An independent review from Gary Van Haas
Innsbruck, Austria is one of Europe’s oldest and most beautiful ski centers. Nestled in the Tyrolean Alps, the area has some 200 trails covering 500 kilometers (310 miles) and is perfect for beginner and intermediate-level skiers. People often compare this area to Aspen, Colorado in terms of terrain and cost.
Innsbruck is also a convenient place to ski. The town itself is located only three miles from the airport and all six of the ski areas are within a one-hour radius of town. There is also a free shuttle that will pick you up at the main train station and drop you at the resort of your choice.
A reasonably priced all-in-one lift pass covers the major ski resorts in the area including the Olympic villages of Igls and Axamer Lizum and the small villages of Tulfes, Mutters, and the Stubai Glacier. There are many options, but a six-day adult pass costs about 145.50 in Euros (U.S. $160). There is also a “Super Ski” special available that offers an additional full day of skiing at the resorts of Kitzbühel and St. Anton.
Most of the visitors here ski at an intermediate level, but thrill-seekers still have some options. The amazingly daring runs of Hafelekar, Axamer Lizum, and Stubai Glacier are good for advanced skiers. And for those who like to watch other people risk their lives, the world-famous Air and Style Competition at the Olympic Ski Jump stadium attracts over 25,000 visitors in early December and is a must-see for skiing aficionados.
For those times when you are not on the slopes, Innsbruck will keep you entertained with excellent shopping and a happening nightlife. Culture vultures will be happy with world-class opera, gorgeous architecture, and superb museums. And since the locals are friendly and (usually) speak English, Innsbruck is a good fit for anyone seeking an international skiing holiday adventure.
For information, ski passes, and general assistance contact the Innsbruck Tourist Office.
The Innsbruck area offers over 200 trails covering some 500 kilometers (310 miles). This area is good for beginner and intermediate skiers, but not as good for the advanced, since there are not enough challenging runs to keep high-level skiers happy.
The resorts around Innsbruck have slopes with both northern and southern exposure and most trails are above the tree line, which affords incredible views and unimpeded skiing. The average temperature in wintertime is 31 degrees Fahrenheit.
The environment is well organized, friendly, and hospitable. And since most of the resorts are located within an hour radius of town, the skiing is convenient as well.
Innsbruck offers some fun snowboarding with many off-piste trails and wide terrain areas with half pipes, boarder X courses, whales, and quarter pipes. A few at Stubai Glacier are set aside for pure boarding use with special lift tickets, so be careful not to ski in these areas.
There are several boarder-specialist schools and clubs, which hold regular events throughout the winter season. Snowboarders run around in small groups around here and hang out together on a regular basis at the Blue Chip Disco. If you are new at snowboarding in Innsbruck, it’s best to get out of the way of hot-doggers or you might get hurt.
In March, the famous Seegrube half-pipe is laid out to the world’s top snowboarders in a contest called the Innsbruck Extreme. This is a huge event and draws a considerable crowd including quite a few students from the area.
The snow conditions in Innsbruck are generally very good. In the winter, there is a freshly fallen powder average of 12 to 20 inches and a base of 55 to 60 inches. In spring, the base is an average of about 37 to 45 inches, and summer snow is basically non-existent except on the peaks. In fall the snow base is about 28 to 40 inches.
If there is not a lot of snowfall, don’t worry. There are 11 trails here with snowmakers out of some 65 skiable trails. Snowfall conditions in Innsbruck are comparable to that at the resort of Telluride, Colorado.
The Innsbruck area has drag lifts, chairs, and gondolas, most of which are in very good condition. There are no high-tech lift access options available, or limits to lift ticket sales, so watch out because you will find lines backing up around the peak hours of between 10:00 and 11:30 a.m.
The good part is they are usually calm and orderly. Total uphill lift capacity is around 60,000 skiers per hour.
Innsbruck has a wide selection and availability of skiing equipment for all levels, and rental shops usually offer discount packages for multi-day rentals. There are also special packages for group rentals and senior citizens. You will find that rental places are usually very friendly and helpful to foreigners and almost everyone speaks English.
There are quite a few rental shops here so that lines aren’t very long and the equipment is usually of good condition and quality. Prices fluctuate very little throughout the season and most rental shops accept major credit cards for deposits on equipment. If you do not use a credit card, advance payment of 20 percent is required plus you may have to leave your passport as a security deposit.
The best rental shops are found at Igls resort, which are Austrian Rentals and Igls Ski-Shop, as well as Innsbruck Rentals located in the resort at Mutters. Most shops rent new technology skiing equipment, such as carving skis, cross-country gear, snowboards, etc., and some shops even offer a professional system for setting ski-bindings to ensure safety.
