More casual and laid-back than the glitzy resorts of France and Switzerland, Austria’s ski scene exudes an old-world charm, with trail and lift networks linking small Alpine villages surrounded by spectacular snow-covered peaks. From most of these cozy villages, you can ski all day without ever repeating a run, whatever your level of experience, for Austrian terrain ranges from some of the world’s steepest runs to gentle slopes and trails perfect for learners and youngsters.
Although prices have risen a bit in the past couple of years, Austria’s popularity with international skiers is boosted by its value for money. Holiday packages, lift passes, lodging, dining, and ski schools still cost less here than in the French or Swiss Alps, and you’re sure of warm hospitality and high service standards, as well as sophisticated lifts and snow maintenance. Austrian skiing is also not limited to winter — glaciers provide year-round snow, and most ski resorts are only an hour’s drive from Innsbruck, Salzburg, or Munich international airports.
Changes for the 2020/2021 Ski Season in Austria: In response to recent public safety concerns, the Austrian government has created standardized guidelines that must be followed by all ski resorts. Face coverings will be required in all closed areas, including lodges and lifts, and wherever two meters of distance cannot be maintained. Gondolas and other enclosed lifts will operate at lower capacity and higher speeds to limit exposure time.
The biggest change in the ski vacation experience will be the banning of all après-ski events and activities. Expect more outdoor dining options and enhanced take-away service. It is very important to check each resort’s website for updates, as circumstances can change rapidly.
Find the best place to visit for your next winter vacation with our list of the top ski resorts in Austria.
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. St. Anton am Arlberg
St. Anton am Arlberg
The best known of the ski resorts in Austria’s Arlberg, St. Anton is one of Europe’s — and the World’s — top resorts for serious skiers, with some of the most challenging runs in the Alps. It holds an important place in ski history as the site of the first ski club in the Alps, which began here in 1901. If you’re an expert skier, this is the place to be. It’s no place for beginners, although strong intermediates will find plenty of skiing in its 280 kilometers of terrain.
Reaching heights of 2,800 meters, St. Anton is known for its off-piste opportunities for advanced skiers and its mega-moguls. The longest downhill piste in the Arlberg is in St. Anton, aptly named “The White Thrill.”
Lifts leave right from the village, a car-free cluster of shops, cafés, inns, and hotels. The latter include some highly rated luxury properties at mid-range prices, such as the beautiful Himmlhof, within a short walk of ski lifts. In normal years, the village is a lively place, well-known for its boisterous après-ski scene, but this season all après-ski activities have been banned, and restaurants must close earlier. Also, the ski kindergarten won’t operate this season.
A ski bus can take less accomplished (and less daring) skiers to the nearby slopes of Lech and Zürs, both of which are included in the regional Arlberg lift pass, covering a total of 340 kilometers of slopes and pistes. Some of these other areas are also connected to St. Anton by new lifts that link to ski pistes on the other side of the Flexen Pass. St. Anton has one other advantage: you can reach it by train.
While St. Anton is the best Austrian resort for expert skiers, Kitzbühel is the top choice for everyone else. Charming and romantic, the walled and frescoed town of Kitzbühel, in the Alps between Salzburg and Innsbruck, is indisputably one of Austria’s loveliest towns, and it’s closest to the glamour of the high-end Swiss resorts. But aside from its luxury hotels, smart boutiques, and fine dining, Kitzbühel is a skier’s dream, and its traditional town appeals just as much to family members who don’t ski.
Ski race fans know Kitzbühel for the annual Hahnenkamm, the toughest of all downhill ski races, on terrain that reaches 85 percent vertical in places. But the 170 kilometers of skiable pistes and slopes have plenty for all skill levels, as well as the added allure of cute little mountain huts scattered along them, where you can stop for warming drinks and snacks.
Skiing is in three areas: the Kitzbüheler Horn; the much larger Hahnenkamm; and Bichlalm, a small area for free riders. In addition, a short bus ride links Kitzbühel to the SkiWelt, adding 280 kilometers of trails served by 90 lifts. Both are included in the nine-area Kitzbühel Alps AllStarCard.
Kitzbühel’s 10-person gondola lift and the six-person, high-speed detachable chairlift with bubble covers will operate at reduced capacity to maintain proper distance between passengers.
Although Kitzbühel abounds in luxury hotels and attracts its share of glitterati, it also has plenty of small family-run inns for budget travelers.
