News from the snow
Obergurgl - Hochgurgl Austria
Obergurgl is one of the world's few classic ski resorts and unlike some of the others, it's got superb skiing and an admirable snow record as well as the picturesque village. Then there's the spectacular scenery of the Ötztal region of the Tirol, the wonderful mountain air and peace. But beyond that there is Obergurgl's remarkable altitude - one of the Alps' highest genuine villages, meaning village level snow is the norm from November to May. With lifts right up to 3080m (over 10100 feet), the big vertical is skiable right through the season. Obergurgl's big break came in May 1931 when pioneering Swiss balloonist Professor Auguste Piccard was forced to make an emergency landing on the resort's Gurgler Ferner glacier whilst setting a new altitude record in his stratospheric balloon, after taking off from Augsburg in Germany. News of the attempt and emergency landing made headlines around the world. Perhaps this sudden fame was a partial catalyst that brought the first tourists in 1939. It has been studied since 1951 as a model for Alpine development. Hochgurgl, a small settlement made up almost entirely of large luxurious hotels, began its life in 1961 when the local Scheiber family founded the first hotel there. Obergurgl is the major settlement in a series of villages once called 'Gurgl' but now referred to by the tourist office as Obergurgl - Hochgurgl. The latter is an even higher-altitude off-shoot that's increasingly popular. The lower villages were once known as Untergurgl but were broken up in to smaller settlement names (Pill, Angern and Königsgrain) back under the obergurgl banner, in 1999. However, although the names change most of the world still choose to remember only the name 'Obergurgl'.
A small traditional old and picturesque Tyrolean village with a long skiing tradition and a long season It's main off-shoot is a group of up-market hotels at Hochgurgl ( 2150m ). An eight-seater gondola connects the ski areas of Hochgurgl and Obergurgl.
There is skiing for all ability levels in both sectors. Beginners may practice technique on the Gaisberg or Mahdstuhl lifts whilst more experienced skiers will find the majority of runs at Festkogl above Obergurgl to their liking or the Schermerspitze run above Hochgurgl which has two steep sections for added fun. Make sure you make it to the top from where there are stunning views over the Dolomites deep in to Italy, with the Northern Alps stacking up behind you.
Opportunities for experts include the steep black Hohe Mut run or the Ferwalltal descents above Obergurgl (particularly good in the morning). Above Hochgurgl there are the challenging moguls of the Top-Wurmkogl II slope . But many serious skiers will want to take a guided tour, of which at least 20 run daily, into the huge off-piste paradise. There are over 250 3000m plus peaks in the Ötztal Alps, the largest glaciated area in the eastern Alps, and 50 of them are around Obergurgl.
Lift lines are unheard of around the Gurgls' lifts, thanks to a capacity of nearly 40,000 skiers per hour but, at the most, only a quarter of that number ever hit the slopes at once. Many also hit the nine legendary ski huts of Obergurgl -Hochgurgl.
There are two ski schools, at Obergurg and at Hochgurgl, by far the larger being in Obergurgl. Cross country tuition is offered, along with all the other disciplines and there are three tracks to try out around the valley, of 2 km, 3km and 7km in length.
A highlight of the weekly calendar is Thursday night at the Nederhütte where guests are treated to a traditional evening of Austrian wine and song, whilst enjoying Schweinsrippelen raclette and other local specialities. Dancing on the tables follows and continues in to the small hours.
Three of the mountain restaurants remain open at night and trips up to them are a popular evening event, as is the weekly night skiing. Straight after the lifts close many people stay in Toni's Almhütte at Hochgurgl and after the restaurants wind down it's on to the African Bar for a jungle bop.
Unusual in the high Austrian Tyrol - Josl's Country Saloon with its Wild West feel will momentarily transport visitors from the North American West back to their roots. If you prefer to stick to Tyrolean try the Krumpns Stadl.
The Piccard Saal sometimes stages concerts and folklore evenings and there are lectures and slide shows at the Conference Centre. Over three weekends in mid-November there's the popular live music on a 1000 square metre performance area.