A family road trip through Austria’s Tirol

25th April 2014, by Ben Moore

Galtür Lake, at the end of the valley in Tirol

Galtür Lake, at the end of the valley in Tirol

As a family we’ve skied in various places but remarkably never, until now, Austria. So this Easter we embarked on a road trip taking in the three Tirolean resorts of
Galtür, Obergurgl and Mayrhofen. The question is, can a road trip like this, with all the packing and unpacking involved, ever be successful — particularly as a family?

We weren’t in a hurry after the schools broke up, so we started by taking a P&O Ferry from Dover to Calais. I’ve always been a big fan of the ferries – we had a civilised breakfast on board and our boys had time to stretch their legs, before the long peage drive. We’d booked a Novotel at Mulhouse for the Saturday night – which was seven hours from Calais. The next morning we completed the drive, passing through Switzerland before arriving at Galtür at midday.

Galtür is the last town at the end of a valley that is also home to the party resort of Ischgl. It’s a compact resort perfect for beginners and intermediates. We stayed at the self-catering Sesvenna Apartments, in a simply furnished but spacious two-bedroom place.

Galtür is a standalone ski area with the highest lift rising to 2,500m. There are some lovely runs heading down towards a massive lake and dam. Plus off piste ski routes – a chance to wander off the groomed pistes in areas designated as safe. This is particularly significant for Galtür, which still bears the scars of a fatal avalanche in 1999 that swept down into the valley, killing many tourists and locals. You can see the enormous protective stone walls subsequently built behind buildings during the drive up the valley.

One down two to go. After a morning skiing we threw the bags (slightly less well packed this time) back in the car and headed back onto the main motorway towards Innsbruck. It took less than two hours to get from Galtür to Obergurgl.

We were staying at the four-star Hotel Alpenland on a half-board basis. The family-run hotel was extremely comfortable, the staff friendly, the breakfast and dinner was of a very high standard and beautifully presented and the location was superb – you could click your skis on from the piste behind the hotel and ski down to the main chair and gondola. However do they really have to charge €2.60 for a carafe of tap water at dinner? And shouldn’t ski hotels be offering free Wi-Fi rather than charging the €21 for three days that we paid?

Obergurgl and its accommodation is on the valley floor and the ski area is up at the top of the mountains. So each morning you need to take one of the main lifts to get to the actual skiing. Fortunately Austrian lift systems are fast, comfortable (the chairs have screens you can pull down to shield you from the harsh wind and sideways snow) and efficient. And we never queued.

In Obergurgl, by far the most impressive skiing is over at Hochgurgl

Obergurgl is high – the top lift goes to just over 3,000m. The runs at the very top were wide and very cruisy, although first thing in the morning they were hard and icy too. This season has been a warm one generally, so it was no surprise that the runs back down to Obergurgl turned horribly slushy by early afternoon. The skiing is actually spread across three mountains and by far the most impressive skiing is over at Hochgurgl, which has a viewing platform at just under 3,100m. There are also some fun off-piste areas with a shallow gradient that make them ideal for children to practice in the powder.

Stop number three was the Zillertal valley, which is home to Mayrhofen and the Hintertux Glacier. Zillertal was two and a half hours from Obergurgl and our accommodation was the four-star Sport Vital Hotel, about five miles from the Hintertux Glacier. Once again superb food, a comfortable family room (boys on a sofa bed, us in a double behind sliding glass doors) and a very inviting indoor pool and sauna area.

I’m happy to admit I found it hard at first to grasp how Mayrhofen works but fortunately we had Stefan Wierer, a wily ski and mountain guide, to show us around. Mayrhofen is made up of four ski hills – Eggalm, Rastkogel, Penken and Horberg – and it’s a sprawling set of runs and lifts scattered across the mountain tops. The skiing goes up to 2,500m here and like Obergurgl the lower runs became very heavy, very quickly due to the warm April conditions. There is plenty of variety, from children’s beginner zones through to wide pistes, a snow park and a few steep challenging blacks.

We also popped up to the Hintertux Glacier, but rather than ski we took a trip into a series of natural crevasses hidden below the pistes. Known as the Ice Palace, this is a great alternative attraction for families. You can do the hour-long tour in ski boots, but there are lots of ladders to climb up and down, so snow boots are a better bet. Plus take sunglasses to avoid being blinded by the brightness of the snow when you come back out from the crevasses.

Ben Moore with his two sons in the Hintertux ice palace

We covered around 900 miles over ten days, taking in three Austrian resorts – so did it work? The driving was pretty easy and the packing and unpacking more than once on a holiday wasn’t too much hassle either (we got used to it as the trip went on). Certainly staying in hotels on a half-board basis is essential though, as not having to worry about meals has been a massive bonus. We drive all the time to ski resorts – mainly because we have four pairs of skis and boots to take with us – but until now we’ve never gone further than France. Everywhere else always seemed and awfully long way. This Easter’s family ski adventure has proved that not to be the case. All four of us are rather taken by the Tirol.

Ben Moore is co-founder of paralleltrails.co.uk

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