“Relax if you can” is Ischgl’s motto and for a high quality, luxury ski destination the place is hard to beat.
Walking down Ischgl’s main drag opulence hits you like a diamond-encrusted knuckleduster. Four and five star hotels rule the strip. Our choice was Hotel Piz Buin – all the luxury I could wish for but also crucially just 50 meters from the main lift.
With check-in just 90 minutes after leaving Innsbruck airport, and the lifts so close, I was beginning to understand “relax if you can”.
The lure of luxurious pampering is never more than a finger click away but it is important to remember that the skiing in Ischgl is also outstanding.
The main ski area features a fantastic bowl emanating from a high alpine meadow – the “Idalm”. Surrounding ridges provide pistes facing in all directions including a long run down to the duty free Swiss village of Samnaun. These high alpine meadows are a feature of Austrian ski areas generally, and because meadows need much less snow to be skiable than rocky pistes, the “depth of snow” stats are somewhat meaningless when comparing resorts in different regions. Ischgl, partly attributable to its high meadows, has one of the longest ski seasons in the alps.
For passionate skiers, finding untracked powder after a big snowfall is the Shangri-La. In this pursuit you are usually in competition with 100s of other powder junkies. Here is where the cost of living in Ischgl is your ally: it prices out many of the twenty-something ski bums who will always beat you to the best snow. Even a week after the last snowfall, with my guide, we were able to find plenty of untracked, safe snow. Bouncing through the trees down to the imaginatively named C4 lift or higher up on the ridge there was plenty to choose from.
For less passionate skiers the “relax if you can” is well catered for by the mountain restaurants. We enjoyed a meal at the newly built Pardorama restaurant. With floor to ceiling windows it must qualify for one of the finest views in the alps. Waiters are clad in black, velvet waistcoats adorned with golden stars –this was serious dining.
The place to be seen at the end of the day is the Restaurant Vider Alp. Just below the Idalm (2,300m) it catches the best of the afternoon sun. Arriving just in time for a schnapps it was clear a fair few had had a fair few, and with a good 1,000m of vertical drop down to Ischgl, it was wise to steer well clear of fellow skiers.
Back in Ischgl and after a restorative apple strudel back at the hotel, I noticed that on closer inspection a Burger King had somehow got past the town council… perhaps the invasion of ski bums was imminent.
The next day my daughter and I got the ski bus 8km down the Paznaun valley to Kappl. This place could not be more different. The ski area is much smaller than Ischgl and there is a palpably more relaxed atmosphere. Where Ischgl has the latest multi-seated, super fast, heated chair lifts, Kappl was making do with lifts from decades ago. The serene pace of one particular chair lift, slowly drifting up through the pine forest, was a lovely throwback. Where Ischgl is all designer labels, Kappl’s guests couldn’t care less.
There are of course excellent beginner areas in Ischgl but the relaxed, utterly unintimidating feel of Kappl is perfect for a low key family holiday and the ideal place to learn. The slopes are all on the sunny side of the valley and there are 4 specially designed, covered “travellators” to make those first few hours on skis easier. For particularly tentative first time skiers they had even created a piste with a rise at the bottom to help alleviate the sense of losing control that many beginners fear.
Part of the reason for heading to Kappl was the toboggan run. Just before the lifts closed we rented some toboggans and set off down the 6km of specially designated toboggan run. Down through the forest along a mountain track with banked turns for the more proficient to race round. I was very much in the camp of just keeping the thing straight and avoiding careering off into the woods. A fabulous way to end the day, particularly if you stop at the Bockalm restaurant on the way down for some warming drinks.
We were certainly able to relax in both Ischgl and Kappl. If relaxing comes with a budget then staying in Kappl offers plenty of scope but if you want to rub shoulders with rich, famous and probably some infamous then Ischgl is it. The final clincher for me is the après-ski so, when Covid permits, I will certainly want to throw myself into the Schatzi Bar or the Kuhstall – both keystones of Ischgl’s famous party scene. I might even apply to be one of only 300 members of the Mountain VIP Club – who wouldn’t want to join a club with Paris Hilton and Nicole Scherzinger as members?
Offices: www.ischgl.com, www.kappl.com
Hotels & Restaurants: www.pizbuin-ischgl.at, Pardorama Restaurant, Vider Alp Restaurant
Ski Schools: www.skischule-ischgl.at, www.schischulekappl.at
Resort Information (Silvretta Arena Pass): 45 lifts covering over 290km of piste
Getting to Ischgl by air: 100km Innsbruck; 175km Friedrichshafen; 215km Zurich or 240km Munich.