I am lucky to have visited the Tirol area of Austria a handful of times now, with each time making me want to move there all the more! This time I was headed to Innsbruck, not to adventure back to St Anton, but for this occasion, I was taking the pace down and going to where you will find it hard to spot a British tourist – ZugspitzArena. This is why this is Austria’s best-kept secret from the UK, and if you can find a way to get there, you’ll be skiing in what I can only be described as mountain bliss.
I’ve had the pleasure to visit the mountains on numerous occasions, but this was the perfect balance for me. It somehow had a bit of everything but wasn’t full of tourists. I love being British I really do, but sometimes when you get huge groups of holidaymakers, stag and hen dos abroad, it can just be a bit much. No UK holiday companies have any base in Zugspitz and this was the first big eye-opener for me. It simply meant that if you wanted to visit you’d need to make your own way there, and perhaps because of that, UK tourist don’t really bother. I guess the ease of the package ski holidays somehow seems more appealing – but this trip proves that theory wrong, as ZugspitzArena is worth making the effort and organising your holiday yourself.
We flew into Innsbruck airport which is one of my favourite airports due to it being small, which means it’s always quick! Out through passport control and you’re straight through to baggage, where chances are your bags are sat there waiting for you. This isn’t a one-off either, every time I’ve flown into Innsbruck it has been the same efficiency, so you’ll start your trip off on the right foot. We got a transfer from Four Seasons Travel who collected us from the airport and took us to ZugspitzArena which is around an hours drive. I’m sure any skiers reading this will agree, it is far more appealing than the additional 3-4hours of most other ski resorts. You can obviously hire cars, but I’d strongly advise a private transfer because unless you’re confident on the roads in the snow, you’ll be in for a shock. Put it this way the roads had been closed entering resort due to snow only a few days before we arrived, I can’t say I’d feel comfortable tackling that!
About the area
I had been invited by my friends in Tirol to take a visit to a new area, I was going to be staying on the Austrian side of the Zugspitze mountain in the Tyrol ZugspitzArena area. We were staying at the family-run hotel TirolerHof, (review coming soon) in Ehrwald which is one of the nearby towns. This was a quaint and cosy hotel, based only a ski boot shuffle away from the ski lifts in Ehrwald. Now, if you can envisage a sports arena with tiered seating looking down on a big pitch in the centre, change the image from the seats to mountains, and a green pitch to a blanket of snow and you’ve pretty much got the picture of how ZugspitzArena looks. Within the ZugspitzArena you have many options of where to base yourself, obviously, there is Ehrwald where we were staying, but then there is also Lermoss, Berwang/Namlos, Heiterwang am See, Lahn/Wengle and Biberwier. From each of these locations, you could get to seven different areas to ski at, meaning you could essentially ski in a new area each day if you were to come for the week. All ski areas were full of lots of blues and reds, with a few black runs dotted about. There is a convenient ski bus running between the various villages, making it far accessible than you’d think. The only thing I will highlight is that unlike major ski resorts like Chamonix or Val’disere, the buses don’t run as frequently, but that being said it’s relatively quick because it’s covering a smaller space.
Skiing in ZugspitzArena
Kicking off our first day in the ZugspitzArena, after a big snowfall, we explored the Ehrwald ski area near to our hotel. We went to Skigebiet Wettersteinbahn Sonnenlifte, with our ski instructor Martin who was from the local ski school. I love to do a refresher lesson on the first day wherever I go, I hadn’t skied in a year, Nick hadn’t skied in over two years, you sometimes need your legs get back into it on the first day! A bonus about getting a lesson is that the instructors know the mountains so well, they’ll be able to guide you to the best areas. We loved Martin, he was such a friendly guide and helped me work on my parallel turns.
Ski Areas – Zugspitzplatt, Ehrwalder Alm, Wetterstenbahnen, Ehrwald, Bergahnen Langes – Lermoos, Bergbahnen Langes – Biberwier, Bergbanen Berwang
Ski Passes – 6 day ski pass; €e240 for adults and €120 for children.
When we got up the mountain what I saw was what I can only describe as unreal. We didn’t see hardly anyone on the slopes – in all my years of skiing, I’ve never had a slope to myself. Ever. This obviously didn’t happen every day, because when we skied the next day at Ehrwalder Alm is was the weekend and it was crazy busy with German folk on the slopes. Just to highlight Munich is extremely close by, so on Friday evening, many drive over to hit the runs on Saturday morning. I, of course, preferred my quiet ski on Friday then that of avoiding other skiers on Saturday. In general terms, I’d say this is a great place to ski if you’re a beginner, if you want to bring the family, or you’re just after something that can be taken at an easy leisurely pace.
Not just skiing
I thoroughly enjoy skiing but I don’t ever go on a ski trip and just ski. I will have a few days on the mountain, but I like to break up my days by doing other things. On one of our days we did cross-country skiing and on another, we did a pony sledge ride.
