Ischgl knows how to kick off the ski season in style. Its Top of the Mountain concert, lively après-ski and good early snow always draws the crowds.
Monica Adorno heads to Ischgl to find out if it lives up to its huge reputation.
So it’s settled then. I’m moving to Ischgl in Austria. I’ve fallen head over heels in love with this very pretty mountain village and I owe it to my happiness to live there. How did this love affair begin? Well they do always say it happens when you least expect it.
It started off innocently enough; I met the other bleary-eyed writers (with the exception of Roger Alton of The Times who’d already escaped the pack) early last Wednesday morning at Heathrow where we made polite small talk and recited each other’s names in a fashion somewhat akin to the first day of school. Once in Zurich we hired a coach to Ischgl during which most of us caught up on the precious sleep that we’d missed earlier that morning.
A few hours later, as we neared the mountain, I got my first hit. Through half-closed eyes I spied tiny stream pools swirling between small rock formations, and then, either, a stunning river gorge or an exceptionally frothy river masquerading as one (I’d only just awoken, see) lining the winding road leading to the village. We disembarked and within a couple of minutes I was handed a glass of bubbles (I don’t think that’s the norm although that would be impressive), a taste of what was to come no doubt.
Pretty, modern Ischgl. Credit Ischgl.com
We headed that evening, with Roger in tow, to the first Top of the Mountain concert on the itinerary. Ischgl has become famous for their mountain concerts and kudos to the team – they pull out all the stops. Elton John has played there as have professional bum-wigglers Kylie, Katy Perry and Rihanna. Unfortunately I can’t add Ricky Martin to that list but there’s always next year. To see who has featured, hop aboard the Dorftunnel, which links the two sides of the village with a travellator; it has portraits of all the famous faces that have performed at Ischgl. Famous Christmas warbler Mariah Carey and the legendary Bob Dylan have also appeared. The Dorftunnel is genius. In theory, drunken revellers can nosedive onto the travellator and be carried safely home. Other resorts should take note. I didn’t see any slumpers mind, in fact, generally speaking Ischgl attracts a more mature crowd, who, while as rowdy as their twenty-something counter-parts, are far more capable in terms of alcohol consumption.
DJ Antoine was playing on our first night shouting at us to put our hands up. He was shouting expletives but waving our hands was in essence what he wanted us to do and I abided. We raved moderately and returned to the hotel to eat dinner. Austrian fare is hearty and, in a resort, typically spread over five courses. First salad and cheese, then soup with something stodgy in it, I forget what came third as the wine made my memory hazy, fourth contains the meat, by which point we were all so stuffed we could barely eat anything, and fifth is usually a seriously scrumptious apple strudel. They don’t mess around with their pies in Austria: they’re the best. Feeling fat and knowing that the next few days would be mostly bier-filled I waddled to bed to get a full seven hours’ ahead of the next day’s boarding.
Snowboarding with snow on my butt. Credit Monica Adorno
The following day I had a ginormous breakfast that included fresh fruit, muesli, a couple of boiled eggs and some fresh sticky honeycomb. The Seiblishof, where we were staying, serves the most exquisite morning feast. The food is arranged in a semi-circular buffet; cereals, fruit, a fabulously chocolately swirly marble cake, and an assortment of breads from which to choose. There’s even a bonafide Austrian chef in the centre armed with fresh ingredients making perfect omelettes. With our bodies fortified the group made for the slopes to meet our instructors.
Before this trip I hadn’t ridden for some years. One of my friends, a boarder, reassured me that usually it just clicks into place. As such, I had this vision of myself cruising down the blues, linking turns, and generally looking pretty damn cool. But akin to riding a bike it is not. Strapped in and regretting that second boiled egg, I started to feel a bit nervy and no sooner was I up then I was on my bum again. There were just two of us in the ‘intermediate’ boarders group. Poor Eliot only did one run with our instructor who, fearing for my life and those in my way kept a close tab on me. But after the first couple of disastrous runs I got it together.
My instructor Hannes (pronounced Han-nis) who we nicknamed ‘H’ for hottie, was attentive and patient. I know it’s a ski cliché to fall for your instructor but honestly it is impossible not to. Their talent and skill combined with encouragement and occasional rescuing can make a woman feel, well, a little crazy. I remember one very flirty instructor, years ago, saying “Come on, impress me”, and thinking “My God, I’m trying to!” I failed miserably. But this time with my mitt in Hannes’s we danced elegantly down the almost bare groomer. Feeling confident that I was ready for a solo descent, Hannes let go and I followed his lead, making small turns and wide turns just as he did. Sort of.
The lovely Hannes, snowboard instructor. Credit Monica Adorno
I was on such a high at the end of the day that I wandered onto the wrong lift and found myself marvelling at the spectacular waterfall that I’d somehow missed on the way up. I had clearly been too excited earlier in the morning. It was only when Hannes, who was already at the bottom of the mountain drinking coffee at a cool bar, spotted me that I set off in the right direction. I feel compelled to tell you that four other members of my group also made the same mistake (perhaps we’re all stupid) but in any case my error did allow me to see more of Ischgl, and it is oh-so-pretty.
