A local’s guide to Obergurgl

Doorstep skiing, a six-month winter season, Tirolean charm, views as far as the Dolomites and terrain to satisfy piste-lovers, pow-hunters, day tourers, the slow, the speedy, the young, the aged… It can only be Obergurgl

Most Continentals who visit the Ötztal, a narrow valley that’s home to the highest mountains in the northern Tirol, are drawn there by Sölden, a busy resort with 145km of pistes, two glaciers and an après-scene to rival St Anton’s. But do yourself a favour and drive past its neon lights and further into the valley because, in the Ötztal at least, the best things come to those who wait. Fifteen minutes up the road lies Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, and it’s one of those ski resorts that people return to year after year.

High and mighty |Philipp Horak

High and mighty |Philipp Horak

Why? The first big tick is the snow record. With all of its slopes between 1800m and 3000m, it’s usually the first non-glacier resort to open in all of the Alps, with the season lasting from mid-November to the end of April. The second is the number of people: very few. The fast, modern lift system can carry 40,000 people an hour, but Obergurgl and Hochgurgl have just 4500 tourist beds between them (under half the number Sölden has). Even on sunny Sundays when day trippers make the 1.5-hour journey from Innsbruck, there’s nary a lift queue in sight.

The village of Obergurgl offers something all too rare in Austria – doorstep skiing. But it’s not filled with French-style crimes to architecture; it’s the kind of place you can bring the whole family and know that they’ll be happy and safe.

The skiing too is world-class. Alright, so there’s not much in the way of trees, but 110km of perfectly pitched, empty pistes will keep all but the hungriest of skiers entertained. And that’s before you start exploring the little side valleys and peaks that make this quiet corner of the Tirol a mecca for tourers and freeriders alike.

Meet the local

Michael Zwischenbrugger was born and bred in Obergurgl, where he works at Skischule Exclusiv.

The best run for a warm up…

The red from the top of the Hohe Mut. The scenery is fantastic and at 9 am you have the whole run to yourself – a full 800m descent without seeing another skier.

For off-piste thrills…

Obergurgl is a freerider’s paradise, with lots of easy-to-score lines. My favourite is the Königstal. It’s a valley without any lifts in it between Obergurgl and Hochgurgl, but when conditions are right you can access it from the top of the Wurmkogel. It gives a real sense of the backcountry, for very little effort.

A freerider's paradise |DOMINIC EBENBICHLER

A freerider’s paradise |DOMINIC EBENBICHLER

The best thing about living in Obergurgl is…

It’s so quiet. You don’t have to queue for lifts like you do in Sölden or Ischgl and the visitors tend to be middle-aged skiers – they enjoy skiing but they don’t behave like lunatics! As we’re at the end of the valley we don’t get any through-traffic; the ski-in, ski-out layout of the village and the long season are bonuses too.

What’s Obergurgl’s best-kept secret?

The Schönwieshütte. It’s a newly built mountain hut sitting in the quiet, scenic Rotmoos valley, away from the main skiing area. The owner comes and picks up guests by skidoo from the top of the Steinmannbahn. The menu is filled with Austrian classics like Kaiserschmarrn (shredded pancakes), Käsespätzle (cheesey noodles) and Hauswurst (homemade sausage). 

Don’t leave without…

Visiting the new Top Mountain Crosspoint in Hochgurgl. It’s part lift station, part restaurant and part motorcycle museum. The museum’s worth visiting, even if you’re not a bike nut. It’s the highest in Europe at 2175m, with 230 vehicles on display.

For mountain bites…

If I’m on the Obergurgl side, I like the Hohe Mut Alm, a Tirolean hut with everything from dumplings to schnitzel. In Hochgurgl I often go to the Top Mountain Star. It’s a bar on top of the ridge at 3050m with 360° views over to Italy and the Ötztal valley.

Scenic AND snowsure. Hurrah! | Alexander Maria Lohmann

Scenic AND snowsure. Hurrah! | Alexander Maria Lohmann

For dinner in town…

For something quick and simple, Pizzeria Belmonte is a popular place. All their pizzas are cooked in a proper wood-fired oven – order the Tirolese, topped with local bacon, mushrooms and sweetcorn.

For an après-ski tipple…

Stop off at the Nederhütte on your last run of the day. On the slopes just above Obergurgl, it has regular après parties complete with its own house band, Die Nederlumpen. You ski down a floodlit blue run afterwards. Zirben Alm (formerly David’s Skihütte) also hosts hut evenings on Mondays and Thursdays, combining traditional Tirolean music with hearty plates of pork belly, ribs and pork knuckle.   

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