Skiing: Austria is back in favour

Last year's horrific avalanches at Galtur do not seem to have stopped British skiers making the trip to Austria. Just the opposite, in fact

Austria is dear to the hearts of many of the senior figures in the major British ski operators. At the start of their careers, a dozen or more years ago, it was the major destination for British skiers; and several of them - including Andy Perrin, the overall boss of both the Crystal and Thomson brands - began work as ski reps in Austrian resorts. So when touring the stands at this week's Daily Mail Ski Show, to enquire from them how Austria is performing, I could sense a personal, as well as commercial, satisfaction with the sales for 1999/2000.

In a difficult and unpredictable season, operators are reluctant to make projections for ultimate market shares; nevertheless, everyone to whom I spoke agreed that Austria would improve on the figure which it achieved in 1998/9 - 22 per cent of the British tour-operators' market. With the overall market currently in sharp decline, Austria won't threaten France (it took 29 per cent last year) as the number one destination, but it is generally expected to build on its recent growth by picking up business from Italy and Bulgaria.

There was general agreement, too, about the reasons for Austria's success: the high standard of its accommodation and the relatively low level of its currency. With the schilling at about 20 to the pound, hotels are, by British standards, extraordinarily good value, probably the best in the Alps. Surprisingly, skiers must thank summer-season guests for this. Unlike France, with its predominance of purpose-built resorts, Austria's skiing is largely set around old (if recently expanded) mountain villages - which has always been a big attraction for skiers and summer visitors alike. Continuity has allowed the tradition of family-run hotels to survive; and the year-round business has permitted them to invest in their premises and staff.

But Austria no longer relies simply upon tradition to attract winter customers. The tough years of the early Eighties, when British skiers began emigrating to France and the Germans (who make up the bulk of Austria's foreign visitors) ceased to be such reliable customers, persuaded Austrian resorts of the need to also invest in their ski areas: since last season, for example, more than pounds 100m has gone into the country's winter-sports facilities, with new chairlifts at several Tirol resorts including Alpbach, Kitzbuhel, Scheffau and St Anton. And, aware of the danger that a traditional customer is an ageing customer, some resorts have worked on attracting snowboarders - with such success that when I asked the editor of a German snowboarding magazine about his favourite resorts, Mayrhofen was the first place that came to mind.

But Austria still has a problem out on the slopes. As the boss of one the major tour operators put it at the ski show: "The British are `mileage' skiers: they want to cover as much ground as possible, and in that respect France has the edge over Austria." Although the linking of the resorts around Schladming (last season) and the expansion of Soll's "Ski-Welt" area (this season) have helped, Austrian slopes are not big enough - nor steep and snowy enough - to compete with the likes of Val d'Isere and Les Trois Vallees.

Snow cannons have helped minimise problems at the low-level resorts; but skiers in search of reliable (or real) snow are best-advised to head for the high spots such as Ischgl and Obergurgl, resorts with glacier skiing (notably Hinter Tux and Kaprun) or the Arlberg region that, for topographical reasons, gets more than its fair share of snow. Despite the great job the Hahnenkamm world cup race at Kitzbuhel does on Ski Sunday to prove the opposite, Austria's skiing is always going to be a bit tame for advanced skiers, except in the Arlberg area above St Anton, Lech and Zurs. However, intermediates will be more than happy at Ischgl, Kitzbuhel or most other Austrian resorts, and there are good beginners' slopes at Saalbach-Hinterglemm, at Schladming and at Soll.

On the other hand, Austria has clearly become the destination of choice for advanced apres-skiers. Before Soll decided that it was a family resort, its name was spoken with awe by lager-louts: now there are a handful of resorts where, I am told, one can happily pass the night being deafened and over-charged, notably Zell am See, St Anton and Mayrhofen. Such reputations should not, however, disturb those for whom Austrian Gemutlichkeit is more of an attraction than the gluhwein (or Red Bull and vodka, the apres-skier's favoured drink); unlike in some French resorts, the night- life rarely seems to impinge upon those whose preferred activity during the hours of darkness is sleep.

Despite the attractions of bed-and-board, those fine old Alpine villages and the well-organised (by European standards) facilities, something of a shadow was cast over Austria's skiing by the avalanche which hit Galtur last winter. There was a fear that it might dissuade British skiers from going to the country this season. Clearly, it has not done so - indeed, one ski-company executive told me that it has had the opposite effect, because "skiers remember it as a place that got a lot of snow last year". We're a sanguine bunch, aren't we?

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?