On this trip I venture out into the most popular skiing region of Austria and find that my favourite winter sport is tobogganing.
Driving through the sunny and snow covered mountains near Salzburg in January it was easy to see why this part of Austria is the most popular region to take a winter holiday. I was heading for Ellmau and the Kaiserblick Hotel, a family run place that’s friendly, bright and welcoming with recently refitted rooms and an excellent restaurant.
The large modern restaurant serves the 96 rooms and has many nooks and crannies. The deal here (my stay was half board) is I was given a table that would be mine for my stay. So no table angst in the morning just head straight to where you know.
The food (a six course meal every night) was exceptional. A buffet salad where it’s best not to eat too much then a warm starter, sorbet, main course, dessert and cheese. This high-end hotel knows how to look after people. Service is great and the proprietors Greta and Armin work the room to check you are happy with everything.
Ellmau has a lot to offer the skier with over 280km of slopes, the fastest eight-seat chair lift in the world with heated seats and covered of course. The gondolas have Wi-Fi and there are a plethora of family run huts dotted around to meet you every needs on the slopes throughout the day. Things don’t stop at night either there’s a 13km-floodlit ski run and tobogganing until 3am.
The accommodation ranges from self-catering which is great for families, up to 5* hotels and spas. Budgets for all wallets is the credo in Ellmau there’s even free guided skiing in March for the under 15’s and regular discounts across the season offer up to 25% discount.
I was still very much a learner I decided to have a lesson at the local ski school with one of those impossibly handsome instructors who can ski backwards while texting – you know the sort. Mike was very patient with me and first asked me to ski a little on my own so he could access me. Divining all my weak points (there were many) he quickly improved my technique. At the end of my session I was comfortably skiing blue.
The region has a lot for non-skiers too. As a family resort (but with ample nightlife) baby sitters can be arranged locally, hiking is popular (all year round) they have a husky day, torch walking and llama trekking!
Another fabulous meal awaited my aching body back at the hotel. The standout dish was deer steaks with a parsnip puree and red cabbage with a close second of Brie with truffle honey. After my rejuvenation I set off to see the night display of local skiers. This place has it all.
A large crowd had gathered at the bottom of an illuminated slope and people were cheering but I couldn’t see at what. Then I looked up and saw parascenders floating down with coloured smoke blowing from their boots. Very James Bond! The show was quite a spectacle with skiing on stilts, mono skiing and snow scooters all washed down with plenty of warm gluwein to keep the chill at bay.
I didn’t realise it but the next day was to prove a turning point in my winter sports life. I decided to try tobogganing. Ex racer Marianne Rodelverleih who runs Austria’s first dedicated school took me through the basics: you turn with your feet (must have good boots), pull up on the rope to brake as well as digging in with your feet. It’s important (like skiing) to know how to stop as the toboggans can reach tremendous speeds. And did I mention that you must wear gloves or as they call them here ‘handshoes’ how very logical of the Germanic language.
So after my ‘training’ session with Marianne we set off on a 3km run. I must say that this was such a liberating experience, I didn’t fall off I braked successfully at every hairpin bend (no skiers are allowed on the run so you just have to watch out for other toboggans) and had a jolly brilliant time. But don’t be under any illusions that this doesn’t take its toll on your body. I was shattered after a morning of this, aching arms and legs just in different places than when I went skiing.
There’s a kids club here as well that offers mum and dad time to ski on their own while the kids are looked after in a fabulous converted farmers house. They have all the mod cons there as well offering cooking and craft lessons they keep rabbits and generally occupy their time while you slope off, literally.
I took lunch at the fabulous mountaintop restaurant Gipfelalm run by charismatic Peter Ager. The food was Bavarian haute cuisine, a Tyrolean broth with four types of dumplings was a great starter (filling though) followed by pasta with crispy onions and a rosti with eggs, all good fuel for a man running on an empty tank.
The view from 1829m is spectacular; on my visit the weather gave me clear blue skies and warm sun. The loos are worth a mention as they have panoramic windows looking out over the mountains offering the perfect relief!
The region is full of super restaurants and cool hangouts. These are the sort of places to head for with non Euro pop lush soundtrack and bean bags to get comfortable in while you sip you Aperol Spritz or savour your espresso. Austria offers very good value for the skier as well as considerably better food that some resorts it makes it a no brainer to return. No wonder it’s so popular. I plan to visit again but in the summer months as I heard somebody talking about grass tobogganing – my next challenge!