Prices are comparable to what you’d pay at a U.S. resort.
Skiing lessons in Innsbruck are usually available in English, French, and German to all levels and ages of skiers including advanced, intermediate, and beginners. You can take a private lesson or a group lesson. There are also programs designed just for kids.
Most ski schools also offer accreditation with their courses and provide certificates. Some even offer cross-country and snowboarding lessons for beginners and intermediates. The bulk of classes are usually for adults between the ages of 20 to 40 years of age, however there are many different classes also offered for youngsters of varying ages between four and 19 years old, as well as special instruction and training for handicapped persons.
All in all, Innsbruck is a great place to learn the basics of skiing from some of the best professional skiers in the world. Don’t forget, this is the place where many of Austria’s champion skiers were taught. The best instructors and ski schools are found at the resorts of Igls and Mutter Alm.
Innsbruck is a good destination for beginners; there are 26 high-quality beginner trails in the area. Special lift tickets are offered as are basic ski-school instruction packages.
The beginner runs in the Innsbruck area are similar to the beginner runs at Mammoth Mountain, California. Mutter Alm, for example, has some easy runs. Trails number 2, 3, and 5 are particularly good since they are served by one chairlift and three easy draglifts, which are helpful for novice skiers.
Most of the beginner trails are found at the bottom of the hill, so they don’t get as much snow as some of the other trails further up the mountain. Beginner trails are usually at their best in late fall, winter, and early spring when the snow is heaviest. Some resorts, however, use snow machines in summer.
Beginner trails are designated by numbers and marked in green.
Innsbruck is most popular with intermediate skiers, as there are 33 trails for mid-level skiers around the area. Intermediate trails are well kept and plentiful.
Intermediate trails in Innsbruck are comparable to most intermediate trails you will find in Telluride, Colorado. The best intermediate trails in Innsbruck are found at the resorts of Igls, Kitzbühel, and Patscherkofel.
Patscherkofel is a good choice for groups skiing at different levels. There are gentle slopes for beginners and families, steep slopes for the advanced, fun-runs for children, cool runs for snowboarders, and the snow-making equipment ensures there will always be skiing even when there is little natural snow.
Intermediate trails are designated by numbers and marked in blue.
In general, Innsbruck is not considered a premier advanced skier destination. There are not enough runs to satisfy a real thrill-seeker. Nevertheless, the 10 or so advanced runs that do exist are terrific. Stubai Glacier and Patscherkofel are your best bets with mogul trails, incredible jumps, and off-piste skiing.
Most trails are narrow and steep, and in bad weather, conditions can be difficult, so let the ski-patrol or your friends know when you’re venturing out on a run and when you’re expected to return back. Avalanches are prevalent around Stubai Glacier, so be careful and check for weather and snow conditions before venturing out.
Advanced and expert trails are numbered and designated in black.
Patscherkofel (7,365 feet) has Innsbruck’s most popular racing run. This resort was home to the bobsled and downhill competitions for both 1972 and 1976 Innsbruck Olympics. Patscherkofel is also the place where “Kaiser” Franz Klammer won his famous Olympic Gold medal victory in the 1972 Men’s Downhill Championships.
The only problem is that most of these runs are generally unavailable to public use and are for professional skiers or club members. But another good place to try is Stubai Glacier, where there are also some excellent off-piste runs at trail numbers 12 and 14.
Ski / Snowboard > Other Skiing > Night Skiing
Night skiing is available in the Innsbruck area, mostly at the resorts of Igls and Mutter Alm. The lighting is good and it’s a great chance to pick yourself out a torch and head down the mountain at night without all the crowds to hinder you. Closing time is around midnight when almost everyone heads down to the discos and bars. No special tickets are required; your regular day passes will also work at night.
There are 124 miles of cross-country skiing in Innsbruck comparable to Chamonix, France and Gstaad, Switzerland in style and length. Most are located near the main ski areas, and shops offer all the necessary equipment and instructions if needed.
The quality of loops is very good with huts provided every 10 to 15 miles along the trails. Most cross-country trails are located near the resorts where skiers are protected from the winds and cold. Unfortunately, sometimes a season is cut short due to lack of snowfall, but you will find it’s usually good from December to March.
There are many options for cross-country skiing in Igls with several loops and trails, also another trail for cross-country skiing with 6 km (3.7 miles) loop at Mutters. Cross-country skiing here can be compared to cross-country skiing in New Hampshire. In all, there are about 20 miles in trails that can be used in Innsbruck, and all necessary equipment can be rented.
