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Location: snowHeadLand
Resort: Sölden

Country: Austria

Domain: Ötztal, Austrian Tirol

Author: Sleipnir

Date: Easter 2009

My holiday: DIY trip to meet up with Austrian ski buddies

Website: http://www.soelden.com/ and http://www.oetztal.com/ also have accommodation booking as well as the usual piste, lift pass info, etc.

Basics: Sölden, the main town of the Ötztal Arena, has developed into an internationally known sports and training centre. With 3,500 inhabitants and 15,000 beds it is very much gear up for tourism. This having been said, it is the home of the Austrian World Cup ski team and hosts the first World Cup race of the year at the end of October. Situated approximately 1 hour’s drive from Innsbruck (2 hours via public transport) Sölden is at 1,377m above sea level, but offers skiing at over 3,000m at the two glacier areas Rettenbach & Tiefenbach. Another highlight is the "Big 3" peaks - Gaislachkogl (3,058m), Tiefenbachkogl (3,309m) and Schwarze Schneid (3,370m)

Lift system: A mixture of gondolas, chair lifts and even the odd drag lift that serve the 146km of runs

The terrain: As shown on the piste map (http://www.ski-finder.co.uk/pistemap/Solden/) there is a mixture of runs to suit most skiers. There are quite a large number of blue and red runs that would suit beginners and intermediates. This having been said, there are also some steep blacks (some of which are used for the World Cup races) that will challenge even the advanced skiers. Be careful of the blue runs on the Rettenbach glacier, run 32 if my memory is correct, which turns into a black two-thirds of the way down. That came as a big surprise the first time I encountered it and the ole heart was in my mouth a couple of times!

The snow: At this time of the year the snow on the lower slopes was a little hit and miss; icy, well groomed corduroy in the mornings which softened throughout the morning. But come the afternoon the runs became slushy, cruddy and very lumpy. Quite challenging after a day’s skiing on the glaciers. The snow of the glaciers on the other hand was excellent. Again a little icy in the mornings, but it soon softened up. It was far more consistent than the lower slopes and was good skiing all the day through. On the day I left I was told that 30cm of new powder fell, so even this late in the year, new snow is possible

Off-piste: My skiing is not really up to off-piste at the moment, but as part of the ski instruction (more about this later) we spent a little time off-piste and skied the bumps on a purpose built mogul run that sat alongside one of the blues on the lower slopes

The resort: It’s fair to say that Sölden nor the surrounding mountains are not the prettiest of Austrian ski resorts. This having been said, the village is absolutely geared up for tourists and skiing. All of the amenities you would expect – a variety of different types of accommodation, restaurants, bars, supermarkets, banks, ski bus service, ski rental, ski schools, etc. At the bottom of the Giggijochbahn is a multi storey car park (free parking all day!) which is a stone’s throw from the gondola to the slopes. At this time of the year there is a marked difference in temperature between Sölden village and the slopes - a 10 minute gondola ride and you go from Spring/Summer and 15-20C in the valley, to winter and only a handful of degrees at the top of the lift. Take another couple of lifts and slopes and you are on the glacier which is colder again!

Food & Prices: Either eating at the ski huts on the slopes or in the restaurants in the village I found choice of food, prices and service to be great. Lunch was 8-10 euros, a bowl of soup or wurst and pommes, desert and a drink was pretty much par for the course. Many of the hotels and guest houses offered half-board for 10-15 euros extra each day which was pretty good value IMO

Accommodation: A variety of different places to stay ranging from 4 star hotels to cheap guest houses and pension. Going at Easter it can be a problem to find some where to stay as it was for many the last ski days of the season – close to Innsbruck, there was a lot of Austrians (and Germans) who just skied for the Easter hols and then went home on the Monday for work. No problem with finding somewhere from Monday onwards.

One of the places I would recommend is Appartementhaus Kathrin (http://www.jaqueline-soelden.at/) which is a modern purpose built apartment style hotel, as the name suggests. I may be a little bias, as Kathrin is a friend but do not let this influence you as it is a good place to stay, ideally placed for the slopes and the village and very reasonable. Kathrin Wilhelm is a Sölden girl who for several years was part of the Austrian World Cup ski team. She skied in the same team as the likes of Alexandra Meissnitzer & Michaela Dorfmeister. Through this combination, what she does not know about Sölden and skiing you can write on the back of the postage stamp! She put me onto some great ski tuition (see below).

If I tell you that the US Ski Team usually stay at Kathrin's place when they visit Sölden for the first race of the World Cup season, you will understand that her place is a nice modern hotel and not a shabby little pension. This having been said it’s very reasonable when it comes to other apartment type hotels in the area.

Ski lessons and instruction: My friend Kathrin recommended the Skischule Sölden to me (http://www.skischule-soelden.com/cms/index.php). You cannot miss them, they all are dressed in blue ski gear and by all accounts, they are the largest ski school in Austria with circa 180 instructors. With this number of instructors there is of course a variety instruction ranging from the average to the very good.

From my experience, I received some excellent tuition; a 2hr private lesson with Peter Arnold and then a group lesson for intermediates with Werner F. Kathrin said, “we have some very good instructors in Austria” and this was very true and the experience of the instructors too – if I tell you that Peter told me that he had skied for 43 years and Werner was one of the people who taught Peter to ski when he was a kid, you’ll understand that between them they have circa 90 years of skiing between them!

The group lesson was a mixture of German and non-German speakers, about 7 of us in the group in total. I was joined by another Brit (a Geordie from Newcastle). Both Peter and Werner took the time to explain the techniques and drills in English as well as German and were very clear in their advice and instruction. Absolutely no problem with my lack of German and being able to understand them........in fact it was sometimes more difficult to understand Geordie Michael – sorry mate!

Costs: All in all I found Sölden to be on a par with other Austrian ski resorts. Absolutely if you wished to push the boat out it could be a little expensive, but equally if you wished to do things on a budget this was possible too. A 6 day ski pass was 212 euros, which again I think is pretty much the norm for the more popular resorts

Summary: Having read other postings about Sölden on Snowheads a while back before my trip I was in two minds about my planned trip. There seems to be a mixture of people who like and dislike the place. I take on board peoples comments and as with most things in life, Sölden has its pros and cons.

In general, I would say that the pros out-weigh the cons in IMHO. Ok, it may not be as picturesque as other ski resorts and the après ski not as wild as Obertauern, but all in all if skiing is top of your list of priorities I would say that Sölden has a lot to offer for many skiers. The fact that snow is guaranteed most (all) of the season by virtue of the glaciers is a big plus. Add to this the proximity to Innsbruck and other resorts that are popular with the Brits; Obergurgl and Hochgurgl, I would say that Sölden is a very worth alternative for either a ski holiday or just a day or so of skiing different slopes. The village is not so popular with Brits (the only others I saw were the two Geordie lads) and may be suffers from the popularity of the likes of Obergurgl that is only 15km down the road. This having been said I thoroughly enjoyed my week there, had excellent skiing, weather and instruction to boot – will definitely be going back as soon as I can.

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