If you’re going to fly all the way to the Alps for a winter holiday, chances are high you’re looking for a certain ambiance to go with your skiing. You want colossal peaks wheeling over fairytale rooftops and cozy taverns tucked off medieval streets. Cable cars dive toward palaces while wisps of mountain hut chimney smoke soar into a deep blue sky. Step into your bindings and you might as well be flying, the terrain’s so vast. That sounds a lot like Innsbruck.
The “Golden City” of Austria’s Tyrolean region, with its imperial palaces, alpine splendor, and urban vibe, couldn’t be more gemutlich for any winter lover. For skiers, the city of 130,000 people is downright fantastisch. No fewer than nine ski areas line the frothing Inn River valley to form one of the world’s most impressive snowsports centers, the Olympia SkiWorld. Access is super-easy with short flights or fast train rides from some of Europe’s greatest cities. Add in one universal ski pass and free buses between resorts, and hitting all of Innsbruck’s offerings becomes a matter of your own endurance.
Here the superlatives come as fast as the snow. Austria’s largest glacier ski resort sprouts runs up to 10,500 feet on the Stubaier Glacier, where you can find views of more than a hundred of the country’s highest mountains. The highest ski village in Austria sits a 45- minute ride away in the Kuehtai valley at 6,600 feet. Tyrol’s longest run, a nine-mile-long ribbon of immaculate snow, plunges into the quaint village of Tulfes from 7,500 feet at Glungezer. Lift stations right in Innsbruck make it all so convenient. Here they rise high into the Nordkette to reach the world’s only “in-city” snow park and the “Kar,” a steep test-piece that freeriders crave.
Indeed, Innsbruck is something like the Park City of Europe if Park City played host to three Olympics, a merry Christmas market, and a roster of colorful emperors. The world’s best downhillers have raced down runs at Patscherkofel, where a new marked ski-touring route winds up the area’s namesake peak. Beginners and intermediates flock to Axamer Lizum with it a wealth of gentle runs capped by Austria’s largest sun-covered deck at 7,700-feet. When your legs fade, Muttereralm, Rangger Kopfl, and Schlick 2000 all have toboggan runs like you’ve never seen, some even lit up at night. Best of all, kids up to 15 ski for free or at greatly reduced rates.
Events like Shaun White’s Air + Style show and the Four Hills, a rollicking ski jumping contest, boggle the mind. Meanwhile Innsbruck’s imperial flare comes alive at hotels like the aDLERS, which sits an easy walk away from the Golden Roof, the town’s most famous balcony decorated with thousands of fire-gilded tiles by a 15-century emperor. The spas at Parkhotel Igls soothe piste-worn muscles. Up in Kuehtai you can be lord of the ice and snooze in an igloo atop toasty sheepskin rugs.
And then there’s the dining. The people have poured in for sumptuous Bouillabaisse at the Schoneck since 1899. Local fare with Mediterranean twists have made Sitzwohl one of the region’s most celebrated eateries. You can find donuts laced with sauerkraut in the old town or go native with Weiner schnitzel at Europa Stuberl, that cozy tavern you know you seek. The options are endless.
Before you leave, though, pick up the Innsbruck Card — 48 euros for 48 hours — an incredible deal granting full access to 19 must-see sights including the Imperial Palace, public transportation and 7 cable cars to get around, and daily city tours. Maybe take one last stroll down Maria Theresien Street, Innsbruck’s 700-year-old boulevard. Ponder the architecture. Drink a coffee and buy some wine. Then wander over to St. Anna’s Column and admire the view of all those mountains. Now where else would you rather be?
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