Tag Archives: Ischgl

5/4/13 – April skiing: where to go for a last blast

Fabulous spring skiing in Ischgl two years ago. This year, those brown patches are white

Fabulous spring skiing in Ischgl two years ago. This year, those brown patches are white

To round off this snow-blessed winter in the Alps and escape the persistent winter chill of home, if you have a few days and a few pounds to spare I suggest you go skiing.

I have a final trip booked, to Val d’Isere – not a usual haunt of mine as I generally head for Austria, Italy or Switzerland, but it will be a nice change. Last time I stayed there, apart from one short press trip a couple of years ago, was when I was training to be an Inghams rep nearly 20 years ago.

Anyway, if I didn’t have that trip booked, here are the places I’d consider…

1. Engelberg in Switzerland. The top slopes are open till May 26, the town is lively, there’s accommodation for all budgets (including a youth hostel) and it’s only an hour from Zurich airport. There are also some brilliant local guides. Read more about that in my Telegraph article from last season about where to join off-piste groups.

...and when the slush sets in, here's what you can do instead

…and when the slush sets in, here’s what you can do instead

Zermatt, where the views are at their best at the end of the season

Zermatt, where the views are at their best at the end of the season

2. Zermatt in Switzerland. It’s open till May 5, the town is vibrant, busy and full of ski mountaineering folk – and the shops, for once, are offering plenty of end-of-season bargains on gear (not forgetting the pyjamas, nighties and underwear, at Calida, towards the top of the main street). Again, there’s lodging for all budgets. But it’s far from the airport, so go for a week to make it worthwhile. Read more in the insider’s guide (and here is page 2) I compiled at the start of this season.

3. Obergurgl in Austria. It’s open till April 28, and with the village at about 1,900m and most of the skiing between there and 3,000m, there’s very quick access from hotel or b&b direct to the snow. What’s more, there’s fantastic touring, with a great choice of day tours. It’s less than 90 minutes from Innsbruck, and if winter flights have tailed off by the time you want to go, you can fly to Friedrichshafen, Salzburg or Zurich instead. Read my recent piece in the Telegraph, and my off-piste article from last year, to find out more.

4. Ischgl in Austria. The lifts aren’t due to close until May 1. I went late in the season a couple of years ago and despite it not being a good snow year, there was excellent cover thanks to super-efficient snowmaking earlier in the season. There’s good touring nearby in the Silvrettas – hire a guide and stay overnight in the Jamtal Hut (open till May 4), for instance. Keen apres-skiers will know its reputation for lively bars, which is merited – read more in past blogs of mine, such as this one, by entering ‘Ischgl’ in the search box on the right.

Just think of the tan you will get

Just think of the tan you will get

Other late-season favourites of mine are St Anton in Austria, which stays open till April 21; Alagna/Gressoney/Champoluc in Italy (only till April 14, sadly – but lift passes are free till then if you book three nights locally, and it’s amazing value for food and drink); or Cervinia in Italy, which shares Zermatt’s slopes but not its prices (open till May 5). An underrated place probably not on your radar is the Engadine, where Diavolezza/Lagalb stays open well until May 20, and Corvatsch until May 5. The area offers excellent ski touring too – and don’t be put off that it’s in the St Moritz area: there are hostels and modest b&bs as well as swanky hotels.

Of course, you could always plump for Colorado or Utah, where a snowstorm is meant to be heading right now, or for snowy Scotland, where conditions are excellent.

I’ll leave you with the details of four great cut-price deals that landed in my inbox  this week from Inghams, which might be worth a look if you can make a dash for the Alps at the last minute. I’m sure the other tour operators have similar offerings at equally appealing prices.

St Christoph, Austria. £349 for a week’s chalet-board (that means half-board, including wine with dinner and CHOCOLATES afterwards) in a chalet hotel with a pool and doorstep skiing, including return flight from Gatwick to Innsbruck on April 13.

St Anton, Austria. £349, chalet-board, similar to above. There’s no pool but the place, Chalet Gampen, looks pretty good, with whirlpool, sauna and all that stuff. Departing from Gatwick on April 13.

