Snow as far as the eye can see – Tirol’s best winter landscapes

Think winter is boring? Think again! From skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing to tobogganing, walking, snowshoe hiking, ice climbing and ice skating there is so much to see and do in Tirol during the cold months of the year. And anyone who thinks snow is just cold, white and wet, should think again too. There are almost too many different types of the white stuff to mention: new snow, old snow, powder snow, spring snow, frozen snow, crusty snow, slush…

Besides the many outdoor activities and fine lexical details, Tirol’s winter landscapes are one thing: majestic. There can be few better feelings than gliding through a snowy forest on a pair of cross-country skis, exploring the region on snowshoes or dragging a wooden toboggan up to one of the region’s many traditional huts before whizzing back down with the wind in your hair. Wherever you go and whatever you see, the clear mountain air and dazzling ice crystals are your constant companion as you explore the heart of the Alps in winter. Come with us on a journey through Tirol’s most beautiful winter landscapes.

1 · Life in the slow lane: Vilsalpsee

Vilsalpsee lake in the Tannheimer Tal Valley, © Tirol Werbung/W9 STUDIOS

Deep blue skies, dazzling sunshine and a thick layer of snow from the valley floor up to the highest peaks: winter is a magical time of year in the Tannheimer Tal Valley in the north-west of Tirol. Here, surrounded by the Allgäu Alps, life is a little slower, giving visitors the chance to relax and simply enjoy the moment.

Experience. With 140 kilometres of well-maintained trails, the Tannheimer Tal Valley is one of the top destinations in Tirol for cross-country skiers. Most of the trails are classified as easy or intermediate. The Rundloipe Vilsalpsee, which caters for fans of both the traditional classic technique and the more modern skating technique, leads through beautiful forests and meadows in this protected nature reserve. Another popular activity in winter is hiking along the road from the tourist information centre in Tannheim to the Vilsalpsee lake. This road is closed to cars every day from 10.00.

Accommodation. Located next to the cross-country skiing trails, the Hotel Jungbrunn is an alpine lifestyle hotel offering luxurious accommodation.

Food. A good place to stop off on the way up to the Vilsalpsee lake is the Dorfstube Tannheim serving traditional Tirolean food.

2 · The sound of silence: Trins in the Gschnitztal Valley

Cross-country skiing trails in Trins at the start of the Gschnitztal Valley, © Tirol Werbung/W9 STUDIOS

The houses and farmsteads in Trins appear to defy the laws of gravity as they cling to the steep mountain slopes of the Gschnitztal Valley, a side valley branching off the larger Wipptal Valley. High above the village stands the Blaser, a mountain famous throughout Tirol for the thousands of beautiful alpine flowers which cover its slopes in a carpet of colour during spring and summer. In winter, the mountains, valley and rushing Gschnitzbach stream are a world of snow and ice.

Though the valley offers plenty of comfortable accommodation and a number of small ski lifts, visitors in search of large resorts and raucous après-ski are likely to be disappointed – indeed, it is precisely this peace and quiet that makes the Gschnitztal Valley so special.

Experience. Trins has a ski lift in winter and football pitch in summer, while at the end of the valley in the village of Gschnitz there is the cosy Gasthaus Feuerstein. The Gschnitztalloipe cross-country skiing trail (18km) connects the two and is rated intermediate. Hikers can leave from Steinach and climb the 200 vertical metres up to Trins überwinden before continuing on into the Gschnitztal Valley.

Accommodation. The Hotel Kirchdach offers comfortable accommodation and great views of the Kirchdachspitze mountain.

Food & drink. The Pumafalle ("Puma Trap") sounds dangerous but is in fact a traditional guesthouse serving excellent regional food. The hiking path and cross-country skiing trail both lead past the Pumafalle.

3 · At the foot of the Olperer: Schmirn

The Schmirntal Valley in winter, © Tirol Werbung/W9 Studios

Reaching almost 3,500 metres into the sky, the mighty Olperer mountain in the Tux Alps is without a doubt the most eye-catching of all the peaks in the Schmirntal Valley. Though it draws mountaineering enthusiasts throughout the year, this valley and the neighbouring Valsertal Valley together form one of the most peaceful and remote areas in Tirol. Fewer than 1,400 people live in the farmsteads dotted along the valleys, resulting in a population density of just twelve inhabitants per square kilometre. This sense of remoteness is all the more apparent in winter when the meadows and mountains are covered in a thick layer of snow. Indeed, maybe it is this godforsaken appearance which is the reason why there are so many small chapels and wayside crosses in these two valleys – important pieces of cultural heritage which are today still maintained with great pride and attention to detail.