The village itself is thoroughly modern; there are expensive shops which sell unaffordable chic ski-wear, but which are nice to look at; stylish hotels and guesthouses and more than 40 bars and clubs to choose from. And yet despite the contemporary feel, Ischgl manages somehow to remain true to its roots and is bursting with Alpine village charm. It could be that the surrounding Alps are so glorious (I’ve never seen anything more Narnia-esque) that the contemporary buildings just don’t make that much of an impact. Or it could be the fairy lights that are strung up in the trees or the snowflakes that continually fall from the starry night sky. Or perhaps the sleek buildings have been purposefully designed in a way that doesn’t detract from the landscape’s natural beauty.
When I ask Hannes what he thinks makes Ischgl so special, he tells me that the resorts in the village are managed differently. He explains that they are run by Silvretta Seilbahn AG, a company which is publicly owned by the residents of Ischgl. The shareholders don’t receive dividends, instead, all of the profits are ploughed directly back into the resort for further investment – 220 million Euros in the last ten years. This kind of foresight has resulted in a sophisticated resort of which the locals who own it are immensely proud.
But let us not forget about Ischgl’s infamous lap-dancing bars. I can’t comment as not surprisingly they don’t appeal to me but obviously they appeal to some and I hear they’re a good laugh.
Snowboarding lesson with Hannes. Credit Clare Meaney
My second day boarding was somewhat less successful than my first. Hannes whisked me to the top of the Pardatschgratbahn, at 2624m, and we tried a run which I felt was more suited to actual intermediate skiers and boarders, not “confident beginners” like me (I’m going to have to start lying to people about how many times I’ve been boarding. It’s getting embarrassing). Anyway, it was sweet that he had such faith in me. Sadly his belief was misplaced and it was back to holding hands – which in all honesty was fine by me.
Since I didn’t have the opportunity to ski any of the blacks, I asked expert skier and fellow group chum Ben Clatworthy for his opinion. He called Ischgl a dream resort for intermediates and experts and recommended the runs off Palinkopf and Greitspitz, as well as Piste 4.
We ate lunch that day at the newly refurbished and rather posh Pardorama restaurant which is off the Pardatschgratbahn chairlift. Constructed out of steel and glass the restaurant offers gorgeous views of the mountain summits. I wanted to press my face up against the glass but I thought that would have been unprofessional seeing as I was working and all. Suffice to say it’s a very swish restaurant and I spied lots of bottles of Veuve Clicquot. And why ever not.
Inside Trofana Alm bar. Credit Ischgl.com
That evening the group sampled more of Ischgl’s legendary nightlife. We started off at Trofana Alm which can best be described as a sweat pit of testosterone. Bit of a downgrade from the Pardorama. But that’s what’s so fantastic about Ischgl – there’s something for everyone and nobody feels excluded. At Trofana Alm you’ll find lots of Germans glugging bier and dancing badly on tables to the German equivalent of the Macarena. After a few beers and copius amounts of Jäger, you’ll be up and boogying with the best of them.
We didn’t stop there (but I probably should have). No, we ploughed on like drunken troopers to the Hotel Post nightclub. Ischgl after all has been called Ibiza on Ice. I personally didn’t get that vibe but I also haven’t been to Ibiza so I wouldn’t take my word for it. The Post is very lively, very sweaty, and a lot of fun. We raved until 5am. I think.
Apparently being hungover does wonders for my technique. The next morning Hannes said I had the best stance of the week. Perhaps I was still drunk. Well, whatever it was, it didn’t last long. Hungover and in need of serious rehydration, I face-planted the snow atop the chairlift. I think Hannes thought I was making a snow-angel.
After a few more runs on the same wide open groomers in what was actually glorious sunny skiing weather we rode down together and said our goodbyes. I asked him to join us for a drink in the evening but sadly he had to work at the bar, such is the life of the “Austrian Mountain Boy” (not my words, but those of the Austrian PR woman who told me that Hannes is also her favourite instructor). But enough about Austrian mountain boys. We, the group, still had rock legends The Scorpions to see at the Top of the Mountain concert.
There was time for a quick chat with the band before they went out on stage. When asked if they’d be wearing coats, band founder, Rudolf Schenker, said: “We will rock you guys like a hurricane! We can’t do it in a coat!" And words can’t express how epic they were, so here, check out the photo gallery below.
- The adult VIP Skipass for the Ischgl-Samnaun ski area is from €191.50 for six days with the Ischgl guestcard, which is given to visitors staying in the village
- You can book accommodation through the accommodation search facility on www.paznaun-ischgl.com
- Further details on the Paznaun resorts are available from the Austrian National Tourist Office in London on 0845 101 1818 or the Paznaun-Ischgl Tourist Office in Ischgl on 0043 5099 0100 or www.paznaun-ischgl.com