Ski / Winter Activities
Daycare and babysitting are available for all age ranges in Innsbruck. The facilities are generally of good quality and the staff at all resorts speak English. Most facilities are close to the other activities, so parents can cut down on travel time. Transportation for children to and from facilities is easy and ski buses will usually accommodate families.
Pedestrian areas are provided for child safety and everywhere in Innsbruck, there are discounts provided for children’s lift tickets and equipment rentals. Igls is a great mountain resort for kids to take lessons or ski on with easy runs made almost kid-safe. Some facilities even have snow gardens for kids and there are several nursery areas and beginner slopes, which offer children lessons. Lesson ages range from five to 15. Some of the non-ski or après-ski activities available to children are the city’s historical museums, traditional puppet shows, movie theaters, and night skiing.
Other Winter Activities
Other Winter Activities
There is more to do than just ski around the Innsbruck area. Snow hiking or snowshoeing is fun, especially at Igls where the trails are within walking distance to the village. All are fully organized with mountain huts where a hiker can cozy up and get warm, eat, or meet up with others.
But there are also many other activities available such as ice-skating rinks, and sleigh rides. For the more outgoing, there is even mountain biking during the summer and winter months. In summer, people prefer hiking in the mountains around Stubai Glacier.
There is a little snowmobiling available around Innsbruck—mostly off the beaten track and near mountain villages. This is fun and an invigorating change at the end of a day’s skiing but you really have to look for it, as there are no shops renting them. You will only find them by seeing posted signs along the road, rented by private parties from their houses. Snowmobiling here is comparable to a run at Stowe, Vermont.
Tubing / Tobogganing
Tubing and tobogganing is available under controlled conditions at the Olympic Ski Center, and not generally offered to the public without strict supervision by an instructor. This is because the runs are very dangerous and for professional use only. Tobogganing events are held quite often in the winter here, where most visitors enjoy attending. Tobogganing here is found at Patscherkofel Mountain and has a world-class toboggan run.
On other hand, tubing is much simple and easier to find around Innsbruck, but limited by snowfall conditions. No snow, no fun. The winter season lasts at Patscherkofel from about November to end of March.
Ice Skating / Hockey
In Innsbruck you will find several ice skating rinks, as well as ice hockey. The rinks are usually small and natural, but there are other man-made rinks found in the city center near the train station like the Ice Palace, as well as others around the resort areas. This is a great way to pass the time if you do not ski and want to be involved in some form of winter sport. Most rinks provide ice skating boot rentals right on their sight, at reasonable prices. Some indoor rinks are open in summer too.
Sleigh riding is available in Innsbruck as well in some of the nearby resort areas. It’s far better here than other European resorts because of the wonderful scenery. It’s well worth the money, especially if you have a loved one sitting beside you. Most resorts have them; check with the information desk for details and time schedules.
Snow hiking is good at most resorts around Innsbruck and somewhat comparable to Blue Knob, Pennsylvania or Mammoth, California. There are about 60 miles of trails, mostly ready and pre-prepared for hikers, laid out with shelters and cozy huts for heating along the way. You will find them spaced out about every five to 10 kilometers (three to six miles), and maps and information are available at the ski-patrol centers.
Snowshoeing is hard to find, as it only exists within small groups in Innsbruck. The Alpine club is an old established club that caters mainly to their own members from within Austria.
Dining and Nightlife
Innsbruck has an excellent après-ski scene. After a day of skiing, most folks head to the various bars and restaurants around the area. The city center is the most happening spot.
In the Old Town you can find lots of bars and cafés around the town square and alleys. Another thing to remember is that Innsbruck also hosts a bustling Casino with a terrific view, slot machines, roulette, and blackjack tables.
Innsbruck has superb restaurants with great food and reasonable prices. Some of the best places to eat are the Philipina Welsher restaurant found in the Hotel Europa Tyrol, the Innsbruck Inn, and the Wilder Mann in the nearby village of Lans. Here is where you will find good German Knackwurst and Sauerbraten like you never had it before, topped with mustard and applesauce. Sauerbraten is a traditional dish made from lamb intestines and stuffed with minced veal, lightly grilled in butter, and topped with sauerkraut. You can also find budget restaurants and fast food joints all over the city.
There are several vegetarian places near the Old Town, The Garden being a local favorite. If you are Jewish, you won’t find much in the way of Kosher food here, but some of the traditional wurst-stands on the streets offer Kosher food, as well as an amazing variety of German hot dogs. They are found all over the city center and are an excellent deal for the money. Most restaurants and bars stay open until 2 a.m.
