This gondola delivers acres of amazing freeride terrain

Sport Gastein’s one kilometre-long gondola proves sometimes a resort doesn’t need a lot of lifts, just one very good one

If you took out a piste map of the Gastein valley, Sportgastein doesn’t look like a big deal. Just two lifts with five or so runs, some 15 minutes away from the spa resort of Bad Gastein. 

Compared to the big, brash offerings coming straight out of the town centre it’s easily overlooked and, on my first visit, didn’t get a peek in on my initial agenda. In fact, as we drove up the valley at the tail end of a below-par winter and saw the grass-plagued trails close to the village we were tempted to give the whole place a miss.

But off we went, following the hordes up to the Stubnerkogel gondola, hoping that by the time we reached the top the brown smudges would be replaced by powder. We got half our wish: there was snow. It just happened to be in the form of sheet ice.

“Meh,” was our unified response when the hotel receptionist asked us how our day was. “You should try Sportgastein tomorrow. It’s like a different world” she said.

And it was. It’s 300m higher than Bad Gastein (it offers the highest skiing in the Salzburg region), which doesn’t sound like a lot, but means it has its own snow-filled micro-climate.

There are just two lifts here: a T-bar and the Goldberg gondola. But it doesn’t need anything else. The eight-seater Goldberg swoops you up from 1590m to the Kreuzkogel peak at 2650m in 12 minutes. From there you have the whole mountain to play with.

The winter in not over yet? #fromgasteinwithlove #sportgastein #hohetauern

Sportgastein is known as the freeride centre of Gastein valley, complete with a freeride information station (a screen with current avalanche conditions, map, and so forth) and avalanche training centre at the base. So, you could be tempted to head off-trail straightaway. First, though, you should take some time to explore the frontside of the mountain.

Follow the path skier’s right to the S1 trail. A long, meandering blue take you down to the middle station, easing your legs into the day. If you’re feeling like an early-morning challenge, the S5 black from the middle station to the gondola should do the trick. It’s tight, twisty and bumpy, with a tantalising sprinkling of trees off the side towards the bottom to swing between.

Head up again. You could carry on exploring the carving grounds: the network of reds (S2, S3 and S6) to the left of the mountain gives pole-droppingly stunning views of the Hohe Tauern valley and the Mölltal glacier. Or, when the snow’s good (as it often is) you can start lapping up the delicious freeride options. For some hike-free fun, traverse to your far right, beyond the S1 piste and over a ridge to a wide, rarely tracked-out meadow. It caps off with a ride through the trees and down to the access road, where a bus happens to pass every 30 minutes or so, taking you back to the Goldberg gondola.

#sportgastein #palmenaufdenalmen #bistdubraunkriegstdufraun #offpiste #firn #supergeil #freeride

The Goldberg lift also boasts three designated ski routes, offering up some 7km of ungroomed, fat-ski-friendly terrain. Ski Route 3 is the shortest, and the best to start with, easily spotted and accessed from the top station. The first one, named Ski Route 1 (the Gastein valley gets a zero for piste name creativity) is easily the most tasty, taking you to the far left of Kreuzkogel, where the wind has ever-so-kindly collected a deep offering of snow into a perfectly-formed basin. It whips you back out onto pisted terrain.

At this point, you can do one of three things. 1. Huff and puff down a red to the base and tuck into a Tiroler Gröstl; (2) try your hand at the short (but just as meaty) ski route number 2, which will deposit you nicely at the bottom, Goldberg, or (3) jump on at the middle station, do it all again and bask in the stark remoteness of it all: no town, no chalets, no hotels. Just one proper lift, and a damn good one.