Tignes, France. £369 at Chalet Hotel Le Dome, described as ski-in, ski-out. Similar deal as above, flying to Chambery on April 13 from Gatwick – easily the best airport for Tignes, being about 90 minutes away.

Val Thorens, France – the high-altitude end of the Three Valleys. £369 at Chalet Anais, departing from Gatwick on April 13, flying to Chambery.

Happy holiday-hunting, if you have time!

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, France, Italy, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Off-piste, Ski touring, Switzerland, Transport, United States

5/10/12 – Chop ’em straight, stack ’em strong: the art of building an Alpine wood pile

This beauty is in Ischgl, Austria

This beauty is in Ischgl, Austria

Autumn has set in, it’s not long till the clocks go back and the blackberries (such as they were) are over. It’s the time of year when I light a fire in the evening – and that means it’s also time to get my wood pile in order.

It’ll be no surprise to skiers that the countries that lead the way in the art of building a successful wood pile are the mountainous ones.

The bars were traditionally used for drying hay, but this Alagna house also has lots of scope for wood storage

The bars were traditionally used for drying hay, but this house in Alagna, Italy, also has lots of scope for wood storage

From the villages of the Valais to the towns of the Tyrol to the dwellings of the Dolomites, householders across the Alps are masters in stacking them neat, stable, dry and, in some cases, high.

I have been photographing these labours-of-logs (sorry…) during my travels in the mountains.

We sledged past this Swiss super-stack in Gimmelwald, a lovely farming village just below Muerren in the Bernese Oberland

We sledged past this Swiss super-stack in Gimmelwald, a lovely farming village just below Muerren in the Bernese Oberland

As you can see, there are regional variations. Now I’m no expert, but what I think they all have in common is the following:

1. To make a good pile, logs need to be cut to the same length.

2. Larger logs are split to similar widths.

Here's another goodie in Gimmelwald

Here’s another goodie in Gimmelwald

3. Smaller unsplit logs – almost kindling-sized – are stacked all together, sometimes in their own section of the pile.

4. A good stacking place must be found.

5. Sometimes this place will have support at one or both ends, but often it doesn’t.

Freestanding stacks in Pontresina, in the Swiss Engadine, with perfect criss-cross ends

A store in Pontresina, in the Swiss Engadine, with effective criss-cross ends

6. To build an ‘end’, some sort of criss-cross system is used, such as two logs one way, then two at 90 degrees, on top; repeat up to desired height.

7. The pile does not necessarily need to be under cover – only the top layer gets wet or snowy – and if you leave any bark facing the elements, this is minimised.

Not as neat but it does the job. A wood store in a fjord-side hamlet in Steigen, Arctic Norway

Not as neat, but it does the job. A wood store in a fjord-side hamlet in Steigen, Arctic Norway

8. But most piles are next to a building with an overhang, such as most chalets have. In fact, it looks like many houses have been designed with a wood pile in mind.

9. The logs are usually very easily accessible from the dwelling.

10. Many households have a second, messier, pile of unsplit/chopped or partly split/chopped logs, which are being seasoned.

My dad has always kept a very organised, well-seasoned wood pile, and my parents installed a wood stove long before they became fashionable – which is probably partly why I started noticing other people’s ones.

The industrial wood-burner that heats half the ski village of Anzere, in the Swiss Valais

The industrial wood-burner that heats half the ski village of Anzere, in the Swiss Valais

And the village where I’ve done most of my skiing – Anzere, in Switzerland – now has a giant log-burner heating virtually the whole village (read about it in my Telegraph article here).

I, however, have only recently got the hang of dealing with wood. Or have I? Judge for yourself by looking at the little stack at my back door in Surrey – I know it’s not up to Alpine standards.

Peaslake, Surrey. How does it rate?

Peaslake, Surrey. How does it rate?

I confess that although I did the stacking, it’s my house-mate, Alex, who has been responsible for the sourcing and splitting.