I have always wanted to learn how to cross-country ski ever since I saw the tracks in Chamonix, so we decided to take a lesson. I always think if you don’t know how to do something properly always best to learn the technique correctly at the start. We had a very patient instructor who had been cross-country skiing for years! I couldn’t wait to get started, especially as this seemed to be a popular activity amongst locals, after all, ZugspitzArena boasts 110km of cross-country skiing with 20 trails. We were doing cross-country skiing on that flat bit of the ZugspitzArena I’d previously mentioned, now this is actually where the Golfino summer golf course is, but as it is caked in snow, it becomes a fantastic place for cross-country skiers. There were lots of people out on the tracks but not so busy you couldn’t go at a leisurely pace. I must admit after a morning of skiing, this was hard work! No wonder you burn so many calories doing cross-country skiing! Just to highlight, use of the cross-country ski tracks are free, so you don’t need any particular pass, just your own equipment and the tracks get regrooved every evening. If you don’t fancy that, then there is 60kms worth of winter hiking trails should you wish to explore minus any skis!
We next tried pony sledging which Nick wasn’t sure he was wanting to do, however when we sat down with a huge blanket over us, after being so busy, the lowering of pace was welcomed with open arms! We met the driver in Lermoos in the centre where he was waiting near the stables with horse and a carriage, and his dog, Mamba. I fell in love with Mamba and it was clear she was popular amongst locals as everyone we passed stopped to say hello to her! That is something to highlight actually, throughout our entire trip it felt like everyone, knew everyone! There is such an adorable community feeling wherever you went.
With the pony ride, we started off trotting along the road in Lermoos but soon headed over toward the snow when the wheels lowered, and we were soon on a sledge being pulled along by these beautiful horses. We actually did a lot of the flat area I mentioned, we could even spot the cross-country skiers, so that is how accessible this area is. Lermoos is a lot busier I found than Ehrwald, but where you stay is down to personal preference as each area has it’s own character.
You cannot visit Tirol without indulging in the local food. I won’t go into too much detail as I’ve decided I need to do a standalone piece just on the food! There are so many places to eat and you’ll always find something tasty and cheap. However, as I’m very used to the cost and the cuisine available over here, but Nick wasn’t. He is used to the French ski food costs, of overpriced food and drink, where you’d never really have your lunch up the mountain unless you packed your own or were prepared to pay a lot. He was stunned by how reasonable it was and how delicious and generous portions were. We even had our lunch up the mountain at the Tiroler Haus restaurant (review coming soon), which serves food to die for, but also it has the genius escalators down to the toilets. If you wear ski boots you will understand the sheer thrill of discovering that when you go for the lunchtime toilet run in a ski resort!
When you think of apres ski you normally would on envisage a bar or dancing on tables in ski boots, before attempting to navigate yourself safely back down the mountain. Not here. Whilst there are bars in the centre of each village, including one myself and Nick came to like Ehrwald, there isn’t an apres ski ‘scene’ as such. How they apres here are activities each night. Whilst there myself and Nick did something I will possibly call, the single most scary and ridiculously fun activities I’ve done on a mountain – that includes when I went paragliding in St Anton! Tobogganing. Yep. Tobogganing is a big hit on a Tuesday evening in Ehrwald Alm. You essentially catapult yourself on a plastic or wooden sledge all the way down Ehrwald Alm piste… in the dark on an illuminated slope with fellow sledges to guide you. Seriously, one of the funniest things I’ve ever done. We took the big bubble up and sledged to the restaurant, Ganghoffer Hutte, which was halfway down. We had some food there then sledged the rest of the way down, and then spent a good 10 minutes laughing about how crazy fun it was! Afterwards, we got the bus back (most people did this too) from Ehrwalder Almbahn to Kirchplatz.
You can also do things like Igloo building and torch walks – I assure you, it’s such a refreshing change to other resorts which are just about bars and drinking. Also don’t panic if you’re thinking it’s a place just for families, there is a complete mixture old and young. Best thing to do when you arrive at the resort is pick up the printouts by the tourist board as there is something going on every evening.
Winter Evening Activities
Tuesday & Friday – Night tobogganing at Ehrwalder Alm
Wednesday & Saturday – Evening skiing and tobogganing at Gamsalm
Thursday – Tour evening W1 Lounge
Daily – Pistenbully co-pilot
Monday – Ski show
Tuesday – Torchlight hike
Wednesday – Night skiing at the Familyjet and Bergbahnen Langes behind the scenes
Thursday – Snowshoe hike, the first track in snow at Grubigsten and Igloo workshop
Tuesday – Ski show
Thursday – Night skiing and tobogganing
Thursday – Evening tour to Sunnalm
Why you need to visit
As someone who loves to visit the mountains in winter, I completely understand the frustrations of going at peak times. Slopes can be crowded, it can be hectic and often it’s just coach loads of UK holiday companies. It’s quite sad, but in some resorts, they’ve become so bombarded with UK ski holiday companies and hen and stag dos, that the charm of the mountains is sometimes missed. That is where ZugspitzArena is the polar opposite. Whilst the weekends here are busy – as you’d expect – it’s got a completely different vibe about it, I came away feeling like I’d found Austria’s ski secret as we hardly heard of any British people, it was just locals and Germans.
The main things that won ZugspitzArena over for me, is that it’s very laid back, super friendly and far cheaper than most ski resorts. Everything is close together making it incredibly accessible. People here seem to all know one another, for example, before we went cross-country skiing, our instructor’s childhood friend introduced himself and gave us homemade schnapps before we started our lesson. As you do! I adore Austria, I absolutely love the people because they are very approachable and friendly, and more than anything, it isn’t a pretentious place which makes it very appealing!
If you want to find out more about planning your holiday here, then please send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org, watch my travel video people or check out the official Tiroler ZugspitzArena website.