I would not describe myself as a top skier, but certainly an experienced one who likes to get a few miles under my belt most days.
Last season I headed for Soll in the Austrian Tirol to ski the country’s largest linked ski area – the ‘Ski Welt’, comprising 280k of piste and over 90 ski lifts.
The village lies in a valley below the area’s highest peak, the Hohe Salve (1830m). The pretty resort is fortunately bypassed by the valley road and the attractive centre dominated by its fine baroque church is pedestrian friendly.
Home from