Michael Cranmer revisits Ischgl, one of Austria’s top ski resorts to see how Ischgl Is Reinventing Itself As Austria’s Top Ski Resort instead of a party town.
Ischgl has grown up. When I first came 18 years ago, like passive smoking, the testosterone was hard to avoid. From the hard drinking that started around noon in the mountain restaurants, to the dirndl-clad scanties table-dancing in the Schatzi Apres Ski bar. None of those young ladies sported the central silk bow around their tiny waists – the local signal for ‘virgin’. “Too many dicks on the dance floor” a colleague noted.
That’s all changed, and very much for the better. Ischgl Is Reinventing Itself. Let’s see how.
I fled a damp, dank and dreary UK seeking this ski-junkie’s first snow of the winter on November 24th. Ischgl has one of the earliest opening (and closing) season dates and it didn’t let me down. After a white-knuckle descent – last flight in before Innsbruck airport was closed to high winds and snow – the wipers on my transfer taxi were working overtime and so was my anticipation.
Checking in at the Zalwonder Hotel I did a double-take. Surely this used to be the Hotel Martha, homely, traditional, family-run, old-style? Now Tina, daughter of said Martha, is behind the desk after overseeing a whirlwind 4-star renovation; cosy, understated wood, huge windows overlooking the Trisanna river and town only 5 minutes’ walk away. Up on the roof just sky between the heated outdoor pool and the Milky Way. Lovely staff, lovely rooms, lovely place. Still homely. My idea of hotel heaven.
Be Careful What You Wish For.
Throughout the spring and summer, a skier’s thoughts and dreams turn to the mountains and snow, snow, snow. My dreams were shattered at 04.40 by the unmistakeable thump! thump! thump! of avalanche blasting. Snowflakes were swirling under the streetlamps like shoals of silver fish. Had I wished too hard? But nothing was going to stop me skiing on my two precious days in Ischgl.
A short walk to the Silvrettabahn lift and up to 2,320m and the huge Idalp bowl, epicentre of skis schools, restaurants, and a spider’s web of lifts. Ischgl is an intermediate’s paradise, nothing too challenging, easy to navigate, miles of pistes to savour…when you can see them. It was colder than a traffic warden’s heart up there, but visibility between flurries was steadily improving.
Happiness is a toasty bot and Ischgl has lots of heated chairlifts including the Gampenbahn to Palinkopf at 2,864 m marking the border with Switzerland and Samnaun, Ischgl’s linked resort and my favourite piste, the fabulous 61 km ‘Smuggler’s Run’ one-time route of Ischglers avoiding Customs Officers seeking unpaid taxes on perfume, watches, and jewellery sold at vastly reduced prices there. No smugglers today, run closed and only one way down a red hill-hugging traverse, 20 below, 43 km wind blowing me backwards. Head hunched, eyes searching for the safest line, try to avoid lethal ‘Death Cookies’.
On to Black 20. Only way to describe this…survival. Seems never-ending. Eventually Reds 32 and 24 and some shelter but as still as cold as a sheet of tin. It’s time for a cockle-warming stop in Paznauner Tayar, renowned party bar. It’s only 11.00 but already all tables are ‘reserved’. Maybe the Ghost of Old Ischgl isn’t quite dead yet? Even the outside bar has customers. Frosty der Schneeman perhaps? I settle for a La Bomba, hot choc and rum, better than a shot of morphine right there.
Lift Me Up
Early lunch at Idalp, acceptable given the circumstances, then readying for another of the cards in Ischgl’s royal flush, the Top of the Mountain Opening Concert. Since 1995 the tiny town has hosted music royalty celebrating the first and last snow. 300-odd local families are shareholders in the lift company, Silvrettaseilbahn AG.
Truly sharing the Goose That Laid The Golden Egg, these canny mountain folk, many hotel owners and only a generation away from their farmer forebears, reinvest their considerable profits into the latest lift technology and snow making, and put on world beating concerts each mid-November and late-April. Elton, Kylie, Tina, Lionel, Robbie, and Dylan –
Rock Kings and Queens – have all serenaded skiers enjoying guaranteed snow cover and snug lifts courtesy of those shareholders’ investments. These million-euro-plus gigs cost punters just the price of lift pass. This one’s an American GRAMMY-nominated, award-winning musician. Social media audience 260 million, 45 billion streams worldwide.
