Organising a December snowboarding trip can always be risky as I found out the hard way. But one resort I keep heading back to early season time and time again. This season was no exception; it was Ischgl to the rescue!
An early December snowboarding trip to Ischgl
So that was the weirdest few days for me as a snowboard journalist. At the beginning of the week I was all set to head to Norway for a December snowboarding trip, but unfortunately the trip was cancelled as they have had no snow. Not great for a snowboarding trip! I was about to pack away my snowboarding bag back into the cupboard, when at the 11th hour, unbelievably, Ischgl came to the rescue!
I love Ischgl. I have been there a few times before and have never been disappointed. Being part of the incredible Tirol region, Ischgl is a fun, party loving town as well as being a snow sure resort as from November through to the beginning of May Ischgl guarantees snow! I had been to Ischgl before on a December snowboarding trip and had experienced good conditions then.
After an early morning easyJet flight to Innsbruck, it was a reasonably quick transfer via Four Seasons Travel into Ischgl. After checking into the wonderfully modern Eldorado Hotel, we unpacked our snowboard bags and donned our gear in double quick time. We were eager to hit the slopes!
The Eldorado Hotel is well placed in Ischgl for the gondolas and nightlife, and only a short stroll to the modern Pardatschgratbahn gondola.
Although drizzly with rain in town, the mountains were completely covered with snow at the top of the gondola. To warm up our legs we snowboarded the long journey back to the bottom of the gondola. This consisted of a series of red runs ranging in difficulty. This was great fun although the snow was heavy at times and the last red run was icy in patches, so rather challenging.
After getting the gondola back up it was quite late in the afternoon so we decided to stick to the local slopes. These are a good mixture of blues and reds which overall were in very good condition.
We did venture off-piste but the snow was only about ankle deep. This was enjoyable, but too shallow in places. For this reason we didn’t venture too far from the slopes.
December snowboarding trip to Ischgl – Day 2
While having breakfast we were looking at the live feed cameras of the slopes on the tv monitors with dismay. It was snowing heavily but seemed poor visibility.
At the top of the gondola conditions were not as bad as we thought, but visibility was too poor for any off-piste snowboarding. We decided to head up and over to the Swiss side of the mountains.
At times this was tricky as we encountered whiteouts while boarding along narrow cat tracks. They have the posts on one side of the cat track, but not along the side where there was the mountain edge. Not only was this strange, but considering the conditions, also dangerous.
We kept high, starting off with blue runs down to Salaas. The visibility was still bad so we took the opportunity to hone our switch riding technique. This worked out well as the pistes were in good condition and the snow was soft and slow.
Keeping on the Swiss side, we headed up the D1 chairlift and snowboarded back down to Salaas on the slightly more challenging red runs.
We then kept to the Austrian side of the border. We went up high to Greitspitze (2872m) and headed down the red (no.15) which runs close to the cliff edge. Again, this was quite sketchy at times as we were in whiteout conditions and the run is narrow. Deciding that it was lunch time, we embarked on the long journey back down into town. This was very enjoyable, and we even managed to venture off-piste at times.
It was a late lunch and we were quite tired, so we headed up to do just one last run back down.
December snowboarding trip to Ischgl – Day 3
It had rained solidly throughout the night and we were hoping this would convert to snow on the mountains. Having said that, the live feed cameras were not portraying a pretty picture of the slopes – it looked like it was going to be another day of bad visibility.
How wrong could we be! When we got off the gondola the sun was trying to peek out through the clouds and best of all, we had powder!
We spent most of the morning playing around in the beautiful powder that linked the different runs. The snow ranged from being knee to thigh deep.
Some of the powder fields had dense and heavy snow which made it difficult for anyone without a freeride orientated board. But mostly it was deliciously soft and we were gliding through it like surfing a cloud.
Eager to see what it was like on the Swiss side of the mountain, we boarded down the duty-free run to Samnaun. This was a delightful blue (no. 60) that weaved steadily down the mountain. We had the whole run to ourselves and the slope was in wonderful condition. It gave me the opportunity to let rip and gain some speed.
