Peta Lloyd discovers all her favourite things for an exhilarating skiing holiday in Austria’s Gastein Valley
SKIING IN Austria is hardly an unknown quantity — to many it’s almost as familiar as “do-re-mi”. After all, Salzburgerland’s claim to fame is the cinematic blockbuster Sound of Music, and for me, its ski region— the Gastein Valley — does offer some of my favourite things that make up a fabulous ski holiday.
Things like: following the spicy scent of glühwein into the forest clearing to find a wooden hut with a glowing fire…Banging the snow off my boots, filling up on apfelstrudel with lashings of cream, while I waited for my toes to thaw…Or snuggling up under thick blankets in the back of a horse-drawn sleigh for a tour of the snow-covered countryside of the region.
This modern ski resort has a grand infrastructure that has grafted itself onto Gastein and over the past 70 years has transformed Gastein’s lifestyle.
Winter has taken over from summer as the main holiday season here, and gentle leisure has given way to thrilling adventure.
Built across the side of a cliff, with staircases for streets, I admit, Badgastein is not the most conveniently laid-out ski resort.
Its lower neighbour Badhofgastein offers a flatter terrain for curling, skating and other traditional winter sports, and a blissfully easy walk to the ski lift.
Otherwise, for downhill skiing and snowboarding the steep-sided Gastein valley holds its head up in the premier division of Alpine resorts.
More than 40 lifts serve 218km of piste — and that, as Fraulein Maria might say, is a long, long way to ski. Not all in one ski area, but four, of differing characters.
The largest is an M-shaped arrangement, with Badgastein and Badhof- gastein at each bottom end, covering an exceptional range of piste and powder skiing between 860 and 2,300 metres, with good nursery slopes in the central valley and long pistes on either side.
At 10.4km, for a top-to-bottom drop of 1,440m, Hohe Scharte Nord claims to be one of the longest downhill runs in the Eastern Alps, as well as being one of the most beautiful.
It was a great challenge to ski nonstop at the end of the day and, as I am a true ski-geek, I could link the lift ticket to the internet to track my up-anddown statistics through the day (and could have done so through the season if I had stayed), which is a great app for today’s cutting-edge snow user.
The slopes are accessorised with all the latest gizmos including a snow park with jumps, rails and a half pipe for acrobatics, a self-timed slalom track and a knee-trembling suspension bridge strung out across the void from the top lift station. After you.
At the head of the valley, Sportgastein has amazing open slopes
Enjoying Austria’s snowy terrain from the back of a horse