The start of the spring term meant an opportunity for us to go and explore some resorts new and old. Our main aim was to visit some hotels and ski areas across Austria
, but as we were flying in and out of Italy it also gave us the chance to explore the sunny side of the Alps too!
Early on a crisp Sunday morning Simon
(Head of Halsbury Ski), James (Ski Specialist), Sam (Ski Trip Coordinator) and myself (Paul, Ski Specialist) set off from Stansted to start our tour and to meet John, our Hotel Contractor who lives in Italy, at Milan Bergamo airport. Our destination on the first day was Santa Caterina
in the north of Italy
, and just a short drive from Bormio
We arrived late after a long drive, but not without sampling some fine pizza en route. We were only supposed to stay overnight here before heading off, but the resort was so stunning and the snow so good that we decided to stay and ski the next morning to get a better understanding of the infrastructure and some first-hand experience of the slopes - the advantages of a flexible itinerary!
We were up early to get the first lifts and everyone had an excellent morning on skis. We were particularly excited to see our very own Sam embark on his first foray onto the slopes. As he had four enthusiastic colleagues, all very experienced skiers, offering words of advice he did brilliantly, although we all knew it was my guidance that really stood out (pizza slice!).
Looking at the piste map really does not do Santa Caterina justice. It is a charming chocolate-box resort, offering varied skiing for all abilities. With slopes up to 3000m (including a beginners’ area right at the top) and doorstep skiing from our hotel Tres Baita, it is a great option all season. The Tres Baita is opposite the main gondola, with lots of space for our groups, and one of the best dedicated disco rooms/lounges that I have ever seen. There is also the possibility of skiing in Bormio as well, should even more variety be needed.
We dragged ourselves back to the minibus at lunchtime, in order to continue our expedition. We stopped in Livigno, a tax-free shopping haven. We were very taken with it and it’s an area we would love to be able to offer groups in the future, so watch this space…
We continued on via Switzerland
, where there was plenty of snow on the roads to keep John, our Hotel Contractor and designated driver for the week, on his toes. We finally made it to Austria
in the early evening and drove through St. Anton
to our first stop at the Hotel Sonne in Landeck.
The hotel has bags of space, with two restaurants, two seminar/film rooms, a games room, stube and even its own two lane bowling alley. Run by an enthusiastic and very experienced owner, and being close to the centre of Landeck, this is a great option from which to access the extensive and high-level skiing of St. Anton without the extortionate price tag that St. Anton itself commands.
After accepting a very welcome beer next to the roaring fire, we headed back out into the snow and made our way to Innsbruck, to have a little walk around the city centre and enjoy some dinner. By this point it was very late, so we climbed back into the van for the last leg of the journey, a stopover hotel which allowed us to get back on the road quickly the next morning. We all fell into bed shattered after an 18-hour day, but happy that we got some great skiing in and had travelled across three countries seeing some great ski areas.
Ski Juwel Alpbachtl Wildschönau
After a few hours’ sleep and a quick breakfast we were back on the road so that we could make good time to our next hotel, the Angerhof in Oberau. This resort has always been part of the Wildschönau
ski area, but this has now been linked by a lift to join forces with Alpbach, which has created the Ski Juwel Alpbachtal Wildschönau area, offering extensive skiing in a very pretty part of Austria.
We were very impressed with the hotel, again offering plenty of space for groups with two games rooms, pool tables, table tennis and air hockey, as well as a disco/karaoke room. This is certainly a fantastic option in which to experience true Austrian charm.
From here we drove to Wörgl and met with the new owner of the Gasthof Hauserwirt. This is a lovely hotel which has benefited from significant investment in the last couple of years. With lots of light wood and LED lighting, a large, well-maintained restaurant with an excellent kitchen and a brand new disco/karaoke lounge, this is a modern hotel with a traditional feel. Access into the Skiwelt
ski area which was, until this year, the largest interconnected ski area in Austria, is just 5-10 minutes’ drive.
