Ischgl, Austria: the ski resort that rocks the world

by Cathy W

St Anton and Kitzbuhel are well-known to UK skiers but Ischgl, in the Paznaun Valley, is catching up. With a long season, cross-border skiing, a good lift system – and a rock concert – you can see why

Ischgl rocks. Don’t take my word for it. Just ask the thousands of screaming fans gathered on the Idalp plateau for the Top of the Mountain concert which marks the beginning, and end, of every ski season. Over the years, it has attracted such pop luminaries as Sir Elton John, Lionel Ritchie, Beyoncé, Kylie Minogue and Leona Lewis. The 2009/2010 season was opened by chart-topping American singer Katy Perry, in her one and only European concert this year.

Ischgl’s ability to pull in rock’s big hitters only adds to its already considerable appeal. The Germans have been coming for years, attracted by an excellent lift system, easy resort access, reliable snow, glitzy hotels and memorable, if loud, après-ski which starts soon after the ski slopes close and continues almost until they re-open. We Brits have been a little slower to appreciate Ischgl’s many attractions, not least its impressive ski domain, a compact, largely traditional village and the fact that it’s a great choice for groups of mixed abilities. Now, at last, it is gaining a British following of note.

The skiing

When it’s not rocking its socks off, the Idalp plateau (at 2,320m) is the gateway to Ischgl’s slopes. From the resort, two gondolas go up to Idalp – the Silvrettabahn and the Fimbabahn. A third, the Pardatschgratbahn, serves the Pardatschgrat area. That’s the other thing about Ischgl – the lift system, too, really rocks. There are 40 lifts in total, serving more than 230km of piste and ski itineraries with the capacity to transport a staggering 78,000-plus people per hour. Since skiers spend a disproportionate amount of time going up, and rather less going down, the quicker – and warmer – the transportation the better. Some of the resort’s best runs are from its high point, Palinkopf (at 2,865m), from where it is possible to ski down to Gampaernalp (1,975m) on one side or over into Samnaun (1,840m) in Switzerland on the other. Samnaun is the only duty-free resort in Switzerland, so take a rucksack and stock up – particularly if it is watches or jewellery you are after. You will definitely need it.

Ischgl not only has a reliable snow record and a long ski season which often stretches into May, but also plenty of runs that are high up, making them immune to the vagaries of the weather. Runs back to the village are an exception to this and can get overcrowded and out of shape. If necessary, avoid this by dumping your skis and boots in one of the lockers at Idalp and taking the gondola back to town instead.

The snowboarding

Boarders are well catered for in Ischgl, thanks to the Snow Art Park above Idalp. It’s divided into three areas, depending on ability. It also hosts major boarding events, such as the World Rookie Finals, all of which helps make this one of the best parks in the Alps.

The family resort – Galtur

Good as Ischgl is, just 10km (six miles) up the road is the traditional family-friendly village of Galtur – easily reached by the resort bus, which is free with a lift pass. Set around a church and surrounded by stunning scenery, this pretty resort sits at the end of the Paznaun Valley – so there is no through traffic. The first ski lift was built in 1950 and Galtur has been welcoming skiers ever since. Favoured by Ernest Hemingway, who came here in the 1920s and wrote An Alpine Idyll, it hit the news for all the wrong reasons in 1999 when a catastrophic avalanche killed 31 people. Since then, an extensive state-of-the-art avalanche protection system has been installed at the Alpinarium where there is also a permanent memorial to those who died.

Galtur is a quiet, pleasant place for families with a very manageable 40km of pistes served by 10 lifts. If it seems too quiet or lacking in divas, Ischgl is only a bus ride away. Oh, and if you are in Ischgl at the beginning or end of every season, access to the Top of the Mountain concert is free with a valid lift pass.

Getting there

The nearest airport to Ischgl is Innsbruck (100km, or 60 miles, away). Munich is 230km (about 143 miles) from the resort and Zürich 238km (approximately 148 miles).

Where to stay

The four-star Hotel Elisabeth, next to the Pardatschgrat gondola that accesses the main slopes, is truly a ski-in, ski-out hotel. It has excellent food and lively après ski. There’s a pool and sauna to relax at the end of the day, too. 

In the centre of town, the friendly, family-orientated four-star Hotel Jägerhof has good-sized rooms, many of them with balconies. Its Wellness area includes a Finnish sauna, whirlpool and steam baths

The Hotel Garni Alpenglühn is a good-value three-star hotel by the Silvrettabahn cable car. Its big buffet breakfasts make a great start to the day. The hotel’s relaxation area includes a sauna and solarium. 

In Galtur, the four-star Hotel Almhof is right by the Alpkogel lift for those who like to get straight to it. Inside, the two-floor spa has an indoor pool, whirlpool, gym and sauna area. Tanning and massage are also available for a fee.

Where to eat

Since Ischgl treats après-ski with gusto, there is no shortage of good restaurants. The Trofana Alm (+43 5444 602, at Dorfstrasse 91 is an old wooden barn on two floors which is both a bar and a restaurant. It has a famously lively atmosphere – and the food isn’t bad either. For ribs and fondue, try the Kitzloch (+43 5444 5618) at the Pardatschgrat lift. La Nona (+43 5444 5247, at the Hotel St Nikolaus does good, tasty pizzas.