts and the off-piste is very limited and benign. Every 3.5km on average you'll find a mountain hut, umbrella bar, restaurant or sun terrace, so you will never be short of places to stop for refreshment, but never have time to visit them all - It's hard to imagine a ski area with more mountain restaurants and bars and standards are high.
The whole SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser-Brixental area has benefited from huge investment in recent years and there is an ongoing program of modernisation and investment to ensure ski lift infrastructure, snow-making and grooming are second to none. With such a big ski area, good signage and mapping to help skiers navigate their way around the SkiWelt (and to find their way home) is also important and there's been plenty of investment in signage. However, until you get to know the area well, it's still easy to sometimes take a wrong route, but just about everything you can think of is clearly marked on the ski map so you'll soon get back on track.
Many ski resorts boast night skiing, usually no more than a floodlit beginner slope on the edge of the village, but Sőll is home to the biggest night skiing area in the Alps with 13km of floodlit skiing on including a 3km floodlit valley run back to Sőll. There's excellent night skiing Wednesday - Saturday between 6:30pm and 9:30pm from mid-December to mid-March (floodlit on the valley descent until 10:30pm), and it's not just for tourists. The night skiing in Sőll attracts plenty of locals so you can expect to see some amazingly good skiers carving expert turns. There's also two floodlit toboggan runs - Hexebritt and Mondrodelbahn - the biggest floodlit fun park for boarders and freestylers and plenty of good food and fun to be had in the night skiing area at the Alpengasthof in Hochsőll, the Grűndalm, Stőckalm, Gasthof Salvenmoos at middle station and at the Moonlight bar at the bottom of the valley run.
Picture Credit: Bergbahn Hohe Salve
While the SkiWelt as a whole has state of the art ski left technology, the Hochsőll gondola in Sőll is on the outskirts of the village, which is the only drawback of the lift system for those staying in Sőll. It's about a 800-1,000m from the centre of the village, which is a long walk in ski boots, but a free ski bus runs frequently between Sőll and the gondola and you soon get used to it. If you have a car, there's plenty of free parking next to the gondola station.
The 40 drag lifts in SkiWelt are almost invariably on nursery and beginner slopes close to the villages and mostly for the convenience of first time beginners. The majority of the ski area is served by high-speed gondolas and chair lifts. The SkiWelt lift system carries 142,000 riders per hours and is continually being improved with massive investment in latest technology to maximise capacility, speed, comfort and safety, and to minimise queuing. The invasions of day visitors by coach from Bavaria on snowy Saturdays mean that the SkiWelt can get very busy at weekends, but the lift system copes well enough and queuing is generally not a problem.
Recent improvements include a new gondola connecting the Westendorf ski area with the rest of the SkiWelt and more new high-speed detachable 6-seater and 8-seater charifits, often with bubble covers and heated seats are being installed in place of older fixed grip lifts. There's even a solar powered magic carpet.
Six lift companies co-operate very well to deliver a quality lift service throughout the SkiWelt. Behind the scenes, they're also in competition with one another. When you buy a SkiWelt lift pass in Sőll, the local lift company that sells you your lift pass gets a fixed (10%) percentage of the price, but thereafter the revenue share depends where you ski. If you ride the gondola from Sőll to Hohe Salve then ski over to Westendorf and spend most of the day skiing over there, the Westendorf lift company will receive a higher proportion of the revenue attributable to that day's lift pass. That way each of the villages and lift companies has good incentive to ensure good lift services and welcoming mountain restaurants in their part of the SkiWelt.
The ski lifts in Sőll and throughout the SkiWelt are open from early December (and preceding weekends, if snow conditions permit) until early April from 8:00/8:30am until 4:00/4:30pm. SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser - Brixental ski lift passes are available for ½ day only, from 1-14 days or you can buy multi-day passes that allow you to ski any 5 days in 7, days in 10 or 10 days in 14. The usual discounts are available for youths and younger children (on production of valid photo ID).
