ISCHGL’S motto is “Relax. If you can...” Something of a challenge in a ski resort that never sleeps and has an après-ski scene that puts other resorts to shame. Even so, there are multiple hotels in town, a convenient one-hour drive from Innsbruck, with more than 11,000 guest beds to meet most people’s budgets.
At 1,377 metres, this traditional mountain village sits under one of Austria’s greatest and highest ski areas, with 238km of pristine pistes and 44 ski lifts servicing the whole of the Ischgl area, known as the Silvretta Arena. Located in the Paznaun region of Tyrol, along with nearby Kappl and Galtür, which are both worth a visit, it’s one of the most snow-sure ski destinations in the Alps and is perfect for early-season skiing. There’s little chance of a shortage of the white stuff on Ischgl’s slopes, with a network of 1,000 snow machines ensuring slopes are open from the end of November through to the beginning of May.
I had been warned about Ischgl. Not only do people ski hard, they party hard. Ischgl’s après-ski antics are legendary. Between 5pm and 7pm, bars quickly become rammed with boot-clad revellers – mainly German and British skiers and boarders, and those just out for a good time.
It also attracts some of the biggest names in the music industry – iconic figure, not normally associated with ski resorts, who come here to open or close the ski season. Artists who have performed on the pistes include Peter Gabriel and Elton John, the latter being the first big-name star to feature in the now legendary Top of the Mountain open-air concerts. The Killers, Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Pink, Sting, Rod Stewart and, most recently, Mariah Carey have also appeared. During one of the gigs, Lionel Ritchie remarked to the audience that it was the first time in his life he had performed with snow falling on his shoes.
We started our day in a sedate fashion. After a speedy check-in at the four-star Hotel Piz Buin, we collected our rental skis from nearby Intersport Mathoy, then it was a short walk to the Fimbabahn lift, in the lower part of Ischgl town. Hotel Piz Buin is conveniently located at the start of the village and its proximity to the snow is a luxury. This is not the only attraction – during après-ski, the hotel owner transforms himself into a retro, disc-spinning DJ at his own Niki’s Stadl bar.
The Fimbabahn lift carried us up to the top station at 3,000m, where we clicked into our skis and took to the snow to discover Ischgl’s pistes. Before us lay 45km of carefully maintained black runs, 127km of perfectly groomed red runs and 38km of beautiful blue pistes. Ischgl’s skiing experience also extends over the border into Switzerland, and from the top of the Silvretta Arena we skied down to the Swiss tax haven of Samnaun, where we overindulged in delicious hot chocolate before returning to party central.
There’s no shortage of entertainment in Ischgl, with an abundance of chic, trendy designer shops, heaps of ski stores, smoking bars, discos, nightclubs, rustic inns and five-star gourmet restaurants. The après-ski scene is lively and some of the amusingly named nightclubs and drinking dens suggest a potentially wild night out, but there are a few alternative bars and restaurants that offer a quieter atmosphere too.
One of Ischgl’s top après-ski bars is Schatzi, so I stuck my head in the door to see what the fuss was about. The place was heaving, with eardrum-busting music playing to a mainly male clientele. Apparently there’s a shortage of women in Ischgl, with a ratio of nine men to one woman, and Schatzi, was no exception. To a man they were mesmerised by the bar-top dancers.
Other entertaining après-ski bars worth looking at include Freeride, Champagner Hütte and Guxa cocktail bar at the YSCLA hotel. Some bars are so busy you can barely get through the door, and once inside you are well and truly stuck. When the crowd moves, you move with it. Perhaps mercifully, at 7pm on the dot the après-bar scene stops and people stumble out in their ski boots, returning to their hotel restaurants for some traditional Austrian sustenance. Before heading back out again for après-dinner revelries.
After our dinner, we take to the streets. Walking ahead of us through the snow are four Scotsmen in kilts. Passing partygoers comment on their attire and, with a quick flick of his kilt, one reveals a chilly-looking buttock, confirming that nothing is worn beneath – and that for bare-faced cheek, you can’t beat a Scotsman abroad. • The main UK tour operators to Ischgl are Inghams (www.inghams.co.uk); Crystal (www.crystalski.co.uk); First Choice (www.firstchoice.co.uk); Ski Independence (www.ski-i.com); and Ski Total (www.skitotal.com).
A seven-night half-board stay starts from €789.50 per person at Hotel Piz Buin, Ischgl (www.pizbuin-ischgl.at).
Flights from Scotland to Zurich, with various stops, start at £150 (including taxes) through Swiss Air (www.swiss.com), British Airways (www.britishairways.com) KLM (www.klm.com) and Air France (www.airfrance.co.uk).
VIP ski passes for the Ischgl-Samnaun area starts at £150 (€186) for six days, with an Ischgl guestcard for visitors staying in the village.
More informationable is available from the Austrian tourist office (0845 101 1818) and Paznaun-Ischgl tourist office (www.paznaun-ischgl.com)