Clubs And Bars
Innsbruck’s club and bar scene is a good value compared to other European ski resorts such as in Gstaad, Switzerland and Chamonix, France where prices tend to go higher. Drinks and entrance fees are in the reasonable U.S. $5 to $7 range, and the places are usually fun and lively.
Some of the better places are the Wild Club, Moguls, and Innsbruck Inn all located along the big market street, Maria-Theresien-Strasse. Popular bars include the Zwolver Bar and the Piano Bar, where there’s always a crowd as well as the Pavilion located at the Old Palace Garden area.
There is virtually no visible gay scene here at all, and as far as the town goes, it’s a bit conservative, so it’s best to keep your partying to yourself or in the pubs. And the same goes for the straight drinking crowd—no craziness or partying on the streets is allowed, otherwise you may just find yourself visiting the local Burgermeister and paying a hefty fine.
Visitors to Innsbruck will be able to see all kinds of new and old American blockbusters and European films in nice, comfy movie theaters. The best one is the Innsbruck Cinema in the center, but the only trouble is they tend to dub all the films in German. The same goes for video rentals in the comfort of your hotel rooms. It’s not very often you will find a movie or video in English. Prices are reasonable and comparable to video rental and theater prices in the United States running about $7 a ticket.
Innsbruck has several playhouses in the area and also hosts the world-famous Innsbruck Opera House and theater, featuring musicals and such memorable classics as, The Marriage of Figaro, Aida, and more. Here at times, you will also find classical music by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Ludwig van Beethoven featured. This is a great place to just kick back, relax, and enjoy the finer things in life.
There are also plays being performed weekly at the Performance Theater in the center on Wilhelm Street near the Winter Palace. Just keep in mind that plays are mostly in German.
Generally, Innsbruck is a destination that caters to skiers, but you will find a plethora of non-skiing activities here as well. In town, you can find movie theaters, museums, gyms, ice skating rinks, shopping, health spas, horseback riding, mountain biking, archery, trekking, swimming (mostly in summer), and local sightseeing tours all year around, which are available at almost all tour operator shops.
Festivals And Events
Festivals And Events
Innsbruck is especially well known for its summer Festival of Ancient Music performed on original instruments. This is also the place where they hold the world-famous Air and Style Competition, a major event held at the beginning of every December. This is a spectacular event held at the official Olympic Ski Jump Stadium that attracts over 25,000 visitors worldwide every year. Just buy a ticket and come on in to see some of the best skiers in the world compete for top medals and awards.
Because of its location, Innsbruck is a marvelous place for day trips to other nearby cities and towns. Regularly scheduled sightseeing tour buses run to the cities of Salzburg, Munich, and the famed Bavarian Castles of Mad King Ludwig and others. The trips take about two to three hours and prices vary accordingly. See your local travel shop in town for details and time schedules.
As far as local villages and towns go there are quite a few, such as St. Anton and Axioms. Both are only within an hour’s bus or train hop away. There are many other day-trips available, so check with local travel shops in the area for current prices and booking information.
Shopping is great in the Innsbruck area—you can find just about everything you’re looking for. Some shops are upscale and pricey while others are a little bit touristy. You will find most shopping on the street Maria-Theresien-Strasse.
Kaufhaus Tyrol is a terrific store where you will find everything from food items to ski gear. Meranerstrasse is another great area for crafts items and a farmer’s market is found in the Markthalle where you will find homemade goods, such as jellies, vegetables, and homemade liquors. These are fun and exciting, and usually held on Saturday mornings—so don’t miss them.
There are quite a few spas around Innsbruck, both in town and in the resort areas themselves. The spas offer the ultimate in relaxation as well as exercise facilities like weight lifting and yoga classes. This is where you can finally skip a day of hard mogul skiing and go for a soothing massage, sink into a hot steamy Jacuzzi, or perhaps even splurge on a full body wrap or a warm mudpack. There is even a relaxing facial if you want it.
Some spas are closed for the summer season.
There are many interesting museums around Innsbruck, such as the Innsbruck Cultural Museum, the Historical Museum, and nearby castles and other historical sites to visit. Regularly scheduled sightseeing buses run to Salzburg, Munich, and the zany, Disney-esque Bavarian Castle of Mad King Ludwig.
They even go as far as Venice for a quick visit. All destinations are available and priced depending on how far you want to go and how many nights you want to stay. Contact your local Tour Shop for all the details and time schedule information.