Regular visitors can take advantage of the Kitzbuhler Alpen All Star Card lift pass which covers 359 cable cars and ski lifts and 1,081km of ski runs in SkiWelt, Kitzbuhler Alps and other nearby ski regions. The vast majority of tourist guests are unlikely to reap the benefit, but it's available should you need it. It costs about 12% more than a standard SkiWelt lift pass.
Berg & Ski Lift Hochsőll GmbH & Co KG
Stampfanger 21, A-6306 Sőll
Tel: +43 (0) 5333 5260
Email: [email protected]
Although SkiWelt statistics show that 43% of runs are suitable for beginners, most blue runs in Sőll are clustered around a plateau at Hochsöll (half way between the Sőll base area and Hohe Salve), at the top gondola station in Scheffau and more still "up and over" the Hohe Salve peak on the slopes high above Brixen and Hopfgarten. But these are quite hard to get to from Söll as there is no easy way down to reach them from the top of the Hohe Salve gondola.
Sőll and the SkiWelt generally is excellent for improving beginners. Confident beginners should be able to ski the red run down from Hochsőll to Sőll. It's well protected by artificial snow-making, but can sometimes be icy in parts if there's a lack of natural snow cover, in which case blue-run skiers can return to the valley by gondola or ski the blue that runs from the bottom of the Stőckl chairlfit to Sőll.
All of the SkiWelt villages, except south-facing Brixen and Hopfgarten, have dedicated nursery slopes at the bottom of the mountain. While novices can have a great holiday learning to ski in Sőll, first-timers and especially families with young children taking their first steps on skis are advised to consider staying in Scheffau or Ellmau.
Scheffau has a better dedicated area for novices on a sloping meadow beneath the church as well as an extensive cluster of blue-runs in the main ski area at Brandstadl (1650m) and a wonderfully long and easy blue run back down to Blaiken on the outskirts of Scheffau. Ellmau has a deservedly good reputation for teaching young children to ski. The selection of nursery slopes in Ellmau is better than in than Sőll and the ski school in Ellmau is especially child friendly.
That said, the Ski & Snowboard School Sőll Hochsőll is among the best ski schools in Austria and offers skiing lessons for novices and beginners of any age, separate meeting places for adults and children and a special program for younger children (aged 3-5) with child minding at lunch times available at extra cost.
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The SkiWelt's 284km groomed pistes are exceptionally well-maintained. There's artificial snow-making covering 85% of marked runs to ensure a good base early in the season and to prevent narrower and steeper runs from becoming too icy. And with as much as 122km (43%) blue run and 129km (45%), Soll and the Ski Welt Wider Kaiser - Brixental ski area is ideal for intermediates.
The longest run in Sőll is the 7km descent from the top of Hohe Salve down to Hopfgarten - glorious red runs all the way down, but not quite so simple to navigate because it's very easy - especially at speed - to take a wrong turn and end up having to queue for a lift you had no intention of taking to get back to the top and start again. More haste less speed is probably the answer if you are a first time visitor wanting to ski down to Hopfgarten in one go.
SkiWelt's groomed pistes (284km) are mostly made up of 122km (43%) easy and 129km (45%) intermediate terrain. Black pistes and ski routes, which are never groomed, amount to 33km (12%) and are fun, but not too testing.
That said, the SkiWelt is a great fun destination for a skiing holiday, especially if you like cruising fast on well-prepared slopes amid beautiful scenery. The challenge for advanced skiers and boarder is not difficulty of the terrain, but the extent of it. The question is how much of it can you ski in a day or a week? The answer, not all of it by any means!
Some of the toughest and steepest piste skiing can be found on the homeward bound runs on the Söll side of Hohe Salve. The3km run down to the new Hexen6er (correct spelling) six-seater chairlift is one of the most challenging. At Westendorf, the 1.5km black run from the Alpenrose lift on Choralpe (1820m) down to middle station (1320m) is relatively challenging. At Scheffau, another black run for stronger skiers and boarders to get their teeth into runs from the top station in Scheffau (Brandstadl) down to the middle station (Neualm).
