The snows of Schladming were proving a bit sleety for my liking when I arrived at Hotel Pichlmayrgut, a wonderful 898-year old property with an illustrious history, overlooking the slopes of Reiteralm.
Reiteralm, in the region of Styria, is one of four major mountains that form part of a large network of ski villages and pistes known as Ski Amadé, the second largest in Europe after France’s Three Valleys. 28 villages and smaller towns across five counties have got in on the act and Schladming is one of the key resorts in the area. There are all of 860 km (535 miles) of downhill slopes to choose from here, so boredom and repetition certainly weren’t going to be an issue on the pistes.
Even if downhill skiing isn’t your main priority, there’s plenty to keep you occupied. One of Austria’s best and largest cross-country ski areas is just around the corner, snowmobiles can take you high up the mountains and many hotels, including the above-mentioned Pichlmayrgut, have first class spas. As it was rather late in the day by the time I’d picked up my skis, I opted to spend the afternoon and evening exploring a bit by snowmobile. These can be rented as self-drive and there are pristine tracks, often floodlit in the evenings, to keep novice drivers from losing their way. Feeling less than brave on my first outing, I actually got my snowmobile complete with accompanying driver, who whizzed me both up and down the mountainside in the midst of a most satisfyingly heavy snowfall.
If my initial impressions upon arrival in Schladming had been slightly disappointing in terms of snow conditions, I needn’t have worried – down the valley and up the slopes are two very different things and by the end of the evening, the valley too had received a generous helping of the white stuff. Waking up to swiftly moving clouds, giving way to blazing sunshine with a fresh blanket of snow, I couldn’t have picked a better day to hit the slopes. Starting off slow I ventured off back to Reiteralm, the nearest mountain to my hotel and also not as steep as some of the main slopes in Schladming. With the clear weather and fresh powder, conditions where excellent on my first morning and I had to make frequent stops to admire the stunning Alpine views all round, especially since I hadn’t skied for a little while and kept needing a breather.
Reiteralm has a good mix of red and black runs, with a few blue ones thrown in for good measure for the less experienced, but on the whole, the area is most suited to the intermediate to advanced skier. Luckily for those of us who pant more easily, there is a great variety of cosy and welcoming traditional Alpine huts serving excellent food and drink. After some serious skiing and the odd hot chocolate with whipped cream (it’s thirsty work, skiing), I took my aching limbs back to the hotel spa for a long soak and sauna. The spa even had a heated, outdoor pool and a swim surrounded by snow, overlooking the ski slopes, proved an exciting, novel experience, if not quite as warm as I’d have liked.
Schladming is perhaps best known, in ski circles, for hosting the World Cup, most recently in 2013, so the following day with limbs suitably recovered I decided to try out the cup slopes at Planai, in the centre of town. For the occasion I had an enthusiastic guide with me, Mattias, who was of course a way better skier than me, but together we braved the mountain of Planai at 1906 m (6253 ft). Remaining on my feet and enjoying some fantastic skiing down the red and black runs – pretty much forget blue runs atop Planai – my reward came in the form of the region’s favourite dessert, the unpronounceable Kaiserschmarrn, something akin to a shredded, sweet and delicious pancake, on this occasion with scrumptious blueberries, all served in a large pan with spoons to share.
Far be it from me to advocate schnapps and skiing in the same afternoon, but there may also have been a few of those before I made it down the mountain safe and sound to indulge in a bit of traditional après-ski, i.e. more schnapps. Schladming centre has its fair share of bars a snowball’s throw from the main Planai ski lift and since you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em. An evening mixing “scary” folk tunes and euro trash disco can work wonders on aching limbs, especially if you add the soothing spirit of schnapps. Austria was proving good for the body and the spirit.
Author: Anna Maria Espsäter
Photo Credit: © Schladming-Dachstein