Skiing: Big on slopes, low on profile

Ischgl is so popular with Germans that it doesn't bother promoting itself to other skiers. Which means that the British are missing out on an Alpine jewel

Imagine the absurd situation if in Paris the Dutch tourists all chose to go to Montmartre, the Britons to Notre Dame, the Germans to the Eiffel Tower. But it's a little like that in the Alps. For no very obvious reason there are - among those Europeans who have little or nothing in the way of skiing in their own countries - marked national preferences for particular resorts. A destination to which one group is attracted may be shunned by others. So Serfaus has become a largely Dutch-speaking enclave of Austria; British skiers congregate en masse at Val d'Isere; and, as I discovered at the end of November, the Germans have made Ischgl, a resort on Austria's border with Switzerland, their own.

So low is Ischgl's profile in this country that British skiers could be forgiven (I hope) for believing it to be a small, sleepy Alpine village, populated by farming folk and their cattle, while a minor branch of the Von Trapp family provides apres-ski entertainment with a sing-song around a log fire. If the resort depended on our business, it would be like that: on average, British skiers occupy only 93 beds there per night. But it doesn't. A whopping 72 per cent of Ischgl's guests are German (Austrians make up a mere six to seven per cent), and their enthusiasm for the place has turned it into a throbbing ski town with 9,300 guest beds - as many as nearby St Anton.

Instead of farm buildings, its largely pedestrianised main street is lined with big hotels, built in overgrown-chalet style, but often with glamorous lobbies that owe more to South Fork ranch and Middle Eastern banks than to Alpine tradition. So valuable is the Deutschmark here that Ischgl makes little effort to attract British tour operators with special terms (Inghams is currently the only big operator serving the resort), and doesn't even mind losing a nationality or two: a spokesman laughed off the defection of the Scandinavians, once a big presence in Ischgl, by suggesting that "they probably found the cost of accommodation was eating into their alcohol budget". The resort doesn't even bother to advertise, promoting itself merely with a season-opening event and a concert at the end of April, with big-name singers (among them Elton John, Diana Ross and - oddly - Bob Dylan) performing half-way up the ski slopes.

If Ischgl throbbed more urgently than usual when I was there, and the sound of oompah-disco music marched more purposefully out from beneath the Silvretta gondola (where there is an open-air bar), that was because it was the resort's opening weekend. A fashion show featuring the Euro- supermodel Laetitia Casta, with a gala dinner to follow, had drawn the crowds, and more than a dozen TV crews. They were shooting everything that moved, and quite a few things that didn't. It was even suggested that I might like to offer to the Austrian nation my view of Ischgl, and of the solitary cloud in its otherwise blue sky - namely the effect that last season's avalanches (which cut off the resort for a week) might have on this season's business. Having, in the couple of hours that I had been there, learnt little except how ignorant I was about the place, I made my excuses and they left.

The following day provided better entertainment, starting with the ride in the Silvretta gondola, which sweeps through two valleys (and a beautiful new mid-station, with a massive, exposed, timber structure) on its way to Idalp, the 2,320m centre of a huge swathe of intermediate skiing made up of 200km of pistes. With wide, effortless runs, you can cover the ground pretty quickly, at least downhill; going up, there is an odd combination of fast six-seater or quad chairlifts and some long-haul drag-lifts that traverse the ski area for a kilometre or more.

Apart from the cross-border run down to the bowl of Alp Trida in Switzerland, one or two of the pistes stand out: the pleasantly tricky (for me) black run off the 2,872m Greitspitz, the long, scenic reds (one groomed, the other not) from the 2,864m Palinkopf down the southern extreme of the ski area to Gampenalp, and the excellent drop through the trees to the Silvretta base.

While it was possible to ski that red run right down to the resort, the descent into the valley of Samnaun, in Switzerland, was closed - not enough snow, apparently, although the cover was excellent elsewhere for so early in the season. So instead of merely riding back up the slope in the Doppelstockige Pendelbahn, I took a return trip. The word "Doppelstockige" means double- decker: the Twinliner cable-car does indeed have two decks, allowing a total capacity of 180 passengers. The smaller, upper deck (the car is in the shape of a pyramid, with the top chopped off) has seating for 10 people, and when it's empty, it offers a very civilised ride. But those who lack a head for heights should stand well back from the front of the car when it swings over the ridge for the final, steep drop into the valley.

After the journey on the hi-tech Twinliner - the driver's dashboard has enough knobs, screens and flashing lights to keep a recording engineer happy - Samnaun proved a bit of a disappointment (starting with the lavatories at the lift-station, quite the smelliest I've encountered in the German- speaking world). A former principality, the Samnaun area is now effectively part of Switzerland, but it maintains its duty-free status and the tiny village, a bus-ride away from the cable-car, has become a sort of rustic, outdoor airport terminal.

Its residents seemingly survive on a diet of perfume, cigarettes and liquor - quite a cheap way to live when a bottle of Famous Grouse costs only SwFr17 (about pounds 7). The only shop I found that sold more substantial provisions was the corner-shop equivalent of Harrods' food hall, its stock limited to such delicacies as dried wild meats and Cirpiani-brand spaghetti. Maybe that's why there's a double-decker running from the village up to the Ischgl ski area: so that Samnaun's inhabitants can go and buy fruit and veg.

On the way back up on the Twinliner there were 178 empty spaces. This was the Monday after the opening party: the crowds had gone, the TV crews, too, and below the almost deserted slopes, Ischgl was delightfully placid. Half-closing the eyes, one could believe it to be a sleepy Alpine village, populated by farming folk and their cattle.

Further information on www. ischgl.com or from the Austrian National Tourist Office (0171-629 0461)

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
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.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

    Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

    £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

    Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

    £26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen