Michael Cranmer Goes Green Skiing In Austria The Greenest Way Possible.
Love skiing? Hate flying? Me too. Those bleary shuffling 5.00 am check-ins. Endless hours in the perfumed hell of departure lounges. The sheer and shocking waste of precious resources.
Three other ski travel writer chums and I decided we’d had enough of this nonsense and took matters into our own hands. Destination? Austria, one of Europe’s most green skiing countries with locally sourced organic food and cheap green energy. Rail travel was impractical given our plan to visit multiple resorts so we’d drive there in the most ecological way we could.
Visit Austria Tourism loved our concept and organized a three-week trip from east in Salzburgerland, through Tirol thence westwards to Vorarlberg. Audi lent us a top-of-the-range Q7 Quattro-e Hybrid, and Atomic gave us 2023 skis. The jaunt became our Austrian Adventure: #FourInAQuattro. Our mission – to reduce our ski carbon footprint.
The most fuel-efficient way to cross the channel was by Eurotunnel Le Shuttle. With our hybrid car full of four passengers our carbon emissions were reduced by up to 67% compared to flying and 73 times less than the typical Dover-Calais ferry. We rendezvoused at the Folkestone terminal in time to grab complimentary goodies in the Flexiplus Lounge before boarding the train.
We’d left England at dawn and arrived in Altenmarkt at sunset. Our hotel, the Kesselgrub, had a terrific independent restaurant, the Kessei, run by three enthusiastic pals, Tina, Christian, and Stephen. It was buzzing with locals having fun.
Next morning we were buzzing with anticipation of our appointment with Atomic to collect our new skis “…feeling like Willy Wonka when he won the Golden Ticket” said one of my chums.
Based in Altenmarkt, equipment for some of the world’s best athletes are developed and constructed here using sustainable methods: biomass heating system during manufacturing, skis and boots largely made of recyclables and renewables. Production was mostly robotic – “No Photos, Top Secret” – right up to final quality control where one of Atomic’s technicians paired individual skis by eye and hand. My beauties: 2023 Atomic Q7 Redster Revoshocks advanced all-mountain skis.
Off to nearby pretty Zauchensee to try them. Its gentle pistes top at 2188m…the perfect place to see how my Redsters performed. They felt right instantly, stable in my first cruisy carves, the edges rock steady as I angulated. I loved their response in short turns, energy stored released at just the right moment. Thank you Atomic.
Next day and first chance to test the Quattro’s EV power, the 27 miles range extended by regenerative braking, to get to slopes, resorts and hotels. Like everything else about this superb car, it performed faultlessly.
Obertauern, resort number two, was the complete opposite to tiny Zauchensee. Big, and brash, with a definite frontier town feel; not surprising as it straddles an ancient Roman road. Billed as ‘Austria’s snowiest resort’ and during our stay, sunny too. What’s not to like. A huge bowl up to 2,526m with serious steeps, and plenty of flattering blues and reds.
Our hotel, the five-star Cinderella was ski-in-ski-out with sumptuous buffets and my first encounter with a Dusch-WC. Controlled remotely from a sitting position: ‘Rear Wash: Lady Wash: Comfort Wash’, together with ‘Adjust Spray Wand, and Temperature’. It was HEAVEN and I want one.
The skiing was pure fun; 100 kms of smooth cruising for the Redsters. Lunch on the sun-drenched terrace of the ‘M3’ restaurant and the chance for a pub quiz question: Q: Which band filmed here in 1965 with a piano on the slopes? A: The Beatles making the movie ‘Help!’ There’s a stainless-steel piano on the mountain marking the spot.
After sunset in Obertauern the fun continued with night-skiing on the Edeleweiss piste, and a skidoo ride up to the Gnadenalm for fondues, then a completely bonkers sledge run down. Braking is by digging your heels in. I survived but lost most of the rubber on my soles. (Another pub quizzer: Q; ‘Rubber Soul’? Did that come before ‘Help!’? A: Help! was first)
Goodbye fun Obertauern, Hello lovely Leogang and some daft branding. The area is dubbed…wait for it, ‘Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn’. Mad. The interconnected 270kms of pistes are a delight and very, very green…environmentally that is. The award-winning lift energy-recovery system delivers heat to the lift station, workshops, wet rooms, and surrounding restaurants.
A district biomass plant heats houses and hotels, including the five-star Puradies, home for the next three days. Sitting in the extraordinary bar made of 16,000 wood blocks styled from local wood and stone by owner Michael Madreiter, sipping their own Mattari gin it felt like paradise, or Puradies.