Readers who know me won’t be surprised that I also have a box of easily ignitable material so I don’t have to waste money on smelly, synthetic fire-lighters.

As well as newspaper I’ve taken to hoarding loo rolls and egg boxes.

Amazingly, this is on the Isle of Wight. Its builder, Gert Bach, who runs the excellent Hillside b&b in Ventnor, is Danish

This is on the Isle of Wight. Its builder, Gert Bach, who runs the excellent Hillside b&b in Ventnor, is Danish

My uncle and aunt get their fire roaring – and fragrant – by adding orange peel, dried in a warm oven or on top of a Rayburn or Aga. I’ve tried it, and it works.

So I’m ready for winter. Bring round your loo rolls, egg boxes and orange peel, if you like – I can use unlimited amounts.

And finally, one of my favourites - another Gimmelwalder

And finally, one of my favourites – another Gimmelwalder

Meanwhile I think I’ll just go into the woods to fetch some kindling…

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Filed under Austria, Italy, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Switzerland

30/3/12 – Where to go for April snow?

Spring-like Ischgl slopes this time last year

Spring ski deals have been landing in my inbox thick and fast this week. Inghams has amazing April savings – Courchevel or St Christoph am Arlberg for £349, including flights and half-board – while Powder White has slashed hundreds of pounds off holidays in St Anton and Meribel and extended the season for several of its properties. I’m sure Crystal, Iglu Ski and other operators and agents have bargains as well.

Most cut-price offers are chalet-based – not my ideal set-up as I prefer b&b or self-catering to take advantage of “local life” – but when such great savings are on offer, no matter.

Do be aware, however, that even in a bumper snow year it’s still worth aiming high (a top of somewhere around 3,000m, I suggest) if you want quality conditions.

Afternoon ski-touring in the woods near Anzere

Even if – like in many places – you still have a metre of snow at village level, if it’s 20 degrees by day then that snow will be foot-deep slush by 2pm unless you’re properly high and – just as crucially – north-ish facing.

Last weekend in south-facing Anzere, which still has mountains of snow in the village (at 1,500m), by 1pm it was over, even on upper slopes (2,400m). I was happy to ski in the morning and go touring through the woods in the afternoon, or sit on the balcony or swim at the great new indoor-outdoor pool (more on this nice, affordable Swiss resort here).

The high slopes at Grimentz last weekend

By contrast an hour away in the Val d’Anniviers, the resorts of Zinal and Grimentz had wintry piste conditions from three of their top stations (each around 2,800-2,900m), and the week-old, tracked-out powder by the side wasn’t bad either. The crucial thing was that the worthwhile top slopes were north or north-east facing (the fourth top, which faces south at 2,800m, was heavy slush by lunchtime).

The other consideration is that places where you typically find lovely “firn” or “corn snow” off-piste at this time of year (caused by freeze-thaw) may not be as good as usual.

A wet-snow slide of the full snowpack that started on a slope of around 30 degrees and crept a surprisingly long way

In Anzere you can often ski almost every square inch of south-facing slope safely during freeze-thaw if you catch it at the right time of day.

However, the cracks in the snowpack that appeared in December – after 2m of snow fell on warm, bare ground – are still there. They haven’t responded well to blasting, but some readily slide off by themselves.

Sunny side up: lunch outdoors is a pleasure of a spring trip. Just don't necessarily expect to do much skiing afterwards

“Hors piste interdit”, read a sign at the top of Le Bate at Anzere, and patrollers were posted at strategic spots near the cracks, on the alert for one to turn into something like the lift-destroying, wet-snow slide of a few weeks ago near Valmorel in France (watch the footage here).

I may not ski this April, but if I was planning a trip for myself – an affordable week or long weekend with the hope of off-piste and enough late-season après-life – these are the places I’d consider:

The Guspis off-piste run at Andermatt in wintry conditions - but this is a good spring bet, too

Engelberg (Switzerland, nearest airport Zurich) – slopes to at least 3,000m, largely north-facing; open till 29 May; great guiding office (see my article about that here).

