World-class Austrian ski resort Ischgl is for thrill-seekers, and as a hidden bonus, its smaller sister village of Galtür is a paradise for families, discovers Louise Hall
One minute we’re racing down Piste no 1 red run to Silvrettabahn. The next we’re flying through the air, the trees now a canopy below and the slope a white ribbon, far, far below. Hurtling down into the valley, I have the frightening realisation that I don’t just feel out of control, I am out of control. Totally. With no landing in sight. This is a living nightmare.
Then I look up, to see sweeping Tyrolean views over the picturesque Paznaun Valley. And instead of screaming, I find myself laughing. Uncontrollably. Perhaps the wine from lunch is hitting. But, with Ischgl twinkling in the twilight below, it’s beautiful. Exhiliarating. Dare I say it, relaxing, even? I spread eagle my arms. Rob, a grandfather in our party, zips past me a little way away to my right, the flying fox! A few seconds later, we come in to land on the Pardatschgrat gondola roof terrace, feeling relieved, euphoric and giggling.
This is the weird, wonderful and utterly unforgettable experience of ‘flying’ Ischgl’s new €2m Skyfly: a unique way for skiers (and non-skiers) to head back to resort, if ever there was one. “What’s so special about SkyFly is that there are two parallel zip lines so you can race each other down, with your skis strapped to your backs after a day on the slopes,” explains Paznaun-Ischgl-Galtür tourist office’s Alexandra Sailer. It might seem scary – the mum before me was choking back tears – but if eight-year- olds can do this, surely we can? And what better way for grandparents to show their mettle? With top speeds of 85km per hour (around 50mph), and heights of 50m, you cover 2km over 300m of vertical descent on three zip lines in a matter of minutes. Just know that the kids will drive you mad, for a short while at least, talking proudly, eyes wide, words tumbling one-after-another, about the time they zip-lined back to resort. As Instagram stakes go, it’s up there. In my son’s words, it’s “sick”.
We are staying in a comfortable family suite – a double with separate bunk – at the 4-star Seiblishof Hotel in Ischgl. It’s the kind of place that wouldn’t excite you without kids, but does with. It’s spacious (if a little dated) and has all the conveniences, such as underground parking and a bar in reception (while some of your party kit-faff ). Not to mention the staff, who greet you like lost friends, or the swimming pool and spa, that’ll finish the kids off after skiing and the nightly, never-ending Tyrolean buffet.
The family programme in the school holidays here is something else, with facilities including Toni’s Adventure Club, all-day baby and child care; cinema, gaming zone, kids restaurant (with fridge, sink, microwave and kettle), teens club (ages 12-16), a kids spa and special youth rooms (for those who’ve outgrown the family bunk rooms). The hotel is centrally located in a quiet area – Ischgl’s après-ski is legendary – and a short stroll to the lifts. A highlight for minis (and tired mums) is the hotel’s multi- coloured ‘choo-choo’ train direct to/from the slopes.
The next day brings more adventures, exploring Ischgl’s modern-day Smuggler’s (aka Duty Free) Run across the Austrian-Swiss border to Samnaun in Switzerland’s Engadin. It’s a great day tour that appeals to all imaginations. No need for passports. There are three trails for differing abilities: Gold (35.7km) and Silver (24.7km) for advanced skiers, and family-friendly Bronze (19.8km) for intermediates. Allow a leisurely four hours for each, and extra for pit-stops. We took a guide and stopped for a spectacular lunch at the Restaurant Pardorama – worth it for the Tyrolean views alone. But there’s no need for a guide; download the app and let your kids take charge. It’s well sign-posted. If you get lost, no fear, all mountain restaurants have free Wi-Fi.
You’ll learn that Ischgl is steeped in smuggling history; its first lift, opened 1952, was part funded by contraband profits as rucksacks laden with local produce – butter, cheese and furs – were traded for cigarettes, alcohol, coffee, rice, spices and nylon stockings. Ski over to Schmuggler Alm (schmuggleralm.ch) and reward yourselves with dreamy hot chocolates and Schmugglerbier. After, pop downstairs to the duty free. Then ride home on the ultra-fast new double decker chair. Beware the prowling border patrolmen!
With 239km of high altitude, snow-sure, sunny slopes, Ischgl doesn’t disappoint double-digit (aged 10+) families. There are not many steep nasty blacks, lots of blues and sweeping reds and teenagers won’t want to leave the all-terrain Jeep Snowpark (one of Europe’s biggest) filled with kickers, ramps, rails, half-pipes and boarder cross. Check out Ischgl Freeride (ischgl-freeride.com) for backcountry tours. But it’s expensive; beginners (over 10 years) need to buy a full lift pass to ride the Silvretta or Fimba lift to the base of Idalp, where ski school meet. Here there’s a wide, gentle nursery slope, moving carpet, T-bar, chairlift and easy blues. Avoid the icy, packed end-of-day runs down to town: take the lift (or SkyFly!).
There’s plenty here to keep families (and non-skiers) busy off the slopes too, including floodlit tobogganing (Monday and Thursday, 7-10pm) on Ischgl’s 7km course – one of the longest in the Alps. Take the gondola to the mid station, hire a sled and ride back down. There are also snow shoeing moonshine hikes and sleigh rides.
The following day, the snow having arrived overnight, we discover Galtür – an ultra-family friendly-ski area at the head of the Paznauntal Valley in the Silvretta Mountains, a short hop bus (free with ski pass) or taxi (Taxi Zangerl are good) ride down the valley. It’s smaller (40km skiing to Ischgl’s 238km), prettier, lower 1,600m to 2,300m and the varied terrain makes it feel more extensive than it is. It’s tree-lined slopes and wooded powder bowls are great for low-vis powder days, and the slopes are 75% snow sure. Perfect for little legs and skis.
A mecca for families, the Silvretta Galtür region is divided into six different-graded zones, with plenty for everyone: Zone 1 Kid’s World (first ski experiences with interactive learning – magic carpets, mini moguls, sliding runs and simple slalom); Zone 2 Adventure Land (with fairy-tale forest, witches grottoes, wave runs and traffic routes); Zone 3 Action Park (with rail sliders, jumps, Speedway and Mogul Kingdom); Zone 4 Heroes Kingdom (take a guide, go freeride and learn to use avalanche transceivers correctly at the Pieps station) Zone 5 Piste Paradise (ski then relax on the sun loungers) and Zone 6 High & Nordic (for cross-country, hiking and snowshoeing trails – floodlit until 10pm).
A must-visit is the educational Alpinarium Galtür museum (alpinarium.at/en). On 23 February 1999,
an avalanche claimed 31 lives, mostly from valley families. This museum stands in their memory, to teach subsequent generations about the power of the mountains. Come here for tea and cakes on the Frozen Water café sun terrace for vast valley views, a play on the indoor bouldering wall and an all-important pause to remember how fortunate we are.
HOW TO BOOK
Crystal Ski Holidays offers a week’s half board at the 4-star family Hotel Seiblishof in Ischgl from £1,139 per person including flights from Gatwick to Innsbruck and transfers for departure in January 2019. crystalski.co.uk
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly from London Gatwick to Innsbruck with easyJet (easyjet.com) Alpentaxi (1.5 hour) transfer to Ischgl.
OUT AND ABOUT
Cross country ski lessons with Ski School Galtür with equipment from Sport WalterSki, from £103 for kids (6 days). The Galtür Silvapark 6-day family ski pass from £422. Ski hire from Silvretta Sport.
FIND OUT MORE
ischgl.com, galtuer.com, ischgl-galtur.com, tyrol.com