If you're looking for more challenging skiing and if the snow conditions are good enough for skiing off-piste then it's best to hire a guide. Even without a guide, in powder snow conditions there are plenty of opportunities to ski between the marked pistes and to find more difficult lines including steeper descents off-piste beneath some chair lifts - watch out for the tree stumps!
Intermediate boarders and above can get around the SkiWelt circuit well, but beginners will find some parts of the network difficult as there are some flat areas between the various villages. The wide open terrain includes opportunities for boarding in deeper snow between the marked runs and there are massive amounts of riding and good restaurants to be enjoyed throughout the SkiWelt, in addition to terrain parks.
Photo Credit: SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser - Brixental, Christian Kapfinger
Traditional mountain huts and large-self service restaurants serve classic Tirolean dishes including the ever popular goulash soup, speck bacon, alpine cheese, grőstl (a favourite meat and potato served in a pan), specknődel (bacon dumplings) and kaiserschmarrn (thick pieces of sugared pancake served with cream and JAM). Standards are high and the on-mountain eating experience even in self-service restaurants is generally very good.
Although there are no less than 70 restaurants throughout the SkiWelt circuit, the best and the most popular restaurants are invariably busy from 11:30am onwards. Each of SkiWelt's mountain restaurants is numbered and clearly marked on the ski map making them easy to find them and useful as reference points when navigating the ski area. Picking the best is a hard call, there are so many and standards are high so expect to be spoiled for choice and be willing to explore.
To help get you started, the Gasthof Grűndalm and Gipfelrestaurant Hohe Salve are recommended, Gipfelrestaurant Hohe Salve and the Bergrestaurant at the top-station of the Brandstadl gondola have a large sunny terrace and wonderful views of the Wilder Kaiser, Schernthannstuberl is welcoming on a cold day and the Gasthof Stockalm - a converted cow-shed near Hochsöll where you can watch bread and cheese being made - and Krafalm are busy almost as soon as they open. At Scheffau, the Aualm prides itself on home-made cooking and tasty Wiener Schnitzels.
The charming Rűebezahl-Alm (number 58 on the map) overlooking Ellmau is among the best mountain restaurants in the SkiWelt and well worth visiting at least once. Constructed almost entirely from wood, the cosy interior includes wood burning fires, red cheque table cloths and curtains and walls decorated with photographs of Austrian and German celebrity guests - Arnold Schwarzenegger and Boris Becker among them. Rűbezahl-Alm is situated to the west of the funicular railway, approximately half way down the red run from Hartkaiser (1555m) to Ellmau, and on a fine day the sun terrace is a perfect place to enjoy great food and unrivalled views of the Wilder Kaiser.
Set in a rural location at 703m above sea level, Söll is an attractive village with a car-free centre and an exquisite Baroque church, with vivid frescoes and red marble pulpit, crowned by a gilded swan church. A less-spiritual attraction is the Whiskeymühle, a vibrant discothèque. Sőll is relatively small and quiet. It takes just a few minutes to explore the village centre on foot and while there is the usual array of shops selling ski clothing and equipment there's not much retail therapy for non-skiers or shopaholics.
The gondola at Sőll (and nine other gondolas in the region) provides high-speed access to the SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser Brixental Ski Circuit - the biggest lift-connected ski area in Austria - with 91 ski lifts, 279km of well-groomed slopes and 70 or more mountain restaurants and bars. Sőll's pretty village centre is half a mile or more from the gondola base station (a 10-15-minute walk if you don't take the bus), but you'll soon get used to taking the free ski bus or driving to the base station where there's plenty of free parking.
If you decide to walk back to the village after a day on the slopes you can break the journey by pub crawling your way back along Stampfanger starting at the Moonlight Bar at the bottom of the valley run, then après ski bars Talstation and Hexenalm before crossing the main road to Salvenstadl on the edge of the village.