Monterosa (Italy, Milan or Turin) – Amazingly, until this resort closes on 15 April this Italian “three valleys” is offering a free lift pass to everyone who stays three or more nights (half-board) in Gressoney or Champoluc. The slopes go to about 3,200m and face in all directions, and there are legendary off-piste runs down wild valleys (with cheapish guiding) and superb, great-value food on and off the mountain.

Andermatt (Switzerland, Zurich) – Lower Naetschen will be closed, but the 3,000-ish-metre Gemsstock mountain has an amazing north-facing bowl and various back routes. Read more in my Telegraph report here.

Zermatt (Switzerland, Zurich or Geneva) – several high tops and possible guided descent of Schwarztor. Stay in the Walliserhof for a treat or the Alphubel for a bargain. My sister has found a super-cheap, central, family apartment but it’s such a steal that it has to remain top secret so she can always get in. Sorry!

...and when the slush sets in, here's what you can do instead

Ischgl (Austria, Innsbruck or Zurich) – up to 2,800-ish, but the main thing is that it has a lot of upper slopes and they face in various directions. A year ago we had a lot of fun there with Jim Costelloe, a Ski Club of GB leader who found us fabulous snow despite very scant cover. A friend and I even did an easy self-guided tour up a side-valley – although this year it would probably be less safe.

Tignes (France, Geneva or Chambery I think) – When there was virtually no snow last November, we had great conditions on the glacier. Stay on the upper slopes throughout the area for quality snow and see here for more about its group off-piste days out. Go the first weekend of May to catch the Black Shoes Telemark Festival’s 20th anniversary. The other high French resorts (Deux Alpes, Alpe d’Huez, Val Thorens) should be fine, too.

Obergurgl and/or Soelden (Austria, Innsbruck, Zurich or Salzburg) – They didn’t benefit from the big weather fronts in December and January, which approached from the north and blanketed the Arlberg again and again before arriving in the Oetz valley as wind. But now, conditions look great. Take the bus to the Aquadome at Langenfeld if it’s boiling hot in the afternoon and don’t miss the Nederhut après-ski on Mon, Wed and Fri.

I’m a great fan of St Anton, where I have been late in the season several times (most lately to do the Weisse Rausch, a mad annual race), but I recommend it less as a late-season place than my two other Austrian tips, as the number of its slopes that are really up near its tops, as well as being north-ish facing, seems to be fewer for its size, and rather scattered about, compared with other options. But if you like a busy town with plenty of après-ski, this is still a good bet well into April.

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, Italy, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Link to film, Off-piste, Racing, Ski touring, Switzerland

7/9/11 – This £18.99 book could save you big money this season

Required reading for the cost-conscious

On Monday night I went to the launch of the 2012 edition of Where to Ski and Snowboard. This annually updated, highly practical guide to ski resorts, geared to Brits, has been going since 1994 and is a brilliant read, packed with info, well presented and engagingly written. I have several past editions and have found it to be a winning present for keen skiers – as well as a great book to take on holiday so you can plan your next one.

The editors, Chris Gill and Dave Watts, are down-to-earth chaps with a background in consumer publishing (including Which? guides) who appreciate that a ski holiday is not only about mileage or vertical but also about food, drink, scenery, ambience and dozens of other factors.

WTSS’s 712 pages evaluate 400 resorts (in 120 areas) from Montgenevre to Meiringen to Mammoth, examining everything from proneness to queues to sureness of snow to liveliness of apres-ski. Preceding the country chapters are useful articles about gear, new lifts and developments and trends in holidaymaking. What makes the new edition an extra-brilliant buy, though – especially in this year of scary exchange rates and widespread belt-tightening – is its expanded focus on cost.

Chris Gill. He says: "The best value countries with good skiing and modern lift systems are Italy and Austria, plus some smaller French resorts"

Two years ago, Chris and Dave invented a system called the Resort Price Index (RPI), using data gathered by readers as well as by themselves, chiefly concentrating on the cost of ‘extras’ such as meals and drinks, to give each major resort an affordability rating. Last year they widened the RPI to smaller resorts. This year, they have extended it to ski passes, equipment hire and ski lessons, so readers can assess broadly how much they will spend in total on top of their costs of accommodation and travel.

