Reporter: Andrew Walker
I think it may have been Steve Wardle who suggested Ischgl as a destination for the February 2017 trip. It’s one those places I had heard of but never really thought about, bundling it with the names of countless other Austrian resorts I’ve never been to. I still knew next to nothing about it until we arrived, other than that it was renowned as one the party capitals of the Alps and that the local authorities had recently imposed a curfew on revellers who, presumably having gone straight from the slopes to the bars, then ventured onto the streets after 8pm still in their skiing regalia. The penalty for breaking the curfew is a fine of up to €2,000. As far as the skiing is concerned, the Daily Telegraph on-line guide rates it as 3 stars out of 5 for beginners, 5 for intermediates and 3 for experts.
Armed with this knowledge, I expected to have a good holiday but nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly not with the huge range of skiing available at the premier French resorts, but I was delighted by what I found, and would certainly consider going back. The skiing was extensive and very varied, with plenty of off-piste opportunities, which some of us made much use of, especially as we had two days with very respectable snowfall and fresh powder.
The resort is a curious mixture of ancient and modern. Spread over the border into Switzerland, and the resort of Samnaun, the ski area has evidently been expanded and upgraded over the past few years. There are three very smart gondolas from the town (at 1,400m) to the centres of the main skiing hub at around 2,200m at Idalp and 2,600m at Pardatschgrat, and with one quaint exception of a leisurely two-seater chair, the chairlifts were generally bang up-to-date, many of them eight-seaters and most of them having canopies (some of them in a rather funky amber) which as it turned out was rather useful because it was slightly cool and breezy some days.
There is rustic Austrian charm and brave modern architecture, both in the town and on the slopes. Down back streets there are charming restaurants where you can order traditional Tyrolean fare, and ubiquitous Italian fare (i.e. pizzas) from Dirndl and Lederhosen-wearing waiters and waitresses (but not necessarily in that order), and on exiting you might be greeted by the sweet aroma of cows and hay from a barn across the street (cows having been banned from skiing after the famous incident in 2013 when several of them were involved in a brawl in a lift queue following a very long and bibulous lunch—although to be fair it was later established that they were in fact skiers dressed in cow costumes, but by that time the ruling had been made, and due to a quirk of Austrian law couldn’t be rescinded).
The weather was kind to us. The first day (Monday) was clear and sunny, which meant that we could find our way round the resort and see where we were going. The light was rather flat on Tuesday but a number of us joined up with the SCGB rep, Tom, who introduced us to more of the resort, including some untracked breakable crust (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, but then you can knock it). Wednesday dawned with several inches of lovely fresh snow, and on what was billed as intermediate day Tom managed to satisfy the interests of all because there were so many places where you could venture off-piste into the powder and rejoin the piste lower down. Just as important, he led us to a traditional Austrian mountain restaurant (the BodenAlp) where I could indulge myself in that most authentic of local dishes, Currywurst. Mmm... The wind got up a bit that afternoon and there was a storm forecast, with urgent warnings on the Austrian side to those from the Swiss side to return to Switzerland immediately, but it didn’t really come to anything and I think it was just a ruse to empty the Austrian slopes a bit.
Thursday brought more fresh snow, so we snuck round avalanche barriers and down through the trees, and later had a detour, clipping into Switzerland and back into Austria via a completely untracked valley, or at least it was before we messed it up, and we found some very nice snow on leeward slopes. Friday was more leisurely, with lunch in a seriously authentic Swiss restaurant made of thousands of intricately- carved bits of ancient wood, held together by the lack of anything better to do, and creating the distinct impression that if you removed the right piece the whole shebang would collapse in a heap.
Saturday was windy. I mean very windy. So windy that there was talk of turning some of the lifts into down lifts so you could get blown back to the top, but there were some sun-drenched little enclaves out of the wind with some nice off-piste diversions. However, by lunchtime the order had evidently gone out to close most of the ski area, and most people headed back to the hotel in the next hour or two, before the clouds came in and it started raining. By that time I think everybody had had such a good time that no-one really minded. The rain turned to snow overnight, leaving Ischgl looking like it ought to in winter. Most of us weren’t leaving until 2pm so we packed, mooched around town while the clouds cleared, and had another groestl/wurst/pizza/goulash lunch washed down with some lager or other.
The full area lift pass included the neighbouring resorts of Kappl and Galtur, which some explored and reported on favourably. There is an added benefit, which is that the senior lift pass starts at the age of 60. It is as everybody knows many years before I reach that milestone, but the €40 discount is something to look forward to.
The hotel (Chalet Hotel Abendrot) was excellent, with a large lounge area. The noise in the dining room did get a bit loud sometimes, but the food was very good. We were far enough from the centre of town to avoid the noise from any itinerant party- dwellers, but close enough to make a trip to the KiWi Bar (where the SCGB rep held court each evening), which was only a short excursion for good cheap wheat beer and excellent music, mainly 20th century BritRock. The only drawback to the bars is the fact that the Austrians still haven’t got around to banning smoking in public places, but it wasn’t too bad. And if I really wanted to nitpick I could say that the six or seven walk to the lifts was a bit of a step down from Courchevel, but you can’t have everything can you? There are two travelators (who the hell invented that word?) on the way to the Fimbabahn lift, with photos on the walls of some of the acts who have graced the stage at the Ischgl end of season concerts, and it’s a pretty impressive line-up. According to Wikipedia, Paris Hilton has visited the village. Well, so have I.
The only casualty during the week was Alan Brown who at one point inexplicably ventured on-piste rather than into the fresh powder, and did his left knee in (see the photo on the SCoM Facebook page), fortunately not badly but it put the lid on his skiing for at least a couple of weeks.
Ischgl is a place most of us would definitely consider returning to. And it’s only 80 minutes from Innsbruck Airport. Heavens above, you could almost walk it.