The snow-capped peaks of the Wilder Kaiser to the north, tower above Sőll and the nearby ski resorts of Scheffau, Ellmau and Going, which are some 6-11km farther along the B178 heading east from Sőll. The SkiWelt ski area (more than 10,000 hectares) is situated south of this road and to the east and north of the B170 running from Sőll to Itter (6km), Hopfgarten (11km), Westendorf (21km), Brixen im Thale (24km) and beyond to Kirchberg and Kitzbuhel.
Soll Tourist Office
Dorf 84, A-6306 Söll, Austria
Tel: +43 (0) 5333 5216
Fax: +43 (0) 5333 6180
Email: [email protected]
Favourite places for après ski on the mountain include the Gasthőf Stockalm at gondola mid-station, the Moonlight Bar at the bottom of the valley run and Hexenkessel at the gondola base station. From Hexenkessel it's just a short walk to the deservedly popular Salvenstadl (Cow Shed) on the edge of the village, which opens from 3:30pm for its Après-Ski Party and is busy with live music until late. Salvenstadl also has several flat screen TV's and Sky TV for important sporting occasions. Salvenstadl is also popular later in the evening as are the Rossini café and pub and Bella Vita, both of which offer a more sophisticated ambience.
There are around thirty restaurants and bars in Söll alone, many within easy walking distance of the village centre, but if that's not enough you'll find plenty more restaurants and bars nearby in Scheffau, Ellmau and Going which are easy to get to by car or taxi.
Auf da Műhle (Tel: +43 5333 20590) is an impressive new restaurant situated on the 1st floor of the modernist Whisky Műhle building houses. Reached by a stair case on the right hand side of the building, Auf da Műhle reasonably priced menu includes many excellent dishes with Mediterranean and Asian influences and including freshly baked pizzas, noodles and wok dishes, Australian and Anadlusian steaks as well as classic Austrian dishes such as wiener schnitzel, grőstl and kaisercharrn in a stylish contemporary setting.
Bella Vita (Tel: +43 5333 20360) is another relatively new restaurant in the centre of Sőll offering a choice of reasonably priced Italian, Asian and traditional Austrian dishes. Dorfstub'n (Tel: +43 5333 5907) is more traditional offering traditional Austrian dishes and friendly service.
Hexenalm (Tel: +43 5333 5544) is a delightfully refurbished traditional hotel situated close to the gondola on the outskirts of the village, with a lively après ski bar and an appealing restaurant serving traditional Austrian and pizza dishes in a relaxed atmosphere.
Pizzeria Venezia (Tel: +43 5333 6191) offers light innovative Italian dishes made with fresh Italian spices including homemade pasta, pizza and fresh fish and a good selection of Italian wines from Sud Tirol, Tuscany and Sardinia.
Schindlhaus (Tel: +43 5333 516136) is a is a Gault Millau rated gourmet restaurant in the centre of Sőll with stylish interior that combines a number of regional dishes with an international flavour. Creative chefs Christian and Markus Winkler are highly regarded for their original dishes which include local ox served with wok-cooked vegetables and trout and lobster dishes combining Austrian and Indian influences.
Hotel Greil (Tel: +43 5333 5289) is a small, family-owned 4-star hotel on the outskirts of Sőll, which is mentioned in Guide Michelin 2009 for Tirolean delicacies, Austrian specialities and international dishes presented on the best china from Villeroy & Boch and served with top quality wines in Riedel glasses. The small restaurant is primarily for hotel guests and hence pre-booking to reserve a table is essential.
Hotel Postwirt (Tel: +43 5333 5081) in the centre of Sőll is well regarded and has an à la carte restaurant offering fine dining in a traditional setting with a choice of international dishes and regional specialities.
Many of Sőll's hotels and guesthouses also welcome non-residents for dinner.
There's live music in Sőll most nights including traditional Austrian music and there are plenty of opportunities for partying until late at the renowned Whisky-Műhle disco in the centre of Sőll and a focal point for nightlife. The après-ski is lively and fun, but not sophisticated and nowhere near as busy as internationally renowned resorts such as Ischgl or St Anton.