After a quick coffee we got back on the road as we were keen to hit the slopes in Fieberbrunn. As we would only have a couple of hours free to ski we grabbed a sandwich en route to save time and allow us an extra run!
Again we were very impressed with the resort, which really is a hidden gem and offers lots of off-piste options for the more experienced skier. Brand new for 2015-16 is its direct links to Saalbach
, thanks to new lifts having been installed and new runs designed to create Austria’s largest interlinked ski area!
Although a lot of ski resorts in the Alps have struggled with a lack of decent snowfall so far this year, the snow Fieberbrunn has had already is clearly well looked after and the resort was making snow at every opportunity too. With more of the real thing forecast in the next couple of weeks too, things should be looking even better come the February half term.
After a quick blast to clear the cobwebs we came back down and headed over to our next port of call, the Hotel Niederstrasserhof in Oberndorf. The location is ideal as it allows groups to either ski Fieberbrunn-Saalbach
or the Skiwelt
. The hoteliers have run the hotel for years and know exactly what works for groups and how to keep them happy (plenty of quality food aimed at the British market, good service and, perhaps most importantly, a large sports hall and table football!).
From here and via a short detour into Germany (turns out it wasn’t a shortcut!), we drove on to our hotel for the evening, the Edthof in Eben im Pongau. With a swimming pool, disco room and movie room, as well as excellent food specifically catering for guests from the UK, this is a good choice for groups wanting to access the Salzburger Sportwelt
We checked out early the next day and drove round to Alpendorf to visit the Hotel Weitenmoos. We met with the owner and were very impressed. The hotel is perfectly set up for school groups and has been consistently updated and improved to ensure it stays relevant to the youth market. In-house entertainment includes an internet room, trampoline room, table-tennis room, table-football room, fantastic mountain-style disco hut & fire pit, and fantastic views from their three dining rooms. With easy access to the extensive Sportwelt slopes directly from the hotel, we are very excited to be able to offer the Hotel Weitenmoos to our groups.
We got back into the van and continued on to our final ski stop, the Mölltal Glacier. We took the ski train up from the base station (very quick!) and arrived in a real winter wonderland, with snow much deeper than the couple of inches that was on the ground in the valley. As the weather was good we headed straight up and got some fantastic skiing in up to 3,200m.
As you can imagine the snow was deep and crisp, and everyone had a blast. As the ‘Skihit’ lift pass also covers nearby Ankogel, offers skiing up to 2,600m, and covers a total of 180km piste around the area, this is a great option for groups wanting to travel to Austria at Easter on a budget, but stay in a great hotel and have guaranteed snow.
The weather started to close in at the end of the day, so we warmed ourselves up with some Gulaschsuppe (what else?) and had a last run down before heading up the road to our final hotel stop, the Bichlhof in Mallnitz.
This hotel is excellently run and the owners really understand the priorities and requirements that school groups have. The rooms are spacious, with chunky modern furniture and the hotel boasts great facilities, including a big games room with four football tables, two pool tables, air hockey and a separate table-tennis room.
There is also a teachers’ lounge with projector to allow organisers some much-needed down time in the evenings. There is a supermarket next door and the icing on the cake at this hotel is a separate dedicated disco room that students will love to spend an evening in. We also spent some time looking at the Dorfwirt, which is run by the same owners. It is another cosy hotel and groups are welcome to use the facilities in the Bichlhof too.
To get feel for the resort and a better idea of the amenities that the town has to offer, a couple of us decided to head into the centre that evening. After having a good explore, we felt that it was a great base for schools; a quiet, safe town that still offered plenty of amenities.
The next morning, via a detour back to the glacier station to collect some shoes that had been left at the top overnight (mentioning no names, but thanks Intersport for your help!), we started our long journey home, tired but happy, and full of enthusiasm for the new hotels and resorts we had seen.