News from the snow
Sölden operates an impressive ski area that includes the original village, the high-altitude station of Hochsölden and the neighbouring traditional village of Vent. The village of Obergurgl, further up the valley, is also included on the pass. The Ötztal Arena itself has seen a lot of investment in recent years in state of the art lifts, and these have now reached all the way up to Sölden's major assets - its twin year-round skiing areas on the Tiefenbach and Rettenbach Glaciers. These are some of Austria's highest ski slopes and open up one of the country's biggest lift-served verticals. One of a handful of ski resorts able to offer visitors skiing on every day of the year, Sölden now closes its ski slopes for about six weeks each year from mid-May to end June. However it still uniquely operates two glacier skiing areas and always guaranteeing to keep one of them open. The glaciers, previously a 13km (8 mile) bus ride away, are the base for annual 'Ski Opening' festivals each October when the season officially begins and new equipment is available for testing. International ski stars also arrive to test their mettle before the northern hemisphere's racing season begins. The road between the two glaciers goes through a 1,750 metre (one mile) long tunnel, the Rosi Mittermaier - the highest road tunnel in Europe. Formerly Sölden itself is has a 'Jekyll and Hyde' kind of existence - on the one hand presenting its traditional roots and the proud cultural heritage of the Ötztalers: on the other it's a cool, lively village with international clientele, although predominantly from Germany. At one point the resort's growth and success led it to become too lively for some residents and some German commentators, but steps have been taken to limit excesses of rowdiness. The Ötztal region was originally inhabited by Bavarians from the north and Romans from Italy in the south. Tourism was introduced in the mid-19th century thanks in a large part to the efforts of Curate Franz Senn from Vent, who is credited with being the founder of both German and Austrian Alpine Associations and for cresting the first hiking tracks and mountain refuges in the area. Winter tourism began in 1945 and overtook summer tourism in terms of popularity a decade later.
One of Austria's largest, liveliest and most popular ski resorts. It formerly offered summer skiing on its twin glaciers (one or the other was always open ) and whilst that has now ended it still has a long winter with ski-season opening festivals and the first northern hemisphere World Cup races each October and November. Snow is guaranteed thanks to the glacier back up.
Sölden now has gondolas on three mountains more than 3000m high at the Rettencbach glacier, Tiefenbachkogl and Gaislachkogl. Each of these 'Big3' has a viewing platform at the top giving 360 degree views. There is also a 'B ig 3 Rally' to try, taking in more than 10,000m of vertical in around four hours of hard skiing.
The route starts at the base of the Giggijoch Gondola and continues through the 170m long ski tunnel that connects the Rettenbach and Tiefenbach glaciers and takes you to the Tiefenbachkogl peak via the Tiefenbach gondola. On the Rettenbach glacier you can ski down a new route through the Rettenbachtal Valley all the way to the base terminal of the Gaislachkogl gondola. Once this lift has been taken and the descent made you'll have covered some 50km, but there's no reason not to keep skiing!
Otherwise most of the terrain is classified 'red' for intermediates and this makes it great cruising territory. Experts do have a choice of good blacks and plenty of excellent ski touring opportunities, beginners have slopes at the top of the village. Most of the ski area is at a relatively high altitude by Austrian standards, making it more snowsure than most - even without the glacier and extensive snow-making, again to state-of-the-art standards.
Theres a choice of three ski schools, with a further school at Vent, all offering ski touring and guiding off piste as well as a wide selection of competitive courses. Total cross country skiing opportunities extend to 18km (11 miles) over three loops.
Children in ski school normally have two hours of lessons morning and afternoon with lunch cover and meal available on request at a small additional cost. Given the resort's numerous off-slope facilities likely to attract children - toboggan run, swimming pool, 'Cyber World' and the rest, Sölden is a good choice for families - perhaps especially those with older children who will benefit most from the cool image that abounds .
There are five three or four star hotels in Sölden, Hochsölden and Vent which are especially 'family friendly' (details from the tourist office). The best restaurant for kids is the Schmankerltreff which has a children's menu as well as offering vegetarian food.
Taking a lift up to a mountain hut for a meal and then riding down the largely illuminated five kilometre (three mile) toboggan run back to the resort is a popular evening activity, arranged by three hostelries - the Berggasthof Silbertal, the Gaislachalm and the Löplealm. Sleigh rides are also offered as is night skiing and the chance to catch a "choreographed piste show."
There are two terrain parks above Giggijoch. The boarder park has a half pipe, some impressive kickers, a variety of rails, a 14 metres long spoine, nine metres high, a three metre wall ride, half pipe and a chill area. The easycross area has a boardercross course with good waves and jumps. In summer there's a park high on the Rettenbach glacier offering different camps and gear tests.