And The Answer Is…
Demi Levato?? Wiki-check then a call to my teenage grand-daughters. Squeals of delight. “You’re so cool. Wish we could come!” Mm.
They knew lots of her super-hits, I only recognized one, ‘Let It Go’ from Disney’s ‘Frozen’ – appropriate given the weather. Cossetted inside the toasty VIP area with a journo’s eye view; food and drink for the asking, as 10,000 fans rush to the huge stage. Snow still dumping, wind to match. The band in regulation rock-chick black, plug in and hit ear-bending opening chords. Spotlights sear the sky, a tiny figure runs on, ankle-length black puffa-coat, beanie hat pulled low, and Demi’s off.
The fans love it. Big burly Nickolas behind me knows every word, fortunate, because I don’t. She sings her heart out, but after 90 minutes Demi and fans have had enough. Back-along thousands of thirsty skiers released into the pretty Tirol town would have meant intoxicated mayhem. But sophistication has arrived.
Best Bars in Town.
In the town square the Kuhstall (Cowshed) once the epicentre of beer-and-shots excess, was about as busy as a Wetherspoons in Weston-Super-Mare on a wet Wednesday. Fire and Ice opposite was buzzing but not busting. Strictly in the interest of research, off to the Winkler Café-Pub, Dorfstrae, remembered from earlier visits, still mixing an excellent Bloody Mary.
Then the Down Under, Persuttweg, good conversation with owner Patrick, ski instructor by day. No bouncers or calls for endless rounds of ‘Little Willies’ (Williams pear schnapps). Last stop the Hotel24Steps, Silvrettaplatz, owned by my good friend, the charismatic Andreas Steibl, former CEO of the Tourism Association, who for 20 years made Ischgl what it is today. This where you’ll find die verrückt, the Craic, in Andy’s bar, ‘round midnight.
Endless Kilometres. Endless snow.
I wake to find I’ve got the Golden Ticket. Heavy snow overnight, the sun has got his hat on. I turn my back to it and revel in apricity. There are 238 kms of pistes waiting for me, groomed to perfection. Straight up to Greitspitze at 2,872 m 60cm of tip-top snow. Different world to yesterday. I let loose down Red 13, nobody around, wide corded loveliness. Big carved turns, shorts turns, any turns you want. Everybody laughing. Second day of the season, such stuff as dreams are made on. Ski, smile, repeat.
Aching quads tell me I need lunch. Booked for 2.00 in the perfectly-named Panorama Restaurant at Idalp. Happy, exhausted, the first glass of Grüner Veltliner followed by a superb Tuna steak, cannot be surpassed. I made a rule long ago not to ski down to village level after lunch. The piste can get icy and crowded with those who, perhaps, have taken one glass to many.
As if the skiing and concerts were not enough those canny shareholders have come up with a new truly astounding addition this season –
the Silvretta Spa. New, 75 million euros- worth… a two-storey suite of 8 pools, steam baths, heated cabins and more saunas than you can shake a birch twig at, and, on the roof, a panorama sauna where I eased away the aches of a hard, happy day on the mountains and reflected on a good career choice.
Final indulgence, 13-course dinner at the 5-star Superior Trofana Royal hosted by Martin Sieberer, Austria’s top chef. Tastes extraordinaire; tiny mouthfuls minutely crafted, fun and fabulous. A chocolate trolley straight out of the Wonka Factory.
Ischgl’s come a long way from laddish beer, burgers and birds and I love it even more.
Tell Me More About how Ischgl Is Reinventing Itself
For me details about how How Ischgl Is Reinventing Itself As Austria’s Top Ski Resort visit Ischgl Tourism
Return flights from London Gatwick to Innsbruck Airport with easyJet cost from £42
Transfers (Provided by Austrian Tirol)
A private six-person taxi transfers to Ischgl from Innsbruck Airport costs from €213/£185 with Four Seasons Travel: Airport and Train Station Transfer (tirol-taxi.at)
An adult six-day pass with Ischgl/Samnaun costs €323/£281.
The 5-star Superior Trofana Royal offer fine dining Hotel Trofana Royal
The M75€ Silvretta Spa is a haven of luxury wellness. Silvretta Spa