Experience. St. Jodok, Schmirn and Vals together form a Mountaineering Village. Mountaineering Villages can be found throughout Tirol and the rest of Austria. Each of these officially certified villages offers visitors the chance to explore the mountains throughout the year.St. Jodok, Schmirn and Vals are particularly popular with ski touring enthusiasts in winter. Some of the most popular routes start in the hamlet of Toldern in the Schmirntal Valley and lead up to the Hohe Warte mountain (known among locals as the Hoggarspitze).

Accommodation. The Gasthaus Olpererblick in the Schmirntal Valley offers comfortable accommodation and, as the name suggests, fantastic views of the Olperer mountain.

Food & drink. The Gasthof Steckholzer at the start of the valley is famous for its excellent goulash and home-made cakes.

4 · Winter wonderland: Gramai

Cross Country Skiing in the Karwendeltäler Valleys near Pertisau, © Tirol Werbung/Mario Webhofer

With its deep blue skies, snow-covered spruce trees and jagged mountain peaks, Gramai in the heart of the Karwendel Nature Park is a true winter wonderland. Here, amidst the silence, the only sounds to be heard are those of your heart beating, snow crunching underfoot and the occasional cross-country skier whizzing past. And then, lit up by the dazzling sun, you spy the Gramai Alm hut with its wooden front, warm fire and even warmer welcome. Heaven!

Experience. The cross-country skiing trail from Falzturn to Gramai is around 14km long but well worth the effort thanks to the magnificent views it offers of the surrounding mountains. A popular winter hike starts at the "Parkplatz Karwendeltäler" car park and leads into the Falzturntal Valley.

Accommodation. The Alpengasthof Gern Alm near Pertisau offers comfortable rooms and a traditionally warm Tirolean welcome.

Food & drink. In winter the Alpengenusshof Gramai serves hot food from 11.00 until 17.00. Another hut, the Alpengasthaus Falzturn, is located directly next to the hiking path and cross-country skiing trail in the Falzturntal Valley.

5 · Majestic and mysterious: the Kaisertal Valley

Snowshoe hiking in the Kaisertal Valley, © Tirol Werbung/W9 STUDIOS

Nestling between the mighty peaks of the Zahmer Kaiser to the north and the Wilder Kaiser to the south, the Kaisertal Valley's few houses and farmsteads officially belong to the municipality of Ebbs. Until just a few years ago it was the last remaining valley in Austria without a road connecting it to the outside world. Those who wanted (or needed) to access the valley had to climb the 285 steps up the "Kaiseranstieg" – extra fitness training for the two dozen people who call the Kaisertal Valley home.

In 2008 a tunnel was opened to allow vehicles to drive into and out of the valley, though this road is only open to people who live and work in the valley.

As a result, this protected nature reserve has lost absolutely none of its remote charm, making it the ideal destination for skiers and snowboarders wanting to swap large resorts and luxurious accommodation for the simple pleasures in life.

Experience. One of the most picturesque winter hikes in the Kaisertal Valley leads to the Antoniuskapelle chapel at the foot of the Wilder Kaiser.

Accommodation & food. The Gasthof Pfandlhof is not only charming but also very affordable. Frieda Schwaighofer is an excellent cook and often prepares fresh game caught by her husband Josef while out hunting. 

6 · A world apart: Obertilliach

Cross-country skiing in Obertilliach, © Tirol Werbung/W9 STUDIOS

Ever seen one of those photos where a tiny wooden hut is covered by a layer of snow so thick that you wonder how such a small building can resist such a huge load? Welcome to Obertilliach! This high mountain village in a side valley branching off the Pustertal Valley connecting East Tirol with the neighbouring region of South Tirol benefits from a microclimate which brings heavy snowfalls in winter. So next time you hear about heavy snowfall in Tirol and see photos of buildings swamped in snow, think of Obertilliach.

As you might expect, the pace of life here high up in the mountains between Carinthia and East Tirol is slow – except, of course, for when James Bond comes to town. Over Christmas and New Year in 2014/15, Obertilliach welcomed the world's most famous spy to East Tirol for the filming of several snowy scenes featuring in his latest blockbuster "Spectre".

Obertilliach is also known as home to one of the world's top cross-country skiing and biathlon centres, which hosts international competitions in both disciplines every year. 

Experience. Starting at the cross-country skiing and biathlon centre in the heart of Obertilliach, the Kartitscher Sattel Trail is a real challenge even for  experienced cross-country skiers and professional athletes such as biathlon legend Ole Einar Bjørndalen, who lives in Obertilliach.

Accommodation. The Gasthof Unterwöger in the centre of Obertilliach was founded way back in 1750 and is still located in the same listed building.

Food & drink. Chef Werner Gander uses fresh produce sourced from the region to create fine traditional food at the Strasserwirt in nearby Strassen.

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