All white to ski here

We slope off to Austria's top ski resorts.


By Ivor Baddiel, January 5, 2012
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The front page headline of the paper screams, "It's snow-go on Europe's dry ski runs". As I marvel at the incredible pun I read on.

"Hundreds of thousands of skiers could see their holidays ruined as a record-breaking warm spell leaves slopes across Europe snow-fee."

Clearly it's a slow news day, but what concerns me more is the fact that I've just returned from three days of glorious skiing in the Austrian resort of Ischgl. Nestled in the Paznaun valley in the Tyrol region of Austria, what Ischgl (pronounced Ish-gull) lacks in vowels it more than makes up for in atmosphere, restaurants, bars, clubs, ski-lifts and of course, snow. The resort has been up and coming for years and is now firmly established as one of the places to go for great skiing, great après-skiing and great après-apres-skiing.

It proudly boasts that throughout the entire season come rain, shine or snow, there will be snow, and so it was on the first weekend of the ski season when, thanks to a bombardment by the resort's snow cannons, an impressive 65km of piste were open.

Now there are those who opine that snow from snow cannons is somewhat powdery and not like the real thing, but frankly that's like saying ice made in a freezer is not up to scratch. It was perfectly fine and, given the choice between skiing and not skiing I think even the hardiest purist would chose the former. The main amassing point in the mountains is Idalp and once up there though the mountains are your oysters with plenty of lifts going off in all directions, floating peacefully above the landscape.

One of those destinations is the border with Switzerland, which is wonderfully free of passport controls allowing you to ski over in to the land of cuckoo clocks and neutrality and, should you so wish, down to the resort of Samnaun.

Getting thereFly: EasyJet flies to Innsbruck from various UK airports
British Airways flies from London Gatwick to Innsbruck
Stay: Four star superior Hotel Brigitte. Inghams offer seven nights from £1149 pp half board with flights from Gatwick to Innsbruck and transfers.
Skipass: Ischgl-Samnaun ski area is from €186 for 6.

Ischgl and Samnaun are sort of twinned and together make up the largest ski resort in the Alps, offering 238 km of pistes. I imagine that even during the height of the season there is room for everyone to idle or hare down at their leisure.

It's a large area with plenty of runs for all level of skier. Having not skied for over twenty years, I opted for a beginner's class, and, surprisingly, found my muscle memory to be intact and progressed to intermediate level.

In the safe hands of instructor Mario - a cattle farmer in the summer, his cows graze the very slopes we skied down - we traversed many a red and blue run, whilst the more accomplished took to the black runs. All told it is a mind-blowing experience and is worth taking a moment to marvel at the stunning scenery.

There are strict rules that must when skiing, and one of those is that at 12.30 pm everyone has have a ridiculously large lunch. The Panorama restaurant has a self-serve and a sit down floor, offering sumptuous nosh. Be warned though, at night an Oom Pah band taxis from table to table and British reserve needs to be dispensed with or the locals will heap scorn upon you.

There's also the Alpenhaus, the first VIP club in the Alps. Rumours were rife that ski boots weren't allowed here and you had to change in to comfy slippers (provided) before being allowed entry. However, either the rumours were wrong or someone turned a blind eye, as we were allowed in fully kitted-up. The food here was plentiful with the cheese soup an absolute hit.

A short ski lift ride up from Idalp and you come to Pardatschgrat and the Pardorama restaurant. The views here are stunning especially a glass or three of the full-bodied house red.

Once the slopes have emptied the multitude of bars fill up. It's a hive of activity with just about every boozer in town heaving. Before long the euro-pop has taken hold and everyone is bellowing out the latest hit, which sounds much like the previous hit and indeed the one after. No matter though, a truly great time is had by all.

My trip coincided with a pop concert. In the past the likes of Bob Dylan, Elton John, Kylie, Beyonce and The Pussycat Dolls have played here, so imagine my excitement when I found out that opening the season was Swedish power pop combo Roxette. To be fair, the 18,000 strong crowd of locals loved them and, aided by a couple of glasses of mulled wine, so did I, though singer Marie Fredriksson looked about as cold as a human being can be.

So, after a day on the slopes, a huge lunch, the après-ski, a concert and a huge supper, the only sensible thing to do is hit a club. Ischgl has many including the legendary Pacha nightclub, which can be found in Hotel Madlein.

So, that's Ischgl.

It's an exceptional place to ski and a lively, buzzy, friendly resort with an awful lot to offer.

    Last updated: 11:43am, January 5 2012