Innsbruck is gorgeous, a place of elegant streets and squares full of brightly painted buildings, and yet you can reach the Nordkette ski directly via the modern Hungerberg funicular which starts as a tube train then zips through a hilly suburb to connect with a cable car.
It’s one of 13 ski areas on the new Ski + City pass, a lift pass combined with 22 attractions (including the grandiose Imperial Palace, completed in 1500 under Emperor Maximilian I) and several big swimming pools along with public transport covering the area.
Innsbruck is at the heart of Austrian skiing and the Bergisel ski jump sits on a ridge with panoramic views over the city (the tower, designed by feted architect Zaha Hadid and with a lofty cafe, is on the Ski + City pass).
The nearest ski area is Nordkette, top of which after two cable cars, is 2,256m. Farthest away, about a 45-minute bus ride from town is the Stubai glacier. There’s everything from recognised resorts (pretty Kuhtai) to the tiny learning area of Kinderland Rinn and the three lifts of Elfer in the village of Neustift.
The others are Patscherkofel (on a bare, radio mast-topped peak above the city), Axamer Lizum (about 30km of slopes), adjoining Mutteralm (great for learners), neighbouring Glungezer, tiny Sonnenberg, lovely mountaintop Oberferpuss, Hochoetz, charmingly alpine, just along from Kuhtai, the decently sized Schlick 2000, Bergeralm (30km away, on the road to Italy), the handful of easy slopes at Mieders, the children’s fun area at Grünberg and the Sonnenlift drag lift in Axams.
The skiing: The Ski + City pass is available from a minimum of two days, ideal for anything from a short break to a full holiday.
Nordkette is the place to ski on a brief visit, the journey itself a must-do attraction, the futuristic funicular calling at even more futuristic stations designed by Zaha Hadid, then cable cars to a winter wonderland above the trees with breathtaking 360-degree views of city and Alps.
There are only six pistes but dramatic ones – plus Hafelekarrinne, Europe’s steepest ski route, a run through the off-piste. Across the city and Inn Valley, Patscherkofel has more special views and runs (one 7.5km long) that hosted races in the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics.
For a more traditional ski day, Kuhtai is a village (at more than 2,000m, Austria’s highest resort, with great snow cover) with slopes running either side of the main street. The pistes are easy-going but take the long sidestep up above the reservoir for a steep, exhilarating powder burn past the dam.
Ten minutes down the road by regular shuttle is Hochoetz, another resort with a reasonable amount of skiing (30km) with lots of tree-lined runs. Schlick 2000 is unknown to most Brits yet is a charming place with lofty views over the villages of Fulpnes and Neustift in the Stubai valley on one side and, on the other, beautiful cruises beneath a looming, craggy rock face featuring 2,611m Hoher Burgstall, conquered by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1949, four years prior to Everest. Families would love it and there are black runs too.
The biggie is the Stubai glacier, Austria’s biggest glacier ski area, topping out at 3,210m. Despite the glacier melt – lift towers sit on reinforced ice a good three metres above piste level – there’s guaranteed snow from October to June.
There are views across a clutch of 3,000m-plus peaks and all the way to Italy’s Dolomites. Runs are mostly fast but family-friendly, great for cruising in a jaggedly different setting – and there’s a fun 10km run from the top back to the base station.
The quirky skiing: These definitely aren’t ski-all-day-without-touching-the-same-run places but they’re fascinating nonetheless. And don’t just stick to the bigger places – pop into the tiny ones, especially if you have a hire car.
The ease: Innsbruck is a simple, budget flight away, the city centre is a bus hop from the airport and there are all sorts of places to discover on the slopes and off, all with one pass.
The Tyrolean style: This is one of Austria’s prettiest areas and you can experience it from city street to mountain peak. Before Christmas, Innsbruck is a world of festive markets going well into the evening with live music, gluwein steaming in great vats and bratwurst grilling. It might be a bit of a journey to the slopes but just regard it as a bus tour, up valleys, over passes and through quaint towns.
The X Factor: The magical mix of city and ski like nowhere else, and the chance to hit the slopes by ski bus or public transport. Hire a car, and you could tick off all 13 in a matter of days. The trick is arranging your time so you can take in attractions, from the city’s historic buildings to the extravagant Swarovski Crystal World, a theme park-like mix of caves, gardens and playgrounds. Come before Christmas, and you’ll find empty slopes and as well as the merriment of Innsbruck’s Christmas markets.
Where to eat
aDLERS: On the 12th floor and top floor of a curved, 70s-looking Innsbruck building, the near 360-degree views through the glass walls are immense. Not in a ski resort but you can see them from here – the place for a smart yet relaxed après-ski evening, both bar and restaurant. Posh, modern cuisine with a local edge (beef tartar from Tyrolean grey cattle) but vegan creations too. The rooftop is a party hotspot while downstairs is aDLERS’ 75-room luxury hotel.
Zur Goldenen Gams: Sitting at 2,600m on the Stubai glacier, this big, airy, wood-panelled spot alive with modern art is a dream with enormous windows filled with sun and snowy reflections. It claims to be the Tyrol’s biggest waiter-service restaurant (400 seats, and that’s not counting the vast terrace) but it’s swift, whether crispy, wafer-thin pizzas, gröstl (the sizzling Tyrolean mix of potatoes and meat) or the chestnut cream soup with wasabi foam and roasted almonds.
Dorfstadl: A traditional, restaurant and bar in Kuhtai, on the main street but by the lifts – a night time treat, too, with its own apartment house. The place is all ancient wood, except where it’s chunky stone. Trad food – wienerschnitzel, wurst and chips, gröstl and huge germknödel doughnuts for dessert.
Where to stay
Stage 12: Right in the heart of the city, Stage 12 is cool and modern, regularly rated one of the city’s best. It sits behind the historic façade of grand, pedestrianised Maria-Theresien-Strasse and opens on to the smart Rathausgalerien shopping arcade. Contemporary rooms (often with mountain view from the huge windows), a lively bar and stylish spa. Doubles from €100, room only, add breakfast about €20 for two (stage12.at)
Hotel Mondschein: Hotel Mondschein is in a row of colourful houses on the river Inn, on the edge of the old town. A five-minute stroll from the Hungerbahn so perfect for Nordkette skiing. Only 31 discreetly stylish rooms. Some have solar-powered stars on the ceiling for fairytale nights with buffet breakfast. Doubles from €90, B&B
How to get to Innsbruck
FLY: EasyJet has budget flights to Innsbruck from London Gatwick, Luton, Manchester and Bristol.
PACKAGE: A three-day Ski + City pass is €153 for three days, €268 for six. Children born 2005-2011, half-price; teenagers born 2000-2004, 30 per cent discount; youngsters born 2012 or later, free.