It would seem easy enough to find resorts where the blue routes dominate. Unfortunately, there is no standard international system for assessing the difficulty of ski slopes, meaning you never know what you’ll encounter.
Austrian Alps for skiers
According to the Austrian classification system, blue routes are those with a gradient of no more than 25% in either a longitudinal or transverse direction, with the exception of short stretches in open terrain. And sometimes they can be really steep. In my opinion, skiing is most enjoyable on slopes with a maximum gradient of 20%.
So how do you avoid an unpleasant surprise? Of course, the best thing is to try and judge for yourself which slopes you like best. But for those who are still hesitant, I have prepared a list of some resorts where fans of blue routes will feel at home, along with a note of caution.
1. Skiwelt, Tirol – a wealth of opportunities
Skiwelt is the second largest and most modern ski resort in Austria, boasting 270 km of slopes, including over 100 km of blue! It connects no less than nine towns, from where you can easily reach the slopes: Brixen im Thale, Ellmau, Going, Hopfgarten, Itter, Kelchsau, Scheffau, Söll and Westendorf.
The most interesting routes for blue fans are in Scheffau and Ellmau, at an altitude of 1,500-1,600 metres. Söll is a little higher and its routes are more difficult, but it is possible to ski at night on the marked blue and red routes.
If you have a car, you probably won’t have any problems parking as the car parks are free and conveniently located near the lifts.
For those who like to do some sightseeing during their ski breaks, Skiwelt will not disappoint. Innsbruck and Salzburg are nearby, and you can also visit the Swarovski Crystal Worlds in Wattens – make sure you check for a discount if your host provides a Kitzbüheler Alpen guest card.
2. Sölden and Gurgl, Tirol — for James Bond fans
Sölden is well known to fans of James Bond films. In the winter of 2014/2015, some scenes from Spectre were filmed here, and the centre has cleverly used this fact in its promotion. There is a museum about the film on site – 007 Elements James Bond Adventure World – and admission is included in the price of a six-day pass, although what I liked best was riding the same train as Q!
This resort is quite high, with some of the slopes over 3,000 metres. This makes it perfect for a late season ski trip with spring in the valley and sun and snow and a glacier or two on the mountain. There’s also an unusual tunnel run – it takes a while to get to the glacier, but it’s worth it!
Sölden has about 144 km of slopes and almost 70 km of blue, along with the longest ski route in Austria. 15 km of blue and red routes stretch from the top of the Schwarze Schneid, across the glacier and the Rettenbach Valley.
In March there were no problems with either crowds or parking, and your pass can be conveniently collected from the machine without having to queue.
With a Sölden pass for more than two days, you can also use the Gurgl area, which includes Ober and Hochgurgl with 112 km of pistes and over 50% blue. Some of the runs are quite narrow, which may not be comfortable in heavy traffic, but there are also plenty of wide, comfortable runs with stunning views, namely routes 26 and 27.
And if you want to take a break from skiing, you can unwind at the Aqua Dome thermal spa in Langenfeld, just a few minutes’ drive from Sölden, take a picturesque walk around the Piburger See, or even try a slightly longer hike to the vantage point.
3. Nassfeld, Carinthia — for those who crave the sun
This is the largest centre in Carinthia with 110 kilometres of slopes, 30km of which are blue, although some of the red ones are also very pleasant. I would particularly recommend the picturesque route 71, which runs partly through the forest. There are 30 ski lifts, some of which are of an older design and climb quite steeply, so anyone with a fear of heights should be careful when choosing their slopes.
Nassfeld is known for being one of the sunniest resorts, with over 100 more hours of sunshine compared to the northern part of the Alps. Its proximity to Italy also gives it a special holiday atmosphere. The resort is in the lower part of the mountains, with most of the runs between 1,500 and 2,000 metres, so it may not be the best choice at the end of the season.
There is a large car park in Tröpoly, from where a train takes you to the gondola station. Parking in the other towns may be more difficult, especially if you don’t like getting up at dawn.
Although it is the largest in Carinthia, Nassfeld is outside the top ten largest ski resorts in Austria, so it might get a bit boring for a longer stay. However, for trips of up to a week it will be just right.
4. Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Salzburg and Tirol – forbraver skiers
This was the biggest disappointment of my ski choices so far. The third largest ski resort in Austria, statistically it has over 50% blue slopes and is described in many rankings and summaries as an excellent resort for beginners. However, an unfortunate choice of route may surprise you.
I remember on the first day of the trip, after just a few kilometres of struggling with the slope and the freestyle mogul skiers, my enthusiasm faded. I ended the day on a smaller slope and spent the evening planning routes for the next few days. I found the most pleasant slopes in Fieberbrunn – my favourite is 104, but you can also have fun on routes 105, 108 (which are quite flat and therefore less comfortable for snowboarders), 104 and 102. In Leogang, routes 217 and 219 are pleasant. We also spent a relaxing day on slopes 163, 164, 169, which can be combined to make a circular tour.
Parking is a little tricky here – in Saalbach and Hinterglemm you have to pay for parking, but in Leogang, Fieberbrunn and Vorderglemm you can park for free.
5. Lofer – perfect for the beginner
I discovered this tiny resort by chance, thanks to a leaflet in the apartment – when I arrived I didn’t realise there were any pistes in Lofer. Looking for a break after some pretty challenging runs in Saalbach, I decided to give it a try. Lofer has only 46 km of pistes, but 32 km of blue ones! And I was hooked on its beautiful, wide routes with a gentle gradient and not too much traffic. It might be boring for a longer ride, but it is perfect as a place to warm up or rest.
What else can make a winter trip to the Alps even more successful?
- In order to warm up, it is a good idea to do some easier runs in the first few days. As you get used to the skiing, you will be more willing to try longer, more difficult runs. Before you hit the slopes, you can check the route on YouTube to see how difficult it is in relation to your ability.
- Before heading out, check the weather conditions. Where we stayed (especially when commuting from nearby towns), the weather could be very different from high up in the mountains. Information about which lifts are open and the avalanche risk can be found on the websites of the ski resorts, and on the slopes themselves, you can check the signs at the lifts for information about the closure of individual lifts and ski runs.
- If this is your first winter trip to the Alps, the opening hours of the slopes may come as a big surprise. In Poland, we ski in the evening, whereas in Austria, the slopes close around 4-5 p.m. It is worth checking the time of the last cable car ride.
- It is best to order tickets online in advance, as you can get a substantial discount.
- Up in the mountains, the sun may surprise you so don’t forget your sunscreen, preferably SPF50+! Also, remember to take out travel insurance. A helicopter flight might seem exciting, but it’s better not to pay for it out of your own pocket.
So, have you decided to go on a winter trip to the Alps?