Head to these hidden gems for better skiing, quieter slopes and tasty, affordable food
I’m a bit of a sucker for a small ski resort. Somewhere where I can buy a plate of Käsespätzle for under €10. Or where I don’t have to spend half the day just navigating from one valley to the next. And most importantly, where I don’t have to elbow my way through bottleneck queues. That’s why most weekends I ignore bigger places like St Anton and Ischgl and stick to the local resorts closer to home. Here are a few of my favourite lesser-known spots from both the Tirol and the rest of the Alps.
I’m obsessed with this 23km resort near Innsbruck. It’s about as old-fashioned as it gets. First, there’s the long, rickety chairlift that takes you up from Tulfes, a small farming village 20 minutes from Innsbruck, up to the mountain. If it’s snowing, the friendly lifties give out blankets to keep you warm.
There’s just five lifts at Glungezer, two should-be-retired chairs and three long, steep draglifts. But the terrain they cover is some of the best I’ve skied. It starts in the trees, with wide family-friendly runs straddling the girth of the mountain. There are no snow cannons pummelling out icy crystals so in sparse years things can be a bit… er… bare. But in good years it means the snow feels amazing underfoot. The top half of the mountain is like a completely different resort made up of steep, windswept and totally wild pistes that remind me a little bit of New Zealand. Plus the off-piste is easy to access and more or less untouched. No fighting for powder lines here.
The food also deserves a mention. The Tulfein Alm is properly Tirolean, with wood-clad walls and friendly, welcoming service. There’s a menu filled with delicious, affordable Knödel (dumplings) and all the Schnapps you could ever want.
Would I recommend skiing here for a week? Probably not. But base yourself in Innsbruck and combine it with some other nearby gems; Patscherkofel, Nordkette and Axamer Lizum are all worth a visit.
Sonnenkopf is down the road from St Anton am Arlberg and even shares the same lift pass, but it’s like another world. While half of Sweden is battling for first lines off the Valluga, Sonnenkopf is almost always deserted. Why? I have no idea. It’s on the western side of the Arlberg pass, which means that when storms roll in from the west it gets absolutely dumped on.
It’s also one of those places that seem small when you look at the piste map (Sonnenkopf boasts just 29km) but when you’re skiing it seems to go on forever. I’ll put it down to the well-placed ski lifts and the long, varied runs that connect them. The off-piste terrain there is some of my favourite ever. It’s easy to access and as gnarly as you like. Pick from gentle powder runs between the pistes or epic backcountry descents right down to the valley floor.
If you’re staying in St Anton, Lech or Zürs then make sure you visit for the day. Or save some valuable euros and base yourself in one of the cheap hotels in Klösterle, the village below Sonnenkopf.
I had one my best-ever days skiing in Flumserberg. It was the first day of the 2012-13 season, it had been snowing for days and everything was completely untouched. My younger sister was living in Zürich at the time, and my mum and I were visiting her. All we knew about Flumserberg was that it was the closest resort to Zürich, just 75km away.
Even the journey there was stunning, with the train taking us further into the snowy mountains, skirting alongside Lakes Zürich and Walensee until we reached Quarten. Then it was up a long gondola to sun-soaked, snow-covered Flumserberg.
The most impressive thing about Flumserberg? It fits the diversity of a French mega-resort into 65km. There’s testing blacks, winding blue runs, mogul-riddled red runs and plenty of forests to get lost in, plus affordable (for Switzerland) restaurants serving up crispy Rösti. If you’re in Zürich for a weekend, it’s well worth the hour-long train journey.
Hinterstoder will always have a special place in my heart. When I first moved to Austria in 2010 it was my closest ski resort, just an hour away from the Upper Austrian city of Linz. It was the first “local” ski hill I ever visited, and it’s here where I first discovered the charm of small ski resorts.
Like a lot of Austrian ski resorts, it starts with a long gondola ride from the valley. At the bottom, which is just 600m above sea level, it’s hard to imagine much skiing. But as you travel up the gondola the mountain transforms beneath your feet, and you step out into a snow-filled bowl with lifts and runs in every direction.
Head up high and there’s wild and exposed powder runs mixed in with cruisey carving terrain. Down below you’ll find three different pistes that wiggle between the trees all the way to the valley floor. One of them, a black, plays host to the FIS Ski World Cup each year and has stretches of 50° slopes that will truly test your wits (and your skill).
My favourite thing to do is head all the way to the top (2000m) and bomb it all the way down to the valley. And perhaps reward myself with Kaiserschmarrn at the Bärenhütte afterwards.
Krvavec is another ski resort that’s super-easy to get to. It’s just 30 minutes from the capital of Ljubljana and just 15 minutes from the airport. I was worried that its proximity to a city would mean big weekend crowds, but despite visiting during New Year, I found it to be on the quiet side.
It’s one of those spots perfect for a day or two. It’s got 30km of pistes, but it’s spread across three peaks so feels a lot bigger. You get a real sense of travelling around the mountain without getting lost; most of the runs end up in the same place. It’s also a good choice for bad weather days. All but the very top of the ski area lies below the treeline, which adds to the homely feel of the resort.
There’s not much in the way of a town, but there is accommodation up on the mountain, including Hotel Krvaverc, the highest hotel in all of Slovenia. Better still, stay in Ljubljana and combine it with a city break.
Prices in Slovenian ski resorts tend to be cheaper than the rest of the Alps. Day ski passes, for example, are just €27. Combine that with an Easyjet flight to Ljubljana and €2.50 beers for one bargain of a ski weekend.