Valley Love: Why we can’t get enough of the Ötztal

Sponsored post: Mary Creighton on why she just can’t get enough of the Austrian Tirol’s Ötztal and its high mountain wonders

I’m standing at the top of the Top Wurmkogl II chairlift, looking over the Ötztal, a narrow Tirolean valley with three world-class ski resorts dotted along its 65km length. It’s been snowing for three days and the clouds have finally lifted, unveiling an arena of pure white powder, untouched and waiting for me to squiggle my marks down. The next five hours are a blur of big lines, loud hooting and endless faceshots. The date? November 15.

Sat at the far end of the Ötz valley, Obergurgl-Hochgurgl is almost always the first non-glacier resort in the Alps to open, and the reason that both November and April have often yielded some of my best skiing. It’s high (the lifts starts at 1,789m and top out at 3,027m), beautiful (the view from the Top Mountain Star bar over towards Italy is my favourite in all of the Alps) and perfectly put together. It’s the kind of resort that families come back to for decades, enchanted by the fast and modern lifts, the conveniently positioned hotels and quiet but varied slopes.

The biggest name in the Ötztal lies just 15 minutes down the  valley road: Sölden. This is about as big and brash as Austrian ski resorts get – 145km of pistes make up the resort, with a superb lift system taking skiers away from the valley floor and into the mountains, all the way up to the two glaciers.

This season things have got even better, with the new Giggijoch Mountain Gondola, designed by the same team behind the Ice Q restaurant (pictured above – you might recognise it from the James Bond specatular Spectre) whisking skiers from town to snow-covered mountain in just nine minutes. After a day getting lost on the bowls below Gaislachkogel or perfecting carving on the Rettenbach glacier, there’s only one way to end it: après! This is one of the few resorts in Europe, maybe the world, that spins together all the joys of high mountain skiing with a seriously raging nightlife.

Travelling down to the entrance of the valley, the mountains get smaller and the nightlife quieter but the skiing isn’t over. Just above Oetz village lies another resort, Hochoetz. It’s the kind of place that only those in the know make their way to, perfect for hunting out lines days after the last storm has hit; a quiet corner of a world-famous valley that everyone should take time to explore.

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