The ideal family ski tripEthical Travel News & Features
This article first appeared in our Consumer Revolution issue of My Green Pod Magazine, released on 19 Dec 2019. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
A quiet road winds through the Pitztal Valley at an altitude of 1,366m in the Austrian Alps.
Eventually the tarmac realises where it is, panics and takes a sharp right that delivers drivers to the safety of a gravel car park. From here the only way is up – but not on four wheels.
There are three options: you can take the world’s longest funicular railway, the Gletscherexpress (‘Glacier Express’) to Pitztal Glacier; alternatively you can get out and hike the multiple mountain paths and trails on foot – or finally, it’s almost certain you’ll be able to ski.
Known as ‘The roof of Tyrol’, Pitztal’s high altitude makes it one of Europe’s most snow-sure locations, and one of only a few Alpine holiday destinations that is guaranteed to have snow. Locals wouldn’t go far by car without a pair of skis in their boot – in fact, they might not go far in their car at all.
With 70.5km of cross-country ski trails – including a 20km track along the length of the valley – it’s often easier (not to mention a lot more fun) to ski the off-road paths through quiet villages and tranquil forests that double as cycle paths in the summer months.
We travelled to the area in February; six months earlier we’d visited the exact same spot to cycle, swim and walk in the mountains, and we were keen to return to Stillebach Biohotel – one of our favourite spots on Earth – to catch up with its owner, Trudi Melmer, and see what the landscape looked like under a blanket of snow.
The hotel sits off the road a short drive from the Gletscherexpress and is the perfect place to relax and recharge after a day on the slopes. You can enjoy the barrel sauna, stone pine relaxation room and 100-year-old reading room – or just sit back and enjoy delicious organic food and drinks in a warm, friendly environment that immediately feels like home.
The meals are always nourishing, vibrant and delicious – with ample choice for vegetarians and vegans – which never fails to amaze given the sublime backdrop of snow-covered mountains and frozen waterfalls.
Stillebach Biohotel has its very own cross-country ski track; this was the morning fitness routine of choice for guests and one we quickly adopted. It’s a great track to learn on; quiet and relatively flat, our girls (aged three and 11) took to it in no time. They also loved exploring the snow maze that appeared in the hotel grounds on most mornings, shrouded in all the mystery of a Wiltshire crop circle.
You could easily spend a week at the hotel without ever feeling the urge to explore further – but a short (and free) bus ride up the road reveals so many extra highlights. The hafflinger stable in Tieflehn provides rides and hacks in summer, and sleigh rides – complete with mulled wine – in the winter months.
And then there’s the skiing. The first thing to mention is that kids under 10 get free use of Pitztal’s ski lifts and cable cars when accompanied by an adult. This, along with discounted kids’ meals and extremely reasonable local ski hire, means you pay a fraction of the price you’d spend on a ski holiday at a bigger resort. Very little is lost if your kids (or you) wake up one morning and just want to build a snowman.
A single lift pass covers both Rifflsee and the Pitztal Glacier, Austria’s highest glacier ski resort. Its highest point perches 3,440 metres above sea level; it’s reached by the Wildspitzbahn – Austria’s highest mountain gondola – and, at Café 3,440, you can enjoy (you guessed it) Austria’s highest speciality coffee. Despite the daunting height, the open area is fantastic for beginners and pros alike and definitely worth a visit – even if only for the panoramic Alpine views.
Nearby Rifflsee has a network of slopes up to 2,880m above sea level and is ideal for families and beginners. It has a special area for children near the bottom of the cable car as well as a small selection of slopes for pros, novices and everything in between.
There are runs for all ages and abilities, which is what makes this spot so perfect for families. Everyone can feel like they’ve done what they wanted without having to hold back or feel pressurised to take on a slope they’re not ready for.
If you’re new to skiing or put off by the potential cost – or are even just looking for an idyllic spot to enjoy the beauty of nature in winter – you couldn’t find a better place than Stillebach.