Resort Guide: Söelden, Austria

The charms of Sölden used to be known only to the heavy drinkers of Holland and Germany, but as a major sponsor of the Hemel indoor slope it is now firmly on the British radar. Located in the Ötztal valley, which it shares with the small resort of Oetz and the large Obergurgl, it’s only about an hour away from Innsbruck. Not many resorts can boast three mountain peaks over 3,000m and two glaciers, so it’s definitely snowsure, and while most of the terrain is pretty middle of the road, there is still a lot worth discovering. The glacier no longer opens in the summer but the whole area is usually open from end of November to May, with the glaciers opening a bit earlier, usually in September.

Did you know?

In 2011, the Q-Parks crew built a unique freestyle feature in Soelden incorporating no fewer than nine different transitions and takeoffs. It took over 100 snow cat hours and four days to construct, and was called - fittingly - The Incredible Project.

The Parks

The Almdudler snowpark is located under the two main lifts that rise up from the Giggijoch. It’s maintained by the QParks crew, who are responsible for some of Europe’s finest freestyle arenas – including the competition-standard park at Dachstein and the DC Area 43 Park in Kitzbuhel. You enter the park at the top of the Hainbachkar chair. Bear right to access the proline or keep straight and limber up on the rollers or the easy boxes before entering the main part of the park. When this is in full force, there is a kicker line with three tables each of which has an easy and intermediate takeoff. There’s also a separate rail line with the odd box thrown in around the area. The pro-area is a lot more innovative with a monster kicker line and a technical jib line.

The Powder

There are lots of easy to access spots not far from the piste. For example, head skiers left from the Hainbachjoch and you’ll find a nice pow stash that runs parallel to the piste. Up on the Rettenbach glacier, head skier’s left of the gondola for some easier sections. But be careful if you’re ducking the ropes on run Blue-33 as it is serious crevasse and hidden cliff territory. Through the ski-tunnel that leads onto the Tiefenbach glacier you can drop immediately left under the main gondola for one of the few freeriding areas on this side.

The most challenging terrain is accessed from the top of the fancy new Gaislachkogl gondola. Head underneath for steep runs into the Wasserkar valley, or off the side of the piste down to the Rettenbach Tal valley. However exercise extreme caution and make sure you’re fully aware of the conditions before you venture here. To access some of the real crazy stuff, book a day with the Sölden Freeride centre – it’s not that expensive and essential to find some of Sölden’s hidden spots.

The vast majority of the ski area is above tree line, but there are a few nice sections under the first part of the Gaislachkogl, and dropping under the Giggijoch into the valley is possible. But hike up the road a little at the end before dropping through the trees back onto the piste.

The Pistes

The 148km of pistes are spread over a vast area, and good conditions can always be found. First lift queues can be pretty long, but once you’re up the mountain, people get spread-out nicely and you won’t be waiting for a lift. Most pistes are above 2000m and the vast majority are wide cruisers. The pistes above the Giggijoch from the village are particularly suitable for beginners and always the busiest. Red-11 is super fun for taking at a proper pace. It’s almost inevitable that you will find yourself on the odd narrow cattrack as you move between the mountains, but there are minimal flat areas to contend with. The runs from Giggijoch back to the village are thin and get hellishly busy at the end of the day, but those from the Gaislakogel are more open. A cruise down from the new restaurant there, opening at the end of 2013, will be a good shout.

The Parties

This is not a village that will be winning any beauty pageants any time soon. It stretches ribbon-like for a few miles along the main road which leads towards Obergurgl. The relatively quiet end has the space-age Gaislachkogl gondola, but most will gravitate towards to the party end of the village -around the Giggijoch

On the way down from the mountain the Sonnblick bar is a good place to wait for the slopes to quieten, and the Philips bar in Innerwald gets pretty lively. At the foot of the slopes, Marco’s bar has mushroomed in size and is a safe bet. The Kuckuck is okay, but the undisputed king of après is the Schrim Umbrella Bar; literally squeeze yourself in and join the party! The Alm Rausch gets pretty crazy and is always packed with the maddest sort of Dutchmen. But there are so many bars to checkout around the Giggijoch, and we can’t possibly list them all here. Fire & Ice is rammed until it closes until 3am, and the multi-bar & club Bierhimml is heaving at weekends – rammed full of moody teenagers who’ve come up from Innsbruck. It’s worth remembering if only for the top kebabs you can get at 2am. There are a few strip clubs open until 5am – Hasenhütte and Rodelhütte are at opposite ends of the village, and Mirage is behind Die Alm.