After a short and free bus ride across Samnaun, we got the double decker gondola back up before heading over to Austria. We snowboarded to Palinkopf before heading to Hollboden for lunch. Again, we hardly stuck to any of the runs, instead opting to hit the powder on the sides. It is fair to say our thighs were burning before we eventually stopped for food, but so worth it!
Similar to day 2, it was a late lunch, so afterwards we hit a few more runs before heading down to town and calling it a day.
And what a day it was! We enjoyed fresh tracks in beautiful powder in good visibility. The snow gods had been kind to us. For the beginning of December we couldn’t have asked for more; Ischgl had delivered in bucket loads.
Apres Ski in Ischgl is right up there with the best in the world. Straight off the slopes they really know how to party and party hard! Being a December snowboarding trip it was early season but the Apres was still lively.
There is plenty of choice but the best and most well known establishments are Niki’s Stadl, Freeride, Kuhstall and Trofana Alm. Out of all of them Niki’s Stadl is my favourite, where revellers sing and dance to a heady mix of popular cheesy dance floor classics played to a techno sound that incorporates traditional Austrian music, to local well known dance songs that everyone stomps and chants along to.
It is great fun and an amazing atmosphere. A fantastic way to end a day on the slopes. The only downside is that the Ischgl establishments continue to flout EU laws about smoking, with smoking common place in all bars and some restaurants.
The Eldorado Hotel is slick, modern, but with an intimate and welcoming feel to it. This is mainly down to the friendly hotel staff and especially the hotel manager.
Being vegan is never easy when abroad, but the hotel manager saw to my needs, including making sure there was soya milk for me at breakfast. On the last night we decided to eat in the restaurant, and she asked the chef to prepare a vegetable risotto especially for me, which wasn’t on the menu. And it was absolutely delicious!
The double room we had was large and spacious. We also had a large balcony with plenty of seating (great for summer). The bathroom was large with a walk-in shower. The only thing I didn’t like was that the bathroom was divided to the room by slightly frosted glass panels, hence not much privacy.
The spa area was quite small but pleasant. A tranquil area to unwind after a hard day on the slopes. Just beware, like all saunas in Austria, you are expected to not wear any clothes in there, although you can take in a towel.
Overall, I enjoyed my stay at the Eldorado hotel. It is extremely well run, friendly, and in an excellent location within Ischgl.
Being vegan in Ischgl
Overall, I was impressed. Some restaurants had waiting staff with a complete lack of knowledge of what being vegan actually is, but most were very accommodating.
Vegan meals were often not stated on menus, but in most cases, the staff were more than willing to produce a vegan alternative for me. For example, a vegetable risotto or a pizza without cheese.
The Austrians are very friendly, so the key point here is that if you are vegan you only have to ask.
Ischgl to the rescue!
As a last minute deviation to our plans we couldn’t have asked for better. Ischgl has the perfect combination of being a snow sure resort with modern infrastructure; a great location for a December snowboarding trip. The gondolas and chair lifts are comfortable and speedy. Some chair lifts even have heated seats.
The town of Ischgl is well set out and easy to get around. There is a travelator that gets you from one side of town to the other. What I like about Ischgl is that it is a fun, playful and friendly town.
Overall you can’t go wrong with any resort in the Tirol region, but Ischgl is certainly the jewel in the crown.
A December snowboarding trip to Ischgl – Info
easyJet flights to Innsbruck from Gatwick, Luton, Bristol and Manchester
BA flights from Gatwick and Heathrow
Four Seasons Travel: www.airport-transfer.com
Hotel and Restaurant Eldorado: http://eldorado-ischgl.at/
More on Ischgl at ischgl.com
More info on Tirol at visittirol.com
More info on Austria at austria.info
Mark is also the manager of Jamie Barrow (Britain’s fastest snowboarder)