Photo Credit: SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser - Brixental
Besides skiing and snowboarding, other sports activities in winter include tobogganing, cross-country skiing, winter walking, snowshoeing, horse drawn sleigh rides, paragliding and swimming at the Panoramabad in Sőll. There's also snow-tubing and snow-biking nearby at Ellmau. There are few shops in Sőll and other Wilder Kaiser villages, but Kitzbuhel (22km from Sőll) is a wonderfully historic town with plenty of stylish boutiques for shopaholics and more sophisticated nightlife - well worth visiting if you have time.
Sőll is home to the biggest night-skiing area in the Alps with 13km of floodlit slopes between 700m and 1,700m fully illuminated for night-skiing and boarding around mid-station including Salvenmoos, Keat and Hexen6er runs, a floodlit fun park called snowpark Sőll for boarders and a 3km valley run.
The night skiing area is open from 6:30pm until 9:30pm, Wednesday to Saturday and special lift tickets can be purchased at the gondola ticket office. There's lively après ski at Gasthof Hochsőll, Grűndalm and Stőcklalm at mid-station and at the Moonlight Bar at the bottom of the valley run. Night skiing attracts lots of local skiers whose standards of skiing (forwards and backwards) will undoubtedly impress you. There are also two floodlit toboggan runs. For more information and prices go to www.skinacht.at (German language website).
The Wilder Kaiser region has 14.5km of toboggan runs many of which are illuminated at night including the Astberg-Ellmau-Going, the Steinacker in Scheffau and two toboggan runs from mid-station at Hochsöll to Söll. Toboggans and lift tickets are available at the gondola ticket office in Sőll.
For some, cross-country skiing is one of the highlights of the Wilder Kaiser with 83km of well-groomed cross-country slopes in one of the most beautiful landscapes in Tirol. The Sunnseit classic track in Sőll can be started from Hotel Alpenpanorama or the Franzlhof and is a 4.5km loop out of the village and back with gentle incline. Scheffau has floodlit cross-country slopes and a mobile biathlon laser shooting, the 6km Kaiserloipe track in Ellmau is suitable for both beginners and advanced and there is more cross-country skiing at Going including a 10km track between the Hotel Stanglwirt and Gasthof Rőmerhof for intermediates.
The Wilder Kaiser offers 113km of winter walking trails in and around the villages of Sőll (30km), Scheffau (18km), Ellmau (55km) and Going (10km). The Pirchmoos walk in Sőll is an enjoyable 5.5km walk which will take enthusiastic walkers around 1½ hours to complete. Walking trails are well maintinained and clearly signposted. Maps are available from the Tourist Office.
Horse drawn sleigh rides are available in winter throughout the Wilder Kaiser. For information about sleigh rides in Sőll contact: Familie Horngacher (Tel.: +43 664 532 7476), Mathias Krall (Tel.:+43 0664 2051228) or Martina Weiss (Tel: +43 676 311 1965).
Tandem paragliding flights are offered by Fly 2 Tandem Flights and by appointment only. Take off points are at 1,000m and 1,200m on the Sőll and Hopfgarten sides of Hohe Salve respectively and flight duration is between 5-30 minutes depending on weather conditions and thermals. For more information contact: Fly 2 Tandemflights, Tel: +43 (0) 5335 3403, Email: [email protected] and Web: www.paragliding-fly2.at
For those guests that do not have the luxury of a hotel swimming pool, Panoramabad Sőll is large a public swimming complex with heated indoor and outdoor pools and sauna, bio-sauna and steamroom. It's located off Stampfanger (behind the Hotel Bergland), the swimming pool is open from 9:30am until 8:30pm and sauna and steam room from 3:00pm. For more information, contact Panoramabad Sőll, Stampfanger 5, A-6306 Sőll. Tel: +43 (0) 5333 5442, Email: [email protected] and Web: www.panoramabad-soell.at
For more information contact the tourist office in Sőll:
Sőll Tourist Office
Dorf 84, A-6306 Söll, Austria
Tel: +43 (0) 5333 5216
Fax: +43 (0) 5333 6180
Email: [email protected]