We accessed the Skicircus at bottom right on the map, zigzagging left and up to the 1,790m Kohlmaiskofp; below us Saalbach bathed in sunshine. Skiing here is a journey, each peak and valley different. It’s feasible to ‘do’ the circus in a day, but not with a proper lunch, our next stop. The Weiseralm sits above Hinterglemm, the ‘centre’ of our mental map. Reservations-only gourmet eating. For meat-lovers, Sepp Kröll’s Pinzgau cows, affectionately called “my girls” by him, graze the summer slopes around the restaurant. Oysters for me thank you.
Thence into Saalbach, a pretty, full-on Austrian village, onion-domed church, cobbled streets, river-running through. Charlie, our guide, pointed away north. Charlie was Austrian but, having married a Watford lady, had an alarmingly accurate Norf Lundun twang. “Michael”, he said with a wry smile, “that’s where that painta guy usta live.” Berchtesgaden… Hitler’s retreat.
Auf wiedersehen Leogang, Hallo Kitzbühel. I’d better come clean right now. I love it; the beautiful mediaeval town, the infamous Hahnenkamm race, the gorgeous Tirolean scenery. We lodged in the five-star A-Rosa Resort Hotel way out of town, an unlovely labyrinth. However, I perked up after a memorable meal at one of Austria’s finest restaurants, the Tennerhof. And so to bed, a view across the valley of the moonlit Strief downhill course.
I’d been banging on about Kitzbühel to the others. At 2,000m it’s not high, but the extensive 215kms of runs are swoopy, tree-lined, oozing history, glamour, and charm, and dotted with super restaurants. We stood, mouths agape, at the start of the racecourse, marvelling how racers launch down 85 per cent gradients at 75 mph, airborne up to 80m. On sheet ice.
As a break from our green skiing some snowshoeing with the lovely Marieka Fürpaß, two hours up and up, through pine forests along a hunter’s trail to lunch at the delightfully modest Kelchalm Bochummer Alpine Club hut. The simple pleasure of cool beer, fried eggs and potatoes.
Still in the Tirol we travelled west up the Zillertal valley to stay at the four-star Hotel Wöscherhof, overlooking summer pastures, a short ride to the 90 kms Hochzillertal Ski Area and lunch at the fabulous Wedelhütte where you can stay for €1,440 a night with a bottle or two of 2016 Jahres Edition wine €1,625 a pop.
Next, another daftly named area, ‘Mountopolis’- surrounding two serious 2,000m peaks, the Penken, and Ahorn. Fast gondolas whisk you up from party-town Mayrhofen. Above the clouds a hot chocolate at the surreal Schneekarhutte, a cross between church and pyramid. Then down over some exposed shoulders to tree-lined pistes, 142kms of them. Poor cover during our March visit made runs to the valley impossible.
The temperature rose and snow began melting as we moved to Montafon in Vorarlberg. Largely unknown to Brits, it’s what estate agents call ‘up-and-coming’ and aimed at the mass family market. Our hotel, the TUI Blue, was a car ride from the Silvretta Park lift, a 10-seater gondola spookily operator-free.
Photovoltaic power feeds the valley and mountain stations and underground parking and we plugged the Audi into one of the thirty e-charging points. Nearby was Golm and the Hüttenkopfbahn cable car, first in the world to be powered by the sun. Here things became very strange.
Not only were we in a place seemingly named after a Tolkeinesque creature, but the power of the sun that had transported us up was fading fast. Storm Celia was blowing sand 3,500kms from the Sahara to dump on us. Pistes turned yellow; the sky apocalyptic. Skiing became impossible in the slush. Only one thing to do…drink wine. The Vinnova wine bar sits at 2,000m and from here we drank very acceptable Riesling thinking this might be THE END OF THE WORLD.
It wasn’t of course, but the memory of the sunny days of three weeks ago faded as we moved to our last resort, Lech, beloved by my companions, unknown to me. Just as I had blathered on about Kitzbühel so had they had about Lech. Sadly, we were not to see it at its best, but our boutique hotel, the Stafeli, lovingly run by the Birk Family, made up for the sandy snow. Lech’s 300kms of pistes are a playground for all comers, including the rich and famous,
Diana brought Harry and William here to learn skiing…while they were still talking. In town, five-star hotels rub shoulders with crazy après-ski bars but one of the most exclusive is a taxi ride up the hill in ‘millionaires row’, Oberlech; the Burg Hotel. Over our last supper, we reflected on our #FourInAQuattro adventure: We’d journeyed our way across Austria in all its Fifty Shades of Green, showing it’s possible for green skiing when you know where to look..
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