Travel

The Irish Times Magazine - - INSIDE - Lau­rence Mackin Lau­rence Mackin trav­elled as a guest with Aer Lin­gus to Mu­nich from Dublin. aer­lin­gus. com

If you ski reg­u­larly, you’ve prob­a­bly had at least one trip ru­ined by rub­bish snow. Book­ing the right week at the right al­ti­tude be­comes a very mid­dle- class game of ex­pe­ri­ence, in­tu­ition and weather div­ina­tion. So why would any­one run the risk of go­ing early in the sea­son be­fore a proper dump has had time to load up the moun­tains?

The beauty about the early sea­son is that the slopes are al­most empty and, for the sheer ex­tra ob­nox­ious fac­tor, noth­ing quite beats be­ing the first per­son on a moun­tain of fresh snow.

And fresh it al­most cer­tainly will be if you head to cer­tain parts of Aus­tria. The slopes there may not be the high­est, but they seem to have piste man­age­ment down to a much finer art than many of their Euro­pean coun­ter­parts.

When we ar­rive to St Jo­hann, it is early Novem­ber, the skies are blue and there has hardly been a hint of snow fore­cast for weeks. And yet a gleam­ing rib­bon of per­fect white is snaking its way down the moun­tain­side, sur­rounded by green fields.

Un­der ski or board, it also feels crispy and flaky, rather than hard and icy. The snow guns used in this stretch, and in­deed in much of Europe, rely purely on air and wa­ter and the tech­nol­ogy seems to have im­proved by leaps and bounds in re­cent years. As global warm­ing con­tin­ues to play havoc with weather sys­tems, and shrinks what’s left of our glaciers, this sort of piste man­age­ment is go­ing to be a key part of Europe’s snow of­fer­ing. Many of the moun­tains have spe­cially built reser­voirs, which store snow or wa­ter for these slopes. When the tem­per­a­ture drops be­low zero, this is fired into the air above the slopes, where it freezes and drops. Even at these first days of the sea­son, many of the slopes were ready for busi­ness.

Be­low is a se­lec­tion of three vil­lages where you can get some early sea­son sat­is­fac­tion.

St Jo­hann

The lovely lit­tle Ty­rolean town is what most peo­ple will have in mind when they think of an Aus­trian moun­tain vil­lage. Tiny wind­ing streets and his­toric build­ings with orig­i­nal fresco paint­ings are ev­i­dence of a town that once bus­tled with wealth thanks to its cop­per and silver mines. Now it’s tourism that largely lines the lo­cals’ pock­ets.

It might sit at just 659m ( 2,160ft) above sea level but, thanks to the ex­cel­lent piste man­age­ment, there are 60km ( 37 miles) of ski runs, half of them with ar­ti­fi­cial snow- mak­ing fa­cil­i­ties. Ad­vanced skiers might want to look else­where for trips of longer than a day or two. There’s also a to­bog­gan run, which is ter­rific fun ( un­til like me you en­ter the trees at speed and use your ribs to break you fall).

Kirch­berg

A short jaunt away is Kirch­berg, a much big­ger town with a much wider va­ri­ety of slopes. There are 170km of trails, with plenty of blue, red and black runs at the tougher end of the scale to chal­lenge the more am­bi­tious skier. If you want even more choice, you can ac­cess the wider Sk­iWelt area, which of­fers an­other 280km of runs. The best op­tion is to get the Kitzbüheler Alpen All- Star Card (¤ 265 for six days), which works for sev­eral ar­eas in the re­gion, in­clud­ing the ones fea­tured here.

One thing not to miss is the 3S gon­dola. It feels a lit­tle like your fly­ing from one moun­tain to the next, largely thanks to the glass floor in the ca­ble car and the 400m drop. Those who don’t like heights might want to con­sider what the hell they are do­ing on a moun­tain in the first place.

After­wards, there are plenty of bars to choose from, but the Eis­bar does a par­tic­u­larly fine line in the full- on Euro­trash ski sesh. You have been warned.

Wes­ten­dorf

A some­what smaller re­sort within the Sk­iWelt area, Wes­ten­dorf feels that bit more wild and re­mote when you are stand­ing at the top of its peaks. It also of­fers the best views of any­where we saw in the area, es­pe­cially when the sun is slip­ping down for the evening. If the weather is clear, save this one for a last run or three of the day. Where to stay and eat Ex­plorer Ho­tels has a new lo­ca­tion in St Jo­hann. These ho­tels are cool, clean, and look more like a tech start- up than a cosy lodge. It won’t come as a sur­prise to learn that these are pas­sive en­ergy build­ings, aimed at the bud­get mar­ket with­out com­pro­mis­ing much on com­fort. Rooms from ¤ 80 per night. ex­plorer- ho­tels. com/ kitzbue­hel.

The Adler is a charm­ing, old- fash­ioned ho­tel with smash­ing, hearty food, and warm com­fort­able rooms. The bus stop is just a minute away and will whip you off to the nearby moun­tains in no time. It also has an in­door pool, fit­ness cen­tre and spa with saunas, steam baths and re­lax­ation rooms. Rooms are from ¤ 75 per night.

St Jo­hann in Tirol, Aus­tria: Al­though it sits at only 659m ( 2,160ft) above sea level, the town’s ex­cel­lent piste man­age­ment means there are 60km ( 37 miles) of ski runs. PHO­TO­GRAPH: GETTY

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