In recent years, ski resorts have become more vocal about the variety of such activities on offer, inviting guests to enjoy ‘winter holidays’ rather than mere ‘ski holidays’. This is no bad move.
For children, particularly, a variety of options keeps interest up throughout the week and makes holidays more memorable. And even the most diehard skier can enjoy a bit of light relief! Sledging, anyone?
But could there be so many interesting alternatives that a non-skier can come to a resort and stay entertained, while his or her companions are hitting the slopes? To test this out, I challenged my friend Vanessa, who can’t ski – and won’t ski – to visit Austria’s famous SkiWelt.
Day 1: PARAGLIDINGYou need no experience to leap off a mountain – just courage and an instructor seated behind you. Tandem flights are increasingly popular in ski resorts – and if you can conquer the innate insanity of hovering at 1,000 metres above the ground with only a piece of canvas keeping you from falling out of the sky, then you are in for an incredible experience. And as soon as you are in the air, it feels so natural – you are suspended by the currents and sit there in perfect balance.
From that height, the views over the Wilderkaiser are breathtaking, and the skiers on the mountain below look like ants on an ice cream. This activity is not cheap, but I would definitely do it again – any day.
Vanessa says: I was nervous about the idea of throwing myself off the top of the mountain. You literally run off the hill into the air as the glider lifts you up. Within seconds the wind takes you hundreds of feet above the ground and you are away. Halfway through the fl ight the instructor did acrobatics.
It felt like we did a loop the loop – the whole world tipped upside down. Flying over the mountains is amazing, and overall it’s really peaceful and beautiful. Wow!
WHEN: on request
COST: about €100
Day 1, pt 2: A NIGHT IN AN IGLOOIgloo villages have sprung up all over the Alps in recent years. Constructed each winter at 1,300m on the slopes shared by Soll and Hopfgarten, Iglu Village has a series of ice rooms and sleeps 35 guests.
There is a large cavernous bar serving fondue dinners, with tables and chairs constructed out of ice, draped in reindeer skin. You wouldn’t want to spend a week up here – even if you could, but a night is fun – and the way the igloos are made is impressive.
Vanessa says: There’s a big novelty factor here – why would you not want to try it? The ice is used creatively to construct the actual tables, seats and a proper bar and the ice-sculptures were really clever.
The night-walk with the torches – through untouched snow and in the pitch black apart from the moonlight – gives you a view of the mountains you would never otherwise see.
In the igloos the sleeping bags are warm and you feel really cocooned, despite the fact that you are asleep on top of the mountain with only a few inches of ice between you and the freezing outside.
WHEN: Thursday to Sunday
COST: Thursday and Sunday: €185pp, Friday and Saturday: €210pp; non-stay option available for €95. All include fondue meal, torchlight walk and an ice-carving competition.
Day 2: TOBOGGANNINGMany resorts have created long, twisting toboggan runs that are as fun for adults as for children. Soll and Hopfgarten are home to two of the longest, each 3.5km, and both stay open in the evening after the slopes close.
As a snowboarder, getting onto a toboggan is a whole different skill set and a new challenge – especially steering at speed. You’re lower to the ground and turning requires a combination of leaning and dragging one boot in the snow. And yes, you can fall off !
Vanessa says: The great thing about tobogganning is that you can ride up in the gondola without needing any training or lessons to come back down. You just sit, slide and steer your way down the slopes – and it’s loads of fun.
Doing it at night is a great twist: your peripheral vision gets little information, so your sense of sound is heightened. It reminds me of being a kid!
WHEN: daily from 9am-5pm and from Wednesday to Saturday from 6.30-9.30pm
COST: €6 for toboggan hire, day ticket toboggan €23, evening ticket toboggan €17.50
CONTACT: Bergbahn Söll, www.skiwelt.at or 0043 5333 5260
Day 3: WINTER WALKINGResorts are increasingly vocal about walking as a winter activity, not just a summer one, and have maps showing recommended trails. Just choose your route and go exploring.
I wasn’t able to tear myself away from the slopes to do this one, though. I just couldn’t.
Vanessa says: This was a very pleasant way to spend a morning. I deliberately sandwiched my walk between a creamy hot chocolate and a cup of tea, as the village – Soll – that I left behind was super-cute and I hadn’t really spent much time there.
So for me this walk was also an opportunity to see some of the village too. The walk was lovely, like stepping into a Christmas card.
COST: Free – maps and guidance available from the tourist office
Day 4: HUSKY RANCH & HUSKY RIDESLocated a short taxi ride from Hopfgarten, the ranch at Angerberg is home to 27 Siberian huskies looked after by musher Martin Eigentler.
The dogs are incredible, and while hardened skiers might take some convincing, it’s well worth taking a morning away from the slopes to visit them, especially on a flat-light day when the slopes are less than perfect.
Spending several hours in the company of huskies, going through the valley and woods with them, sitting down to a meal with the musher and getting an insight into their way of life, makes the experience really complete, and totally won over this cynic!
Vanessa says: The chance to get up close to these dogs is amazing – you are a guest in their home. Martin told us they are more wolf than dog, so you let them come to you rather than going up to them. But they do want your attention and will offer a paw and roll over asking for their tummy to be tickled.
The dogs clearly love the ride as they howl like crazy the moment they know it is on.
WHEN: Thursday 3pm, or privately by arrangement.
COST: €15 for the weekly program organised by the resort
Day 5: SLEIGHRIDINGIt would be a stretch for an avid skier to leave the slopes for this while the lifts are open, but for a late-afternoon activity in March, this is a very relaxing way to dip into the surrounding countryside. You get to experience the pace at which people used to travel.
Vanessa says: I’d expected that this would be a ‘great for a family’ activity but not really interesting enough to keep me entertained for an hour.
Going through town on the sleigh, you feel a bit like a tourist, but once you leave the busier areas and hit the countryside, it is easy to relax. There is something about the simplicity of it that really appeals – and it melted away my initial cynicism.
WHEN: on request
COST: €14pp for one hour
CONTACT: www.wilderkaiser.info, 0043 50509 210
A WEEK in resort not skiing? If you’re a skier, clearly the answer is no. But this exercise was a reminder that the resorts aren’t kidding when they talk of winter holidays, rather than just skiing ones, and if you want to bring a family group – maybe including grandparents – it’s good to know that they won’t be bored rigid while you hit the slopes on your rigid board.
Coughing up the cash for all these activities may seem expensive, but not so much, when compared to the cost of a ski pass, equipment hire and lessons.
But really, if you’ve got a mate this far, then our tip is to get them some sneaky lessons too.
AND THE NON-SKIER’S VERDICT?
Vanessa says: Like many people, I adore ‘all things snowy’ – but it had never occurred to me that there could be so many activities for a non-skier at a ski resort, and that’s before I even got started on the spa, the pool and the shopping!
This trip showed me that you can enjoy a real variety, from the adventurous through to the serene… all surrounded by beautiful winter scenery. Of course, nearly everyone else was there to ski, so saying I was on holiday but not skiing just didn’t compute at first.
However, it didn’t stop them asking loads of questions about what I was up to. I secretly wonder whether, for all their love of the slopes, these skiers are missing out.