A Day In The Snow: Skiing in Alpbach
We want to explore the iconic ski town of Alpbach from the perspective of the people who know it best: locals. This time around, we meet 28-year old Christina Moser, an Alpbach skier, snowboarder and amateur musician at the base of Pöglbahn Gondola in Inneralpbach. She is working for the Convention Bureau Tirol, assisting conference delegates from all corners of the globe in Tirol. The ski run literally comes to her doorstep.
Few ski resorts are as rustic as Alpbach.
Our Alpbach-Guide Christina.
The Secret is Out: Christina’s Favourite Warm Up Run.
For Christina, her epic ski day in Alpbach is catching a car up on Pöglbahn to the top of Gmahkopf and cruising over to the base of the “2000er”, as she calls the Hornbahn 2000 Chair Lift. Since early childhood days, gliding down this run high above Inneralpbach has been her regular warm up, because “I love that itʼs normally sunny in the morning and never crowded,” she says. Itʼs a fast, fun and wide open area to just zoom down, the perfect run for a few warm up laps, indeed. The view into the valley with Alpine pastures grabs our attention. It is easy to see that Alpbach boasts epic terrain for ski touring aficionados, too. Especially remarkable is the summit of 2,424-meter Großer Galtenberg, the highest peak of Alpbachtal Valley.
Christina’s favourite warm up run: ‘The 2000er’.
“Time for Elevenses”
In between runs, we drop by Alpbach Ski School where Manfred tells us that it’s “time for elevenses”. What is that supposed to be? As a former ski instructor, Christina knows the answer for sure: It’s having schnapps at about eleven o’clock in the morning, a tradition here among British skiers. Actually, ‘elevenses’ refers, as the word itself suggests, to a short break for light refreshments, usually with tea or coffee, taken at eleven in the morning. It is peculiarly British. It is, in fact, an institution, an inviolable right, a routine without which the British could not continue with their working day. Here in Alpbach, they have swapped tea or coffee for schnapps. Which seems to be quite popular around here anyway. They say you can get schnapps almost everywhere, even at the base of a ski lift, if you ask nicely. Well, we have had our share of alcohol for this morning and day goodbye to Manfred.
“Time for Elevenses” with Ski Instructor Manfred.
When itʼs time to wind down or simply take a break during the ski day, Christina gushes about Kafner Ast, her favourite spot on the mountain. It’s a family-run ski lodge that has been completely restored recently and a popular hangout for locals. Her favourite lunch here is baked mountain cheese with a bowl of grey cheese soup. Over the excellent food, Christina tells us about the former rivalry between Alpbachtal Valley and neighbouring Wildschönau. But that’s history, maybe in part due to the new gondola atop Schatzberg Mountain, which has been joining the two ski resorts since the 2012-2013 winter season. Earlier, you had to choose which mountain to spend your day on, now it’s one big resort called Ski Juwel Alpbachtal Wildschönau.
Joining two mountains, the pinnacle experience is more than a ride on the gondola - it’s the bird’s eye viewpoint in every direction experience that comes with it.
Two Valleys, One Gondola.
Spanning the distance between two side-by-side mountains and two valleys, the gondola whisks us up to Schatzberg Mountain while providing incomparable views of Inneralpbach and towering mountains. Atop Schatzberg Mountain, a new on-mountain restaurant has opened its doors in 2016, Wurmegg Hut. The food there is amazing and giant Wiener schnitzel is their specialty, says Christina. Actually, we are here for something else—Christina wants to show us the view from the summit of Schatzberg Peak. It’s a few meters climb from the top terminal and makes for a great summit photo opp without much effort.
A quaint log cabin is located a stone’s throw away, Schatzberg Hut, a rustic mountain lodge that can be rented and sleeps up to twelve people with unrivalled slopeside access—as we get to know from a man who just enters the cabin. A few meters below lies Gipföhit, another on-mountain restaurant that makes for a great break from the slopes. On our way down the mountain, we grasp wonderful views of Alpbach every now and then – however, we cannot spot one of the village’s most iconic buildings, the Congress Centre Alpbach. Strange. We will come to that later.
Christina takes us to the top of 1,898-meter Schatzberg Peak, one of the best viewpoints in the ski area.
Expert Boot Fitting.
Before exploring the village of Alpbach, we drive our car to the Sportshop Alpbachtal, which is run by Hannes Lintner and located right next to the base of Wiedersberghornbahn Gondola. Christina, our guide, is convinced of Hannes’ excellent ski tuning skills; in fact, Hannes is a true pro. He and his team are responsible for the racing gear of upcoming ski talents and Hannes has proved his skills at the Alpine World Ski Cup in Sölden once. Some people drive all the way from Inntal Valley to get their ski boots fitted by him. Of course, Hannes rents skis, snowboards, boots and poles to visitors coming to Alpbach.
The latest trends in winter sports? “Freeriding and ski touring,” he explains. They even have a run in Reith im Alpbachtal, which is open and illuminated for ski touring enthusiasts on Tuesday nights. Other recommendable shops in Alpbach are Conny’s Sport and Iggy’s Sportshop.