It makes fascinating reading – and has thrown up a few surprises as well as confirming some stereotypes. Below I’ve picked out a few bits that interest me.

Of the 20 Austrian areas reviewed in detail, 12 are below the average RPI of 100 – and these include places I would love to visit this year, such as Schladming, Montafon and Obertauern. The cheapest of the lot is little Alpbach, at RPI 75 (which translates as £435 extra for a week, including a lift pass at £150, ski hire at £90, lessons at £80 and food and drink at £115). Of the rest, even snowsure, upmarket Obergurgl and on-the-up Ischgl come out only just above average at RPI 105. Lech is Austria’s priciest, at RPI 115 (the same as Meribel and Andermatt).

I’m pleased to see an enlarged Austria section, and it doesn’t surprise me that Brits are rediscovering its charms. Chris and Dave report that its investment in lifts and snowmaking, plus its reasonable prices, have been luring us away from our old friend France. The snag with Austria, I suppose, is that the apres-ski is so much fun that beer consumption might skew the true picture…

A whopping 11 of the 12 evaluated Italian resorts register an RPI below average, with only swanky Cortina – at a modest 105 – over 100. Among the lowest is one of my favourite areas, the Monterosa (RPI 80; £440 extra), home to brilliant off-piste, uncrowded pistes and charming villages. The bonus to visiting Italy, on top of the low prices, is the fabulous food – which, sometimes, is even free. In one Alagna bar after skiing we were ogling a neighbour’s spectacular platter of antipasti and wondering how to order it when our own appeared – free with our glasses of wine.

Of the French resorts, funnily enough, another of my favourites is keenly priced: Ste-Foy, a village near the Espace Killy region with great off-piste possibilities, has an RPI of 75. A raft of French spots have a near-average RPI, and to my surprise Val d’Isere, which I have always perceived as a rip-off, is rated at 100, spot on average. The most expensive French resort reviewed is Courchevel.

St Moritz tops the European resort price index

Unsurprisingly, given that you get roughly half the number of Swiss francs to a pound compared with four years ago, only two Swiss resorts have a close-to-average RPI, Meiringen (RPI 95; expect to spend £540 extra) and the lovely Val d’Anniviers (100; £580 extra). Some Swiss resorts, such as my lifelong holiday spot Anzere, have been dropped from the main section this year. For ideas on saving money in Switzerland see this post http://tinyurl.com/3vmrvvq.

If you’re on an extreme budget, turn to the pages for Romania and Bulgaria, whose resorts hold an RPI rating of 40 to 50. There, you can expect to pay as little as £215 on top of your basic package, with a week’s lift pass as low as £60, ski hire as little as £50, lessons £45 and food and drink for the week £60.

Conversely if you have cash to burn, Aspen and Snowmass in the US and St Moritz in Switzerland share an RPI of 150. According to Chris and Dave’s calculations, at Snowmass you would spend an extra £860 on top of your basic holiday price – comprising £340 for a week’s lift pass, £185 for ski hire, £215 for lessons and £120 for food and drink.

Finally, to save a couple of quid on the book itself (RRP £18.99), follow this link http://www.wheretoskiandsnowboard.com/the-book/buy/

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24/8/11 – A night out, in the afternoon

Apres-ski, pre-supper

I bring you good news. This winter one tour operator is supplementing the tradition of tea and cake in some chalets with beer and nachos when guests come in from the slopes.

I rarely stay in a chalet as I prefer to be free to eat when and where I like in the evenings and find the ‘sameyness’ of the chalet routine unappealing. However, if, like thousands of Brits, I was a habitual chalet-dweller, I would be drawn to this new tea-time option.

I find that if you get apres-ski done and dusted, preferably in your ski clothes, before supper instead of after, you still feel you’ve had a night out but you wake up on top form the next morning.

