Alpbach is a strikingly picturesque Austrian resort with a strong sense of tradition, the antithesis to the some of the larger scale resorts in the French Alps, says Gill Charlton.
Why go now?
Set on the flank of the Inn Valley, Alpbach is a strikingly picturesque Austrian resort with a strong sense of tradition, the antithesis to the some of the larger scale resorts in the French Alps. This winter, a long-awaited gondola is also up and running, connecting the resort to Auffach in the next valley and opening up a large ski field of mostly easy red pistes in a new area known as Ski Jewel.
Alpbach’s main street is lined with handsome wooden farmhouses. Iggi who runs the ski hire shop has a herd of cattle at the back, while the ski-boot maker Ferdinand Gschösser comes from a long line of village shoemakers, and many of the ski instructors work as foresters in the summer.
Heavy snowfall just before Christmas followed by regular flurries has also set Alpbach up for another long ski season. Its long blue and red pistes, many weaving through the forest, remain the most diverse and challenging in this new area. Quite a few face north and east so you can ski here into April despite the highest lift only reaching just over 2,000 metres.
British Airways (ba.com), easyJet (easyJet.com), Monarch (monarch.co.uk) and Thomas Cook (flythomascook.com) fly to Innsbruck from a good choice of regional airports. Journey time from London is two hours. Alpbach is less than an hour from Innsbruck Airport by taxi; 90 minutes by bus and train.
Buy a return ticket for the airport bus from the shop in arrivals (€4); regular trains to Brixlegg take 35 minutes, returns around €20 (£16). From here the Post Bus takes 15 minutes to reach the resort. Alternatively pre-book a taxi from the airport: €100 (£82) for up to four sharing.
Where to stay
Special Tip: The Alpbacherhof (0043 5336 5237; alpbacherhof.at) is the best four-star hotel in town. Sitting and dining areas are cosy with fires, dark wood and rich velvets. The bright, contemporary bedrooms are spacious and many have balconies with mountain views. There’s a spa and indoor and outdoor heated pools. Doubles from €93 (£76) per person half-board.
There are two fast gondolas up the mountain from each end of the village, both reached by ski bus. From the top of the Weidersbergenhornbahn (W1 on the piste map) ski down beneath the gondola to join a wide blue track through trees (piste 62a) which gives access to a choice of blue and red runs and some fun little off-piste bowls. As the sun rises, move across the pistes numbered in the 40s which curl down through the forest to the gondola’s middle station, a quick way back up the mountain.
Stop at the Asthutte, beside the W4 chairlift, for a hot chocolate topped with cream and a slice of homemade apple strudel. Afterwards ski down what is probably the most satisfying run in the entire resort: red piste 47 (or blue 47a) through the silent forest to the hamlet of Inneralpbach. The new Acherfeld gondola (W15) whisks skiers to the top of the Schatzberg, from where there’s a relatively easy red piste (nos 1 and 2) to the village of Auffach.
Lunch at the Gipfohit (0043 664 130 0871) on top of the Schatzberg which has a panoramic view over dozens of snowy peaks. It’s probably the best restaurant on the slopes with table service and finely cooked Tyrolean specialities (breaded pork escalopes and local sausages) as well as a tasty spaghetti Bolognese. Expect to pay £7 to £10 for a main course.
The red run from the Schatzberg back down to Inneralpbach stops at the Acherfeld gondola’s mid-station. It’s a tough red but the reward is a bottle of cool dark beer (nine per cent proof) bought from the artisan Kristall Brewery opposite the bus stop for Alpbach.
Join the apres-ski crowd for coffee and schnapps at the Postalm beside the ski bus stop in the lower village.
Walk to the Zirmalm Restaurant (0043 5336 5107) above Inneralpbach. The narrow lane passes old farmsteads and dips into wooded ravines. As everywhere in Alpbach, the food is hearty Tyrolean fare: mixed grills, river fish and warming stews. Start with a platter of speck: thinly sliced slices of locally dried mountain ham served with grated horseradish and gherkins. There is an excellent Austrian wine list. For a simpler meal find imaginative pizzas at the Reblaus or the Postalm.
Most visitors and locals are tucked up in bed by now, except at weekends when the beer flows late into the night at the Postalm and the Jak.
A free shuttle-bus service operates between the village centre and the lift stations.
Take the ski bus to Inneralpbach and head up to the Gmahkopf (gondola W12). Later in the season the snow is best on the higher pistes below the peak of the Wiedersberger Horn. There’s a long wide red run and an easy black down to a four-man chairlift and a large bowl of off-piste routes to keep expert skiers happy. Finish by skiing down route 66, another long winding trail through trees, open when the snow is good.
The spit-roasted chicken at Bogalm is so popular you have to order a day in advance (0043 664 325 4919). Juicy, succulent and with crispy spicy skin it is a real treat after a hard morning’s skiing. If the chicken has run out, try the pork Wiener schnitzel which overlaps the plate. Access is via a wide red run down from the Poglbahn gondola’s middle station.
Finish the afternoon with a visit to the village deli to stock up on delicious speck, local cheeses and honey to take home.
1. The ski lifts close on April 7. A one-day lift pass costs from €35.50 (£29); six days from €177.50 (£145).
2. Resort and piste information from Alpbachtal (00 43 5337 21200; alpbach.at).
3. Book taxis through Thomas Moser on 00 43 5336 20000; mobile 0043 699 1338 7228