The Traditional Alpbach Style Architecture:
That was enough skiing for the day, we continue the day by exploring the village of Alpbach. The epitome of an idyllic chocolate box village, Alpbach is a tidy collection of dark wooden chalets with red and green painted shutters. It is a strikingly picturesque resort with a strong sense of tradition thanks to a planning bylaw introduced in 1953, which imposes strict rules limiting the size and measurements of buildings (including windows, balconies and gables) to ensure consistency with the traditional chalet style exterior for which Alpbach is now famous. Until today, this law requires that every new building has to be constructed in traditional stone-and-wood style—not always completely to the joy of housebuilders these days, as Christina tells me. Anyway, Alpbach is the winner of the “Most Beautiful Village in Austria” contest—and we definitely agree that it is among the most gorgeous villages in the country.
All buildings of Alpbach have to be furnished in timber – a scene little changed through the centuries.
“The Village of Thinkers”.
One of the few buildings in the village that does not completely comply with the local building code specifications is the Congress Centre Alpbach, venue of the European Forum Alpbach (EFA), the annual meeting of minds. First held in 1945, the EFA was the first political and intellectual event to take place in a German-speaking country. Today it is one of the leading interdisciplinary platforms for dialogue in the academia, politics, economics and culture in Europe. Speakers and participants from all parts of the world, from science, economics and politics, experienced experts and students, come together in Alpbach each August to promote and discuss ideas for a peacefully united Europe. This gathering has over the decades earned Alpbach the title, “Village of Thinkers”. Nobel Prize-winning Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger liked Alpbach that much that he decided to spend his last years here – he was buried at the local cemetery and his daughter still lives in the village. Thomas Kahn, an employee of the Congress Centre, shows us around the contemporary building and explains that it was extended in 2016. As not to upset the village’s charming personality, the Congress Centre Alpbach was built into the mountainside and covered with grass and plants to harmoniously blend in with the village’s aesthetic style. That’s why we couldn’t detect the building from the ski resort – it is barely visible.
Built into the mountainside: The contemporary Congress Centre Alpbach.
In the interior, our attention is drawn by the distinctive spiral-shaped, inverted cone of glass. Beyond its pure function as a natural source of light, the glass cone resembles rock quartz and is a symbol for the uniqueness of the project. Some seminar rooms have clay walls, explains Thomas. Purposely designed to the highest sustainability standards, the Congress Centre is a leader in the market for green meetings. “Clay stores moisture and absorbs sound, which makes it perfect for a meeting space. Energy for the heating and cooling are generated by a geothermally operated heat pump and electricity is sourced from the façade with integrated photovoltaic panels.” In 2016, the Congress Centre doubled its capacity. From outside, it’s hard to believe that the building now can accommodate up to 1,200 people. On our walk through the village, we cannot spot any giant hotel complexes. Most Alpbach homeowners are renting rooms to visitors.
A work of art? No, it’s the clay wall of a seminar room at the Congress Centre Alpbach.
In the winter, the meadow above the Congress Centre serves as a safe children’s ski zone.
Where to Stay & Where to Eat.
Most B&Bs in Alpbach offer the comforts of a full service hotel, explains Christina. We visit one of them, Haus Sonnwend / Gästehaus Schneider. Gitti, the owner, takes special pride in quality and in sourcing locally. For breakfast, for example: “I source most of my products from local farmers. Just yesterday, I received some amazing dry cured ham.” Many of her foreign guests are surprised to find local farmers butter on the buffet. “When they try it for the first time, they love it,” says Gitti. And tells us from guests who couldn’t believe that finest drinking water comes from the tap here.
Together with Christina we visit the Böglerhof, a refined, sophisticated Four Star Superior Hotel that is operated by the Alpbach-based Duftner Family. Dating back to the 15th century, it retains many original features, which have been lovingly worked into the hotel, such as the Fugger Parlour where panelled walls and ceiling are gleaming with the patina of age. It is the picture postcard epitome of a Tirolean parlour – and it simply reeks of history and tradition. Although the Böglerhof has been modernized and expanded over the years, the owners have maintained the authentic ambiance of a Tirolean home, with ancient timber beams and Madonna paintings on timber-panelled walls.
The place to be: The wonderful fireplace at Böglerhof.
Christina shares a few last secrets with us: Those craving coffee, cakes and the Austrian staple of Kaiserschmarren are strongly recommended to visit one of the farmhouses in the environs of Alpbach. Zottahof for example, serves what is probably the best Kaiserschmarren in town, while Wurmhof lures with delicious homemade cakes. Gasthof Rossmoos has stunning views of Alpbachtal Valley, says Christina. A favourite locals’ hangout is Café Genuss with adjoining shabby chic style store where you can shop for lovely decorations. We draw our day to a close at one of Christina’s favourite restaurants, the Jakober. It houses a pizza restaurant, a cosy Tirolean inn and a pub. The food is always amazing, from “Alpbacher Zerggln” over “Schlipfkrapfen” to “Tiroler Gröstl”, you can feast on local specialties. On any given night, the pub is full of young, mostly English-speaking party animals listening to local bands – Christina performs there regularly with her band, so maybe you’ll meet her with her guitar when visiting Alpbach.