Riding the most expensive ski lift in the world

After years of planning, Stubai Glacier‘s new, €68 million 3S Eisgrat gondola is finally here. Mary Creighton was there for its opening day

Queues. That’s what I’m expecting. Huge winding ones that cascade out into the car park. It’s October 22nd, it’s opening day for the new 3S Eisgrat gondola, there’s a ski test going on, and the glacier just had its first big snowfall of the season. After three years of getting my pre-season ski fix at Stubai Glacier, I’m convinced that all these will combine into a Mecca-like crush of keen skiers. 

From valley to snow-laden glacier in 11 very comfortable minutes

From valley to snow-laden glacier in 11 very comfortable minutes

In the 20-minute drive from our hotel, the beautiful 5* Jagdhof in Neustift, my suspicions are confirmed. The traffic heading deep into the Stubaital is thick, and as we approach the final tunnel before the glacier, it comes to a crawl. We emerge at the car park at 9am to find it is filling up fast. We walk up to the swanky new 3S Eisgrat Gondola’s bottom station and the place is bustling, with hundreds lining up for their lift passes. We got ours back at the hotel, so we saunter on through to barriers, bracing ourselves for the inevitable crowds. 

Or not. There’s hardly even 100 people waiting, and they soon funnel on to the ginormous cabins, each of which can fit 32 people (24 seated). We board our cabin in minutes, and I flop onto a plush leather seat and take in the view as we quickly leave autumn behind, the brown mountainside turning white beneath our feet.

The new 3S Eisgrat Bahn, a feat of engineering |Tirol Tourist Board

The new 3S Eisgrat Bahn, the Alp’s longest tri-cable gondola |Tirol Tourist Board

The official time from valley floor to the top of the glacier is 11 minutes. It’s a huge improvement on the old six-person Eisgrat gondola, which crawled up the mountain in around 20 minutes. Indeed, I’ve hardly had time to put my suncream on when we reach the middle station at Fernau. I have to rush to get my kit together before we arrive at our destination 4.7 speedy, smooth and comfortable kilometres later.

It took eight years of planning, 19 months of building and €68 million to build the gondola — with each of the 28 shiny, comfortable cabins costing a cool €250,000. That’s the largest single lift investment made by any ski resort in the world, ever.

With skiing above 3000m, Stubai is a popular spot for early and late season shredders

With skiing above 3000m, Stubai is a popular spot for early and late season shredders

As someone who spends most weekends from October to December skiing at Stubai, I can confirm it’s worth the price tag. One of the earliest resorts to open, Stubai Glacier draws in crowds from all over Europe; world class ski racers, X-Games winning medallists and snow-hungry citizens alike. But the old lift couldn’t cope with demand, with queues pouring out of the lift station and the mid-station often closed until lunchtime. The new lift has doubled the capacity, carrying up to 3000 people per hour, instead of a paltry 1500.

My big concern is that the faster uplift will cause the slopes to be unbearably crowded. Not so. Even in October, enough of the glacier is open that skiers and snowboarders disperse around the mountain. I spend the next five hours finding my ski legs under blue skies and near-perfect snow before collapsing back into the Eisgrat for the (very fast) descent back down the hill. 

Mary was a guest of the Relais & Châteaux SPA-Hotel Jagdhof in Neustift, in the Austrian Tirol. Prices are:

  • Rooms from €212-512 per person per night based on 2 sharing ¾-board.
  • Four-night short ski breaks from €766 per person inclusive of 4 nights’ ¾-board accommodation, a 3-day Stubai ski pass and a €100 voucher (per room) to spend in the Spa.
  • Gaia Stubai week (February 2017) from €1916 per person inclusive of 7 nights’ ¾-board accommodation, a 6-day Stubai ski pass and a €100 voucher (per room) to spend in the Spa.

Reservations and enquiries: www.hotel-jagdhof.at / (+43 (0) 5226 2666 111)

(Tour Operators that feature SPA Hotel-Jagdhof: Zenith Holidays: www.zenithholidays.co.uk / 0203 1377678, email: doingmore@Zenithholidays.co.uk)

Prices quoted are based on 2 sharing subject to availability and include daily hotel shuttles to/from the glacier, use of the hotel’s 3000sqm SPA, and childcare in the hotel’s Kitz Club. The ¾-board includes an extensive hot and cold buffet breakfast, 5-course dinner and afternoon tea with cakes. The hotel also boasts an award-winning 20,000 bottle cellar.

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