at high altitude — the top station at 2,680m is nearly at glacier level.
This is ideal for exciting off-piste skiing and reliable snow conditions in March and April when many other resorts run short on the white stuff.
Graukogel is Badgastein’s original ski area, now rather overshadowed and out on a limb, but for that reason it is well worth a visit on a busy morning.
Sure, the chair lifts may not have been modernised since 1947 but its sweeping forest pistes, which hosted the World Championships back in 1958, have lost none of their bite.
At the entrance to the valley, little Dorfgastein’s lifts make what the Austrians call a “skischaukel” — an overthe-mountain link with the neighbouring valley and its pretty ski village of Grossarl. PACKAGE: One week half-board at the Hotel Palace, from £628 per person based on two sharing, including flights from Gatwick to Salzburg and transfers, departing January 2016 TOUR: Heilstollen Caves: 30-minute introduction, €30.50; six-day lift pass, from €244 GUIDE: Half-day guiding, €65 PP MORE INFO: gastein.com and salzburgerland.com
Using the ski bus shuttle service, I headed this way for the strudel and dirndl factor: Austrian skiing at its most charming, with plentiful mountain huts and well-groomed intermediate pistes. For me this was a leisurely cruise through delightful scenery.
The two faces of Gastein — young and sporty versus stiff and sedate — somehow go together well.
You don’t have to be a hypochondriac to appreciate a soak in the tub after a hard day’s skiing, and if the hot water has special properties that mend a tired body, so much the better.
Spas are all the rage at the luxury end of the ski business, because forward-thinking resorts are beginning to worry about climate change and seeking to expand what they offer.
So the old spa business is in fact good for skiers too.
The healing powers of local springs brought visitors from the earliest times; Romans, Paracelsus, Mozart’s mother and even Kaiser Wilhelm.
These days it may be more about wellness and pampering than the traditional cure, but Gastein’s medicinal claims have a certain fascination, even to the casual visitor who arrives with no particular therapeutic agenda beyond the healing power of an active holiday.
And so it happened that an aprèsskier with only a sore pair of knees and a little stiffness in the lower back to complain about volunteered to sample the pièce de résistance of the famous Gastein cure — the Gastein Heilstollen caves. This experience involves a
At Gastein’s Heilstollen caves, heat and radon gas are part of the therapy
View across the Gastein Valley