3. Lech-Zürs am Arlberg
Lech-Zürs am Arlberg
Now connected to nearby St. Anton by the new Flexenbahn cableway, the village of Lech is a favorite bolt-hole for royalty and celebrities, with its cluster of high-end lodgings and an air of exclusivity enhanced by its remote setting. That said, Lech also has a number of budget-friendly lodgings that, coupled with its wide range of terrain, make it an approachable choice for families as well. Zürs is considered Austria’s most exclusive ski resort, smaller, quieter, and less self-conscious than places like san Moritz or Courchevel, but no less upscale. It is a particular favorite for off-piste skiers who revel in its range of backcountry terrain.
The tiny village of Zug is about five kilometers from Lech and connected to it by cable car, making it a peaceful, low-key alternative with access to the same ski terrain. Between the two, there are 350 kilometers of terrain at a high enough altitude to assure good snow. “The White Ring” run in Lech Zürs is the stuff of legends, and soon to be added is a spectacular new ski run, called the “Run of Fame” and following the link between Zürs and Stuben/Rauz.
The snow levels and the area’s isolation can be problematic for those who must come and go on a schedule, as a snowstorm can close the pass, making access from the east a much longer journey.
Both powder hounds and snowboarders love Mayrhofen for its outstanding terrain parks and its vast open snowfields on the higher slopes. But there is plenty here for all levels of skier and boarder, and value prices. In fact, a German newspaper named Mayrhofen the best value ski area for the money.
As at other resorts, the 24-seat gondola and 10-seat gondolas will operate at reduced capacity this season. The 10-person Möslbahn gondola connects with the Horbergbahn cable car, and its slope is now a Ski Movie Run, equipped with cameras, so you can have a video of your skiing.
The six snowboarding areas of the Vans Penken Park have their own quad chairlift, as does a dedicated kids’ park. The area-wide Zillertaler Superskipass covers 489 kilometers of pistes in the whole valley, served by 177 lifts. The intermediate Mayrhofen/Hippach facility has 159 kilometers of runs, almost 100 percent of which are covered by snowmaking. Austria’s steepest groomed ski run, Harakiri, has a 78 percent gradient.
With a high altitude and linked to two glaciers, Sölden is assured some of Austria’s most reliable snow, with the added appeal of almost year-round skiing on the glaciers, which reach to a high point of 3,250 meters. Although warming climates make this less certain, it is not unusual to find skiers here from September through June. It’s only an hour’s drive from Innsbruck, but was largely overlooked by international skiers until it was used as the setting for the 2015 James Bond film, Spectre.
Its mixed 150-kilometer terrain makes it more versatile than many resorts, and although it has a higher percentage of gentle and intermediate runs, the glaciers and off-piste skiing give experts plenty of options, especially on the Gaislachkogl mountain. Rettenbach also has more challenging terrain and has been the venue for the World Cup circuit since the 2000/2001 season.
The two glaciers and the three different mountains are connected by actual runs and lifts, so skiing between them is not a series of cross-country catwalks. What the village of Sölden lacks in picturesque charm, it normally makes up for in exuberant après-ski life. But that will be missing this season, with indoor and outdoor dining allowed only at seated tables. Masks are required until parties are seated, and restaurants must close by 1am.
6. Ischgl and the Silvretta Arena
Although in prior seasons it was best known as the après-ski capital of the Alps, Ischgl has a lot for serious skiers to love, too. The high altitude and number of north-facing slopes assure good snow, and its excellent lift system covers the largest ski terrain in the Eastern Alps. The Silvretta runs are perfect for intermediate skiers and offer them the chance for cross-border skiing into Switzerland, a thrill usually reserved for experts. You’ll also find some long, wide cruisers in these six valleys.
Experts have plenty of terrain, with challenging black trails and off-piste skiing. Boarders are especially happy here at the Ischgl Snowpark, with new rails, boxes, and obstacles. New last winter, joining the previous year’s addition of the Palinkopfbahn chairlift, is the Gampenbahn, a six-person high-speed detachable chairlift with bubble domes and heated seats.
Ischgl, renowned for having the liveliest après-ski scene in Europe, will be much different this season, with all activities canceled and venues closed. All hotel guests must provide proof of a negative test.
7. Söll and the SkiWelt
The second largest ski area in Austria and the major resort of the dozen SkiWelt villages, Söll offers some of the best value in the Austrian Alps. Although it provides skiers with 280 kilometers of pistes served by 90 lifts, the charming Tyrolean village is filled with budget-friendly accommodations and dining.
