Though I’ve been told that most Netherlanders travel to Austria by car for a ski vacation, it couldn’t have been easier to travel by plane from Eindhoven to Innsbruck. The flight from Eindhoven Airport to Innsbruck Airport was only an hour. Both airports, being small, meant a quick pass through Airport Security, ease of grabbing our baggage and equipment from baggage claim and a short ride by bus into the city of Innsbruck. And the best part about the travel itself? Descending into Innsbruck being surrounding by the Alps. The view was completely surreal and felt like the colossal mountains were swallowing our tiny airplane. When the plane landed and we disembarked, we were immediately enveloped by an amazing view. I thought to myself, “If this is the backdrop of the airport, we are in store for some pretty killer scenery this trip.”
We stayed at The Hilton Innsbruck, situated in the heart of this quaint and colorful city. We had a pretty killer view from our hotel room, too!
Innsbruck, located in western Austria in the heart of the Alps, is the capital of the federal state of Tyrol. Due to the surrounding Nordkette mountain range, it is a major ski town which even hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976. Innsbruck also seems to be a University city, with many young students roaming about. The city has efficient public transportation and was easy and safe to get around on foot. My favorite part about Innsbruck was its colorful buildings, painted in different pastel hues, and its historic Old Town with winding cobblestone pathways and ornate details on the building exteriors.
Though Innsbruck is a fun place to spend a day or evening, we chose to travel to this destination in order to try our luck at skiing the Alps. In early March, we arrived to Innsbruck on a Friday afternoon and planned to spend 3 full days skiing on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, finally returning to Eindhoven on Tuesday morning. From the age of 5, I have traveled every year to Utah with my family and have been grateful to experience some of the best views and ski conditions in the U.S. Needless to say, I was very much looking forward to my Alpine ski experience.
On Saturday morning around 7:30, I woke up, threw on my ski gear, a little too eager to catch the free ski bus to the slopes. You can imagine my extreme disappointment when I was informed by the hotel concierge that due to strong winds, all ski resorts were closed for the day! It took me a few hours to process this setback and I have to admit I was not in the best mood the first half of Saturday. Bill to the rescue! He noticed an advertisement for a wine festival that happened to be going on in Innsbruck. We bought tickets and spent the late afternoon into the evening sampling fine wines, meats and cheeses from Austria, Germany, France and Italy. Moral of the story: getting drunk at a wine festival is the best way to improve a bad mood!
Sunday and Monday we had better luck. We took the free ski bus to ski resort Stubai Glacier (Stubaier Gletscher) on Sunday and ski resort Axamer Lizum on Monday. Skiing a glacier was unlike anything I have seen or done. Glaciers are just huge lumps of ice in which there is pretty much a guarantee there will be snow, even late into the season or year-round. Because of the high-elevation (above tree line), there aren’t many trees which can be both a pro and a con. Stubai Glacier is the largest glacier in Austria and had a huge variety of runs. Both mountains offered plenty of terrain to ski and with warm temps and shining sun, we were in heaven.
Skiing in Austria vs. America
- Because there are hardly any trees at this elevation, the trails (pistes) are not as easily defined and/or marked. In Austria, the trails were numbered and colored: Easy (blue), Intermediate (red), Advanced (black). If you are trying to follow a specific trail, you really have to keep an eye out for the small sign that sticks out of the snow and indicates what general trail you are on. If you’re not carefully looking for these signs, you might end up on a part of the mountain that is too difficult!
- I also found the trails (pistes) to be less-groomed than in the U.S. Perhaps skiing only 2 days and 2 mountains does not give me enough comparison to say this, but coming from someone who enjoys a perfectly groomed trail that I can effortlessly speed down, I did not find many like this in Austria! We put in some serious leg-work to get down through the ungroomed conditions. While I do enjoy a challenge, I got the sense that Bill did not prefer this type of skiing.
- We also immediately felt the effect that the high-altitude and lack of oxygen had on our bodies. Though you can get some pretty extreme symptoms from racing up to high elevation quickly, we only experienced shortness of breath and over time we were able to adjust to this feeling.
- Both Axamer Lizum and Stubai Glacier did not have a ski lodge at the base of the mountain. We had some difficulty finding a place to store our street shoes. Perhaps next time we will wear all of our ski gear and ski boots to the mountain.
- The mountains themselves did not seem to do Apres Ski so heavily. The larger parties seemed to be in nearby hotels, though there was always a sketchy little Apres Ski bar set up by the parking lot where we saw plenty of skiers (young and old) choking down consecutive shots of jagermeister while truly terrible Apres Ski music blasted in the background – like this song called Schatzi schenk mir ein Foto (Honey, give me a photo).
Innsbruck had some fun and tasty food spots. We enjoyed a mix of traditional food and modern cuisine. Because it is a university city, there were several hip and trendy hot spots that we discovered as well.
- The Speckeria is a MUST visit in Innsbruck Old Town. Tyrolean smoked bacon is known as “Speck” in German. The Speckeria is a small, cozy spot with amazing wine, authentic Austrian meats and excellent service. You can get a small or large platter of speck, mixed quality sausages with peppers and cheese, bread, and pretzels.
- Ludwig Das Burger Restaurant has a central location, homemade burgers and hand-cut fries. Enough said.
- Machete is a small and hip spot where you can eat-in or take-away. They call themselves the Burrito Kartell and they serve burritos, burrito bowls and tacos from super-fresh ingredients. This clearly seems to be a student favorite and is open most days and late hours. We went on a Sunday night when many other places were closed. They also have some kick-ass mule cocktails 🙂
- SoulKitchen a little farther out from the city center but easy to get to on foot or by Innsbruck’s great public transportation system. They have a huge space which would be great for larger groups. Probably best to make a reservation ahead of time for anyone who is dining! They have a variety of interesting burgers and I had a bomb salad as well! They brew their own beers and have decent cocktail menu.
We’re not huge fans of German beer, but managed to find some tasty craft beer, fun cocktails and great wines! Some favorites were craft-beer bar, Tribaun, where you get the dive bar feel in a clean and well-cared for establishment.
Bar 360 located on the 7th floor of the Marktgalerie, offers a unbelievable 360 view of Innsbruck. Seating is offered inside but the spots outside are best, where you can sip a Lillet cocktail and take in the sights.
We also enjoyed the cocktails we had at both Machete and SoulKitchen. Everyone in Austria also drinks Spritzers. Check out my post about this fun drink and its Austrian history.
Overall we had a great trip. Innsbruck was easy to get to, offered great food, drinks, accommodations and skiing. The only reason I would not return is because I would want to ski somewhere new in the Alps (next year – France?) and compare the difference! I also might like to switch it up and stay in a ski on / ski off rental to avoid the hassle of taking a bus or car everyday to the mountain!
- The free ski bus was a nice accommodation. Being a passenger on the winding route up to the mountain was a bit daunting so I’m glad that I didn’t have to drive it myself, especially Sunday morning when it was snowing heavily. We had to catch the bus at 8:50 AM and the return at 4:30 PM, so we got plenty of time to shred. If you prefer to have more flexibility in your schedule, then perhaps driving yourself is best.
- If you take the bus, or even your own car, its best to make sure you have all your gear on before leave your vehicle. There aren’t many places to change or store your belongings.
- If you feel ill due to the high-altitude, do not go any higher in elevation. The first day can be the most difficult. You must accept that you might be feeling tired, short of breath, and headachy. It is important to rest and hydrate.
- Most people we encountered spoke English but it might be helpful to know a few essential German phrases.
Thanks for letting me share my adventure!