Travel: Ischgl, Austria

Ischgl Skyfly. Picture: Lisa Young
Ischgl Skyfly. Picture: Lisa Young
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It’s all downhill on exhilarating Skyfly experience at one of the most snow-sure ski destinations in the Alps

Suspended on a single cable above a narrow gorge high in Austria’s Tyrolean Mountains, my skis strapped to my back, I descended two kilometres from an altitude of 1,683m to 1,376m, hitting the brakes at 82kph – not how I’d expected to spend my first day in Ischgl.

Exhilarating, thrilling and great fun, the Skyfly zip line is a fantastic experience... but more on that later.

From Innsbruck Airport, it’s a 75-minute drive along the Paznaun Valley to get right to the heart of the traditional mountain village of Ischgl. At 1,376 metres, it sits under one of Austria’s greatest and highest ski areas, located in the Silvretta Mountains. It’s one of the most snow-sure ski destinations in the Alps, making it perfect for early season skiing.

It was a cold, sunny mid-March morning when I pushed my feet into my ski boots, slung my skis over my shoulder and joined the crowds heading to the Silvrettabahn. With so many people waiting to get on the lift, we walked ten minutes to the quieter Fimbabahn, where we got on easily.

At the top of the lift, the sun was out in full. We joined a ski safari arranged by Ski School Ischgl, and covered much of the 30km of pistes the resort had to offer. There’s some amazing off-piste skiing too, and snowboarders will soon find some of the best opportunities in the Alps. With such proximity to Samnaun in Switzerland, we rode the lifts that connected Austria and Switzerland and skied in two countries in one day.

On our way back down to the heart of Ischgl, we decided to try out an alternative way of descending the mountain – not on our skis. Last season, Ischgl introduced the Skyfly zip line, a really fun and thrilling way of getting down the mountain at speed.

After being weighed, you are put into a sling-like seat harness, and your skis or snowboard are attached to a metal mount on the back of the sling. The hardest part is climbing the stairs with all your ski gear to the top of a steel tower from where you launch.

At the top, there are two separate zip lines, so you can travel at the same time as a friend. An instructor attaches you to the sturdy cable, and, after receiving instructions, you are ready to go, skis and all.

There’s a clonking release noise and you are off. Gravity takes over and you whizz down the mountainside following a narrow valley and within a few metres of sheer rock. As the next platform comes into view (there are three sections), you are still travelling at speeds of up to 82km per hour and there are no signs of slowing down. Then... bam. You hit a brake on the cable, swing upwards and come to a stop. If you think it’s all over, think again; there are another two zip lines to descend quickly, and you eventually come to land on top of the gondola station roof in the village. As soon as I got off, I wanted to do it all over again.

But it was back to Hotel Brigitte, just a short walk from the town centre and the main lifts, with its wellness spa with massage facilities, a pool and, of course, an Austrian sauna where wearing even a shred of fabric is frowned upon.

In Ischgl, not only do people ski hard, they also party hard. Kicking off from 5pm, the town’s après-ski antics are legendary, but no matter how heavy the partying gets there are no visible “leftovers” in the morning as the streets are cleaned before breakfast every day.

Dinner was a grand affair at one of Austria’s best restaurants: the Paznaunerstube restaurant at Hotel Trofana Royal. Restaurant guides Gault & Millau and A la Carte rank Ischgl as the centre of gourmet food in the Tyrol region and have awarded the restaurant, which is run by head chef Martin Sieberer, five stars. Our six-course menu blew us all away, and that’s not to mention the five different amuse bouches and the exquisite bread selection. The staff are meticulous and knowledgeable, and the tasting menu is reasonably priced considering the copious amounts of carefully sourced food and wine. Expect to pay around €150 for a menu with wine. Dishes included lobster from Brittany, roasted turbot, carpaccio of braised veal cheeks and local lamb. The veggies among us were well-catered for too, with dishes such as ravioli of mushrooms with Périgord truffle.

The following day we transferred from Ischgl by a linking ski bus to the nearby Galtür resort, a 15-minute drive at most, at the head of the Paznaun Valley. The ski area, Silvapark, has various sectors, including beginners, children, cross-country and Alpine, with nine lifts and 40km of slope. Skiing at Galtür is a delight.

There’s also an abundance of cross-country tracks and I opted to trade in my ski boots for what felt like trainers in comparison – a flimsy pair of cross-country ski booties. I’d tried this sport before and really enjoyed travelling through beautiful, quiet landscapes with no lifts or busy slopes. Cross-country is a wonderful way to explore the mountains and a great way to raise your fitness level. You don’t have to be super fit. You can make cross-country as hard or as slow as you want. The equipment is lightweight and more flexible than downhill skiing gear. It’s an advantage if you are fit and can already ski, but it’s not necessary.

Ischgl also attracts some of the biggest names in the music industry to either open or close the ski season – Peter Gabriel, Elton John, The Killers, Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Pink, Sting, Rod Stewart and Mariah Carey have all performed at the Top Of The Mountain open-air concerts in the middle of the ski pistes – and this year will see Germany’s Helene Fischer in the natural amphitheatre on 30 April.

More often than not it snows at the concert and there’s little chance of a shortage of the white stuff on Ischgl’s slopes. With an abundance of powder and a network of over a thousand snow cannon and lances, the slopes are topped up for a five-month season from the end of November through to the beginning of May.

FACTFILE

www.ischgl.com/en. We stayed at the four-star superior Hotel Brigitte in Ischgl. Inghams is offering a seven-night holiday on a half-board basis at the Hotel Brigitte from £1,244 per person, based on two sharing. Price includes return flights from London Gatwick to Innsbruck and airport transfers. To book, visit www.inghams.co.uk/ski-holidays, 01483 791 114.

For more details on Paznaun-Ischgl, see www.ischgl.com, email info@ischgl.com or call the hotline 0043-50990-100

Skyfly zip line, www.ischgl.com/en/active/adventure-outdoors/ischgl-skyfly

For an overnight in Innsbruck, try the ibis Hotel Innsbruck, www.accorhotels.com. For an overnight at London Gatwick or Heathrow airports, try www.yotel.com