Ski holidays in Austria
If you're a skier who lives for steep couloirs, challenging black runs, big mountain lines and all the other joys that high Alpine terrain brings, France and Switzerland will always have the edge. But, for everyone else, Austria ticks a lot of boxes and is closing the gap on France as our favourite place to ski. No place does biscuit-tin beauty quite like Austria: think quaint cobblestone squares, narrow lanes, ancient churches, all set against a backdrop of rolling peaks. Alpbach is so picturesque, it was voted 'Austria's Most Beautiful Village' back in the 80s (and it hasn't changed much since then).
Best for beginners: Alpbach
What Alpbach lacks in altitude (it's situated at just 975m) it makes up for in looks: the village is considered the prettiest in Austria, thanks to its quaint traditional chalets and pine forested landscape. In a snowy winter, there is some great skiing on offer too, especially for beginners. There are nursery slopes easily accessible from the village, and the ski area is made up predominantly of red and blue pistes, with lots of gentle, unintimidating cruising – with even more variety on offer, thanks to the new link to the Wildschönau ski area. Best of all, the slopes are rarely crowded, so you have plenty of space for practicing your turns. The local ski schools have a good reputation and low prices, perfect for people who don't want to fork out wads of euros on their first trip.
Best for experts: Kitzbühel
Set against the Wilder Kaiser mountain range, this is a large, diverse area ski area that will suit intermediate and advanced skiers best – especially those who like their slope-time with a big dollop of adrenaline thrown in. The resort is famous for its three-kilometre World Cup downhill course, the Streif, which is a steep, un-pisted, often icy and mogully run that promises to get your knees shaking in your ski boots. There are plenty of other challenging red and black runs spread throughout the resort, as well as some good off-piste spots around the Pengelstein peak – book a guide to show you the best.
Best for off-piste enthusiasts: St Anton
Located in the heart of the Arlberg region, St Anton is the place to be when a snow storm hits and you have a pair of fat skis strapped to your feet. The off-piste skiing is exceptional, from the big, open bowls under the Valluga peak and the empty powder fields on Rendl to the trees off Gampen (note: check on the piste map which wooded areas are protected, no-ski zones). If you're skiing lift-accessed lines, make sure you set the alarm clock – the good stuff gets tracked out quickly. For fresh snow days after a dump, pack your skins and avalanche gear; there are some excellent local guides who will show you the best powder stashes.
Best for families: Obergurgl
While some people are put off by its undersized ski area (just 24 lifts across the interlinked Obergurgl-Hochgurgl network), it means that Obergurgl has remained quiet and family friendly. There are dedicated children's beginner areas at the base, where little ones can make their first turns on skis with qualified ski instructors, and a variety of gentle greens and blues higher up for once they've found their feet. Long lift queues are rare, too. There are also plenty of off-slope activities on offer, including a cinema, bowling alley and husky-sledding excursions (bookable locally).
Best for freestyle skiers: Ischgl
It's up there with the best of Austria's resorts. Not just in terms of its pistes (relatively high, snow-sure and extensive), but also in terms of its freestyle scene. The ginormous PlayStation Vita park on the Idalp plateau is one of the best in Europe, with a beginner, public and pro lines, revamped each year. There is also an airbag jump for skiers looking for a softer landing. There is another park at Velillscharte, and also a small park on the Swiss side that has obstacles built into the snow, such as barrels. Remember to wear your armour.