For people of my vintage, one downside to the beer-and-nachos chalets – operated by Crystal Ski in Val Thorens and Tignes – is that they are aimed at late teenage and twentysomethings (the clue is in the name, Riders’ Lodges).

So for those who yearn for their own beer-and-nachos rather than tea-and-cake moment, but feel they are too square or seasoned for a Riders’ Lodge, here are my top three ‘afternoon nights out’ in the mountains, all of which are do-able whether you’re a chalet-dweller skiving off tea and cake, or based in a b&b, apartment or hotel.

Rudi Gamper (right) with his friends Toni (middle) and Gebi in the late 1990s

1st prize: Nederhuette, Obergurgl – When I worked for Inghams as a ski host in the 1990s, I ‘had’ to take my group to this brilliant mountain restaurant three times a week for apres-ski. Owner Rudi Gamper has a winning formula: a rustic, atmospheric interior with rock-solid tables and benches, super-efficient service, excellent food at sensible prices, a decent sun-terrace and an umbrella bar. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 4pm he is the star of his own show, taking to the stage with a buddy and singing, strumming and squeezeboxing till at least 7pm when it’s time to locate your skis and wobble down the blue run home (or take the free skidoo if you’re not on skis). Their songs range from the Oetztaler Bergsteigerlied (a song about the joy of climbing), which incorporates a good yodel or two, to Pink Floyd, Europop and apres-ski staples. The Germans go especially wild when Rudi plays U2, and we always enjoy his rendition of Vest Wirginia. There’s much dancing, stamping and whirling, plenty of sweaty and unflattering ‘base layers’ on display, an array of nationalities and a spectrum of ages, from grandparents to ten-year-olds.

Ischgl's Trofana Alm at about 5pm

2nd prize: Most places, Ischgl – Brits are only slowly waking up to the allure of this now quite large village, where the Germans have been enjoying themselves for years. I skied here aged 10ish and then not until this year, having been discouraged by its reputation for ‘seedy’ apres-ski. However, the couple of girly bars are only a tiny part of Ischgl’s very lively 3.30ish-7pm scene, and if you opt for one of the rustic, pine-clad locales you should be ‘safe’. We spent from 4.30 till 6 in the Trofana Alm, a smaller and more bling-studded version of the Mooserwirt (see below). We liked the Kuhstall, too, and were told Niki’s Stadl, the other end of town, was a winner between slopes and supper. For more on Ischgl see these posts http://tinyurl.com/3rjoenl and http://tinyurl.com/3lhbyxe.

3rd prize: Mooserwirt, St Anton – Detractors say it’s crowded and over-rated, but if you get it right, the Mooserwirt remains one of the most fun places to pile into before supper. Read my blog on how to make the most of it: http://tinyurl.com/3jlzeae.

If the Riders’ Lodges sound more like your thing, as well as beer and nachos you will find modern ski-themed art, X-Box 360s, games (electronic ones, I think, rather than Scrabble), snowsport DVDs, walkie-talkies and a ‘snow guru’ – a sort of 21st-century ski host. Sensibly, though, they haven’t done away with that vital ingredient for a happy chalet: the good old log fire.

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1/5/11 – Scant snow, much fun

Easy spring off-piste

Last week, before and after Easter, I spent a few days in Ischgl, mainly because it was near St Anton, where I had to be for a race on Easter Saturday. As you can see from a post I wrote before Easter, I liked the place. In the past, I have usually opted for Zermatt or Obergurgl for late-season skiing – two of my favourite places at any time of year.

Surprisingly often, an improbable blanket of powder materialises in late spring, but sun and spring snow are just as likely to be in the offing – as they were this year. I adore spring snow – and if you don’t think you can have fun on very little of it, watch this (very short) film, taken by Ski Club of GB leader Jim Costelloe (who had been showing us round) just before Easter in Ischgl: http://www.youtube.com/user/yolandacarslaw#p/a/u/1/Q2dWVD_gr20.

