As the saying goes, all good things come in pairs, something the Austrian city of Innsbruck knows only too well having orchestrated the magical combination of city and skiing. Picture traditional markets lining cobbled streets, domed churches flanking the river and snowy branches framing colourful architecture – all guarded by towering mountains.
And it’s those mountains that offer over a dozen ski resorts within an hour’s radius and house 308km of runs, which are predominantly serene, smooth and spacious. It’s no surprise then that the city has hosted the Winter Olympics twice, in 1964 and 1976, as well as being the location for filming Channel 4’s The Jump.
But you don’t need to be a professional skier to appreciate the alpine offerings. Innsbruck is a metropolis of options for all levels, mixed-ability groups, families and for the type of skier who balances their days with mornings on a gondola and a gluhwein come the afternoon. It’s the kind of hybrid holiday that keeps everyone happy.
On the piste
To unleash Innsbruck’s full potential, purchase the Ski Plus City pass – a one-stop ticket with access to every attraction of interest in the city’s vicinity, each run at the 13 ski resorts, plus three spas and the transport to get you everywhere you want to be. For seasoned slope addicts, that will be the resorts of Nordkette – ideal for blue-bird skiers, thanks to its south-facing couloirs – and Axamer Lizum, whose wide pistes make it a dream ride. There are also off-piste options at Kühtai (a narrower resort), Elferbahnen, Bergeralm and Patscherkofel. Ski under the stars at Bergeralm in the Wipp Valley along the 9km of floodlit runs for an evening to remember. If you’re a fan of a broad run, the Stubai glacier, Austria’s largest, is the perfect family day out with plenty of space to turn and take your time through 108km of runs, most of which are blue and red with views of the Dolomites and Switzerland. And what’s more, it’s open from October to June for more than a season’s worth of skiing.
The highest peak in Innsbruck reaches a respectable 2,260m, but despite the magnitude, it still caters for miniature skiers at family-focused resorts Muttereralm, Serlesbahnen, Hochötz and Rangger Köpfl. And for those progressing with the sport, ideal options are Glungezer and Schlick 2000.
If you really want some motivation to improve your skiing, pay a visit to the Bergisel Ski Jump (included in the ski pass), designed by famed architect Zaha Hadid, and created to terrify even the most experienced of athletes.
For an authentically Austrian experience, catch the Christkindl market from mid-November to January, offering the reassuring comfort of culinary treats such as bratwurst, gluhwein and pretzels, as well as beautifully crafted wooden gifts for your loved ones.
A glittering emporium awaits you at the Swarovski Crystal World – which is worth the longer journey to the outskirts, and if your ski legs can manage it, climb the 133 steps to the top of the City Tower for unrivalled views. If it’s just the highlights you’re after, also included in the pass is a hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus, and after that you can head to one of the three spas that are part of the package.
You will be spoilt for choice with food options in the centre of Innsbruck, but Adlers restaurant provides chic contemporary dining with rooftop views. If you fancy a little luxury, be sure to try Stubai valley’s best-kept secret – Schaufelspitz restaurant.
When it comes to picking accommodation, Stage 12 Hotel (Stage12.at) puts you at the epicentre of the city’s action and within easy reach of the buses ready to take you to the slopes. Alternatively, at Kühtai, there is an igloo village (Iglu-dorf.com) that will host you overnight, and if you’re brave enough, you can even join the workshop to build your own house made of ice.
Need to know
• The Ski Plus City pass is an essential, with access to 13 resorts, 22 tourist attractions, plus your transport. Passes range from two to 20 days – a five-day pass is €230, including a lift pass.
• The buses in Innsbruck don’t have special ski storage on board, so be prepared to balance in your boots and with your kit.
• Spas in Austria welcome nudity, with some areas banning swimwear, so be prepared to hide your British blushes or check the rules in advance.
• To polish your poise on the piste, try the Carv app. Like a digital ski instructor, it involves attaching sensors to your boots while the app guides you through your headphones.
• For great hotel packages that are up to the minute and offer free cancellations up to five days before arrival, visit Innsbruck.info. There are several to choose from, but a three-star city break costs from €208/£188 per person and includes three nights’ accommodation on a bed and breakfast basis, a welcome gift and one 72-hour Innsbruck Card.