The terrain is largely geared to intermediate skiers, with fewer places to challenge experts. Ski activity courses delight children as they practice their skiing skills.
The SkiWelt is linked to Kitzbühel through Westendorf and Kirchberg, adding another 170 kilometers and 54 lifts, although these require a separate lift pass. Although the area is at a lower altitude than many Alpine resorts, the slopes are about 80 percent covered by snowmaking.
8. Zell am See
Zell am See
The spectacular views of the lake ringed by soaring snow-covered peaks are so overwhelming that skiers at Zell am See may have trouble concentrating on the snow. But they don’t need to worry that there will be plenty of it, at least on the Kitzsteinhorn glacier above Kaprun, accessible on the same ski pass. The town is large enough to offer some diversion for non-skiers, who can also spend the day in Salzburg, only about 100 kilometers away.
Skiers who prefer a quieter setting and are not keen on Zell am See’s famous après-ski scene can find peace and more budget-friendly lodging in nearby Schüttdorf, which has lift access right from its center.
The villages of Saalbach and Hinterglemm, near Salzburg, combine with the nearby resorts of Leogang and Fieberbrunn to make Austria’s most extensive linked trail network, with some of its most modern and sophisticated lift systems. Despite the comparatively low altitude (1,003 meters and 1,060 meters respectively), the resort’s good snow history has made it one of Austria’s most popular.
The combined terrain, called the SkiCircus, forms a ring of mountains, which total more than 200 kilometers of ski runs served by 62 lifts. These are arranged in such a way that ambitious skiers can make a circuit rather than repeating the same runs. New lifts include the Kohlmaisbahn, a 10-person gondola, and Asitzmuldenbahn, an eight-person high-speed detachable chairlift with bubble covers and seat heating.
The region is especially good for families and for beginning and intermediate skiers, including enough terrain so that they can sample plenty of variety and with runs that stretch the entire 1,000-meter vertical. Ski runs go right into the centers of Saalbach and Hinterglemm.
Saalbach, the larger of the two villages right at the base of the slopes, is a traditional Austrian mountain village enhanced with boutiques and upscale hotels. Hinterglemm is quieter, more budget-friendly, and better for families. Free ski buses connect Saalbach-Hinterglemm and Leogang.
Begin with a cluster of traditional stone-and-timber Tyrolean buildings that’s been named Austria’s prettiest village, then add the snow-covered slopes and peak of Wiedersbergerhorn, whose top station is a 15-minute gondola ride above. From here, the view stretches across the entire Ski Juwel Alpbachtal Wildschönau ski domain.
An eight-person gondola links the Alpbach side with the Wildschönau valley, connecting the Ski Juwel resorts of Reith, Niederau, an Oberau for a combined 145 kilometers of runs, one of the largest trail systems in the Tyrol.
Along with the two gondolas that ascend Wiedersbergerhorn on the Alpbacht side is the gondola to the Schatzberg, the highest peak on the Wildschönau side. The steeper runs are on the Alpbacht face, with more gentle cruisers and beginner slopes on the Wildschönau. About 78 kilometers of the runs are intermediate to upper-intermediate, some extending from the top to the valley floor.
Beginning skiers will like the wide-open runs in the Skiweg area. At Reith, the pistes are lighted on some nights.
Despite its postcard good looks and good variety of terrain, Alpbach is one of Austria’s most budget-friendly ski towns.
Innsbruck, a lovely old city on the River Inn, is not really a ski resort, but it’s included here for its easy cable-car access to world-class skiing, right from its center.
Six different ski areas surround Innsbruck, each accessible by a short bus or cable car ride. A single OlympicWorld ski pass gives you access to more than 300 kilometers of ski trails in nine areas, including 50 kilometers of intensive skiing on the Stubai Glacier for experts. Although it varies from year to year, Stubai may open as soon as early September.
Closest to the city center is Nordkette, reached by a funicular and cable car, but with some of the Tyrol’s steepest runs and off-piste terrain, it’s not for beginners. A full 87 percent of its terrain is for expert skiers, seven percent each intermediate and advanced (double diamond in US marking standards).
The Hungerburg-Seegrube is also for experts, leading to the challenging terrain of the Hafelekar. Intermediate skiers should head for the Axamer-Lizum, 10 kilometers from town in the village of Axams or the Muttereralm area.
All levels of skiers will be happy in the village of Igls, where Innsbruck’s most popular ski area, Patscherkofel, was home to the 1964 Winter Olympics. It’s a short tram ride from Innsbruck and a good base for families with both skiers and non-skiers.