Ischgl’s answer to the Mooserwirt

I also love the ‘holiday’ feel of spring apres-ski. In Zermatt, my favourite option, given enough snow, is a hut-crawl along the homeward Sunnegga run. Bands play in some huts, and you have a glorious view of the good old Matterhorn. If you’re holidaying with children in Zermatt – as my sister was last week – apres-ski might involve marmot-spotting while walking to Zmut or Zum See. Meanwhile in Obergurgl, live music at the Nederhuette, which is so cosy in winter, continues on the terrace at least three times a week until the Saisonsschluss.

A Kuhstall full of lovely cheese

Apres in Zermatt and Obergurgl is low key, but in Ischgl it’s quite a serious business. The likes of the Schatzi Bar (see previous post) cater for a minority: most Ischglites favour the Mooserwirt-esque experience (right down to the galleried building and playlist) offered by the Trofana Alm. As it’s not on the mountain, there are fewer ski boots stamping on the tables, and as this is Ischgl, not St Anton, there’s bling, war-paint and his’n’hers suits aplenty. My only complaint is that it all takes place indoors – in contrast to the Mooserwirt proper, which has a massive terrace. This is what the Trofana Alm sounds and looks like, by the way: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-RL8YKBh1Y&feature=BFa&list=ULzzwEFXtCyDg&index=3

Despite its busy apres-ski Ischgl remains firmly farmy

When the Trofana Alm winds up at 8pm an identical party continues at the nearby Kuhstall. It’s tremendously popular among all nationalities – from Germans and Russians to Scandinavians (the Brits barely figure) and lots of fun – I’m surprised more resorts don’t operate a similar soundproofed apres-style late-night Europop den. I admit I didn’t last beyond an 11pm supper, but maybe this was due to the other – much squarer – kind of apres-ski I had been doing earlier, walking in the meadows. Well, the Alps are a land of contrasts, aren’t they?

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Filed under Austria, Link to film, Off-piste, Switzerland

22/4/11 – If I tell you about Ischgl…

Quality, not quantity: the route to Samnaun

…I will be very unpopular with two English regular visitors to this Austrian resort who do not want other Brits to over-run the place. But as it seems to be such a fantastic spot, and as I think it will take several generations for Brits to gravitate away from Val Misere anyway, I’m going to spill the beans.

Colourful as well as comfy: the Samnaun side

Mention Ischgl, and unless people are already fans, or have been there for one of its mountaintop concerts, they will either not have heard of it or will have been put off by its reputation for slight seediness (for instance, there is a girlie bar in the basement of Burger King… although in fact I’d be more put off by the presence of Burger King). It’s quite easy to avoid these bars by the way – they are identified by some sort of heart or red silhouette outside.

'Entertainment' bars are clearly marked

The things that have impressed me in 36 hours here include the brilliant conservation of snow, the tiny numbers of people going off-piste, the amazingly fast, comfy and efficient lifts and the attractive, cheerful town. These pictures show how the piste control has managed to keep the home runs open – two to Ischgl, one to Samnaun on the Swiss side – in the face of very little snow indeed.

Today we skiied off-piste all morning on the south-facing side, in Switzerland, with the brilliant Ski Club of GB leader Jim Costelloe, and barely saw a soul. We sat on speedy, cushioned chairs and we never queued. We had a picnic lunch by a lake and skiied all the way back to town at 3pm on remarkably nice snow – right down to 1,400m. I think these pictures speak for themselves so I won’t go on about it.

Our food wasn't as good as the setting

And… shhhh! … it’s only 45 minutes’ drive from St Anton, where we have just arrived, as I’m racing in the end-of-season Weisse Rausch downhill tomorrow. I’m sorry to say that with all the best intentions I did not succeed in keeping the pre-race day alcohol-free: we had a schnapps at 11am in Samnaun in order to qualify for a free shuttle bus back to the lift; at our picnic someone brought wine, and although we avoided the Mooserwirt (see previous post), it seemed a shame not to celebrate our fantastic day with a red wine spritzer in the sun in the early evening.

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Filed under Austria, Off-piste