To enter Ischgl is to enter another world, where time is manipulated and reality put firmly on ‘hold’. If towns can be said to have gender, Galtür, 20 minutes up the valley, is definitely feminine; Ischgl Masculine with a capital ‘M’. By my reckoning, only St Anton comes close to holding the dubious title of ‘Party Capital of the Alps’.
Close to the German border, it’s a magnet for young, lusty males with euros to spend and manhoods to prove. This manifests itself in behaviour on and off the slopes that can be less than savoury. Having said that it’s easy, should you so wish, to avoid the more extreme and to appreciate the first-class ski area and first-class comforts this extraordinary town offers.
My digs for the duration was the 4* Designhotel Madlein, one of 80 on offer including 4*superiors, 5*s, and 5*superiors, sprinkled across the centre like gems on a Hatton Garden diamond dealer’s desk. All have fine dining, including 9 award winners. The Madlein has enough room in the public areas for an uncluttered game of five-a-side football without upsetting other guests. Statement sculptures and artworks abound.
Participating in conspicuous consumption more than pricks my conscience but this is offset (slightly) by the latest measures being taken by Ischgl. The ultra-modern lift system rising from 1,337m to 2,870m holds the prestigious German Climate-Neutral Certificate. It’s powered almost entirely by renewable energy from hydropower, solar and heat recovery systems, saving an estimated 80,000 litres of heating oil – the equivalent of 244 tonnes of CO2 per year. The Slope Food restaurant and the Gampenbahn bottom lift station are heated by geothermal energy. Snow groomers, equipped with GPS technology determine accurate snow depth measurement, ensuring snow cannon generate snow only where needed, saving electricity, water and snow groomer hours, cutting a further 150 tonnes of CO2 per year. Last but not least, more than 10,000 trees have been planted around Ischgl in recent years.
The proximity to the Swiss border and its duty-free village of Samnuan has been used in creating The Smugglers Circuit retracing routes used by villagers post-WW11 who, worn down by their wartime hand-to-mouth existence, trafficked illicit Swiss coffee, rice, flour, tobacco, and saccharin sweetener, impossible to obtain in Austria. Excellent signage and an app tracks Gold, Silver or Bronze routes with checkpoints along the way. Log all in order and you’ll stand the chance of daily, weekly, and season prizes, tops being 3 nights in a 4-star hotel, ski pass and concert tickets. Not bad.
An invisible borderline runs atop the 2,760m Idjoch; Ischgl behind, Samnaun ahead. The piste, a red, easily do-able by competent skiers, descends past frozen waterfalls and pristine snowfields. My guide stops to point out a herd of bergziege – mountain goats – skittering on a precipice above the waterfall. This validates one of my Rules of Skiing: stop, look and listen. You’ll be surprised and delighted when you do.
37.5km after the start Samnaun comes into view, a small village completely devoted to two things: tourism and duty-free shopping. There’s big money to be made. Tax-free booze, fuel and watches are 20-30% cheaper than in Austria and Germany, the profits closely guarded by two local families, the Zeggs and the Hangls, who own everything between them: hotels, bars, shops, you-name-it. For them, there is certainly Gold in Them Thar Hills.
After an obligatory heiße schokolade (another of my Rules of Skiing, remember?) in the Schmuggler-Alm we board the double-decker 180-person gondola halfway on our circuit, then back over the border without a hitch (on-the-spot-fines for dastardly duty-dodgers do happen) But I’m clean, no Rolexes down my long-johns.
There’s an obligatory stop to take pictures at the Ischgl sign then late lunch at the gourmet (naturally) Idalp-Panorama restaurant which gives me a chance to catch a breath and review the day’s antics on the excellent SkiIschgl app which has logged every twist and turn. I’ve done 59 km with 12,956m elevation…including lifts. Blimey. Those smugglers must have been fit. No lifts for them. By now the sun is off the last piste of the day, a steepish red, which from previous experience, will soon be littered with skiers and boarders given a false sense of their own capabilities after taking drink on the mountain, so I opt for the safety of the lift down and a celebratory snifter to christen my smuggling success.
Ischgl has a deserved reputation for partying, which starts around 3.00. Those that survive the icy Piste A2 are confronted by a heaving mass of (mostly male) celebrants, few females, some cavorting on the bar tops in scanty dirndl outfits which would have left my mum muttering about “catching their death of cold”. Schatzi and Niki’s Stadl are hotspots for endless litres of beer, europop, and trays of ‘Little Willies’ down-in-one shots (no comment).
Being of sound mind I head for the more select end of town and the Winklers Café Pub, where, from previous experience I know I can expect decent cocktails from the lovely staff.
Apres-ski in town ends at 7.00. Those who have peaked too early are encouraged by patient community patrollers to seek solace in their hotels and eat. Time for me to buff up a bit and head for the delights of a gourmet dinner at the 4 toques 18 points Gault Millau restaurant Schlossherrnstube in the Schlosshotel. Surrounded by ancient wood panels (and disturbingly) a figure of Christ on the Cross keeping tabs on me, I tuck into a 5-course menu with accompanying wines created by head chef de Cuisine Gustav Jantscher. Well, reader, it is so lovely that I forget to keep exact track. I do, however, manage to take a picture of the pud, a Classical Greek Ice Cream Lady, complete with a tiny cress leaf to hide her Lady Garden. Only in Ischgl.
Images (C) Michael Cranmer
Tell Me More About Skiing in Ischgl
Ischgl is acknowledged as one of Austria’s top ski destinations, the village is at an altitude of 1377 metres in the Paznaun Region of the Tirol and is in the Silvretta Mountains.
The resort has 45 ski lifts accessing 239 km of groomed slopes. 1,100 snow-making machines ensure slopes are open from the end of November through to the beginning of May.
There are 12,000 guest beds in accommodation ranging from simple b&bs to glittering 5* superior hotels – the village has 80 hotels in the 5*superior, 5*, 4*superior and 4* brackets, all with fine dining restaurants which are open to non-residents; Ischgl boasts 9 award-winning restaurants.
The opening and closing of the ski season is marked by open-air concerts. This winter Italian pop-rock icon Eros Ramazzotti will perform the closing at the mountain top arena of Idalp; past stars include Robbie Williams, Sir Elton John, Kylie Minogue, Mariah Carey, The Killers, Lionel Richie and Scissor Sisters.
The ski area holds the accolade of being the largest climate-neutral ski resort in the Alps.
SKIPASS: the best value ski pass to explore Ischgl, Galtür and the neighbouring resorts of Kappl and See is the Area Flexipass, allowing 4 days in one resort and 2 in any of the others; the adult Flexipass is from €275 for 6 days with the local guest card, which is given to visitors staying in the valley.
The nearest airport is Innsbruck, 90 minutes by road, with BA and easyJet running frequent flights from the UK.