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For the scope and scale of its skiing and boarding opportunities, the Austrian Tirol is quite simply one of the best snow sport destinations in Europe - if not the world. Hugh Davis explores its many facets...

freeriden kitzbuehel raintal c michael werlberger

The serious fun starts, quite literally, here. With the opening event of the International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup once again being held at the high-altitude resort of Sölden, the Austrian Tirol fires the starting pistol for a whole new snow season.

But while the area is a magnet for the world's best, it also offers top opportunities for every level of skier. From family fun to off-piste challenges, the Tirol really does have it all.

For those wanting to learn, whatever the standard, legendary Austrian ski instructors await. Their excellent English and good humour go together with their famous dedication and attention to detail to help guide you to your personal goal on the slopes.

For those who want to test their hard-won skills, there are plenty of places to test the most demanding downhiller. A great feature of the Tirol are the five big glacier areas - guaranteeing snow from October to May with lots to attract specialist interest groups such as freeskiers and creative snowboarders.

There are also opportunities for those wanting to try their arms (and legs) at the demanding discipline of cross-country skiing - the area has twice hosted the Nordic Events of the Winter Olympics. And the growing popularity of ski touring, where you ski up as well as down, is well recognised here, offering the chance to really get away from it all with trails at heights of up to 3,000m.

All of which takes place against the traditional Tirolean backdrop of picturesque mountain villages - a welcome change from the towering concrete of purpose-built resorts elsewhere.

When the sport stops for the day, there is an unbeatable array of apres-ski opportunities, again suited to a variety of speeds. If early evening cakes and fortified tea are your idea of a fun time, then you will find the best here. Dancing in your ski boots while the sun still shines? Not a problem. You can even party late into the night in an ice hotel.

From the highest glaciers to the easy access resorts around Innsbruck, catering for family skiers is a priority here. A whole range of deals are available which give you the chance to enjoy an active break, while the kids have lots specially laid on to keep them happy too.

Away from the slopes there are activities to tempt those of all energy levels. Perhaps an atmospheric night ride in a horse-drawn sleigh appeals? Or flashing down an Olympic bobsleigh course at speeds of up to 115km/hr? Both - and much else besides - can be found in the Tirol.

And then there is the packed events calendar. The Hahnenkamn mens' downhill in January is widely regarded as the most demanding of the World Cup season. There is Air & Style for snowboard enthusiasts, ski-jumping, the glamour of snow polo - and even rock and roll.

How to fit it all in? As a first move - why not just get there.

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