Ski time for beginners in Ischgl, Austria

Is it ever too late to learn to ski? Our writer hit the slopes in Austria to find out


When you take your first steps aged 20 months, chances are you won’t grow up to become one of life’s daredevils.

My mother assures me I was a speed freak on four limbs but standing on two feet struck me as hard work — and far too risky. That sense of cautiousness has never left. I balked at the school gym equipment and fretted about getting stuck mid-air on playground seesaws.

My honeymoon to Costa Rica was inspired by a programme about ziplining. Yet once there, I remembered my extreme fear of heights.

Unsurprisingly, skiing has never topped my bucket list, yet at the ripe old age of 44 and having given birth three times, I decided the time had come to get a grip. And having spent a few hot and sunny days in the beautiful Alpine resort of Ischgl in Austria, it was the obvious place to face my fears.

Arriving in the Tyrol, I was struck by the contrast. Like many ski resorts, Ischgl adopts a lazy pace in the summer, where hotel availability is good and there’s never a queue to dine out.

But while normal life elsewhere shifts down a gear during the cold and darker months, Ischgl roars into action. Walking through town, I felt as if I’d landed on a Hollywood movie set. Here was a world I knew nothing about, a high altitude playground for the blond and beautiful, clad in neon lycra with sun-kissed faces.

Kitted out in all the gear and the world’s least comfortable footwear, I nervously boarded a cable car up the mountain. Open from November until May, Ischgl promises an ambitious range of pistes for skiers and snowboarders of every level, including scaredy cats like me.

While experts of all ages zipped past at high speed, my patient instructor took me through the basics. And with plenty of praise and repetition, we eventually made it onto the ‘magic carpet’, a short travellator which conveyed me up the mountain for that first taste of adrenaline.

Getting off was easier said than done, but once mastered, the desire to beat my fear kicked in. Up and down we went, with varying success. It soon became clear why so many find this white powder so addictive. Learning is a slog but the payoff a buzz, as everyone around me had already found.

While the initial impression may have been of a homogenous uber-tanned snow-lover, the opposite is true. With its many attractions and buzzing après-ski, Ischgl is a magnet for tourists from all over, including Israelis (is there anywhere you don’t hear Hebrew?).

For less racy action, I also tried cross country skiing, an altogether different discipline. Skis are longer and thinner, boots not half as crippling, but there’s much more work to be done. Think power walking, just colder and more slippery — as my backside soon found.

Thankfully, my guide let me set the pace. Though my brief flirtation with conventional skiing had been fun, cross country, with its vigorous workout and time to appreciate the surroundings, felt more rewarding.

Yet the beauty of Ischgl is that skiing is only one of the winter pursuits available. The region offers winter hiking trails, snow-shoeing or horse-drawn sleigh rides. There’s ice skating, ice hockey and tobogganning, plus a dazzling night time ski show, set to banging dance tunes and 80s rock anthems.

And for music lovers, Ischgl has the added attraction of its opening and closing season concerts in a snowy arena on the mountaintop. Elton John, Rihanna and Kylie Minogue are veterans, as are Alicia Keys, Robbie Williams and a host of Europop sensations.

Ischgl is the jewel in the crown of the four Paznaun Valley villages; there are as many hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs and apartments as days in the year and together these 365 places to stay offer more than 11,400 guest beds, compared to a permanent population of just 1,500. The village is also packed with wall-to-wall bars and restaurants, dishing up fine dining to fast food.

There are other quieter and more laid-back destinations in the surrounding region but Ischgl itself is keen to cater for those seeking a more relaxed break too.

The four-star Hotel Brigitte where I stayed prides itself on its charm and hospitality. While waiting staff clad in traditional dirndls and lederhosen serve up authentic and calorie-laden Tyrolean cuisine, the hotel is also big on ‘wellness’.

After an action-packed day on the mountain, I wanted nothing more than to chill out in the hotel’s luxurious basement spa. There is a well-equipped gym but I’d had more than enough of a workout in the fresh air. Instead I closed my eyes and let the therapist work her magic on my aching limbs and bruised joints.

I took a quick dip in the lovely pool, but soon got too cold and tired so headed for the sauna for the chance to warm up. But I got more than a little hot under the collar when I found all the natives — both men and women -— completely au naturel.

Sadly that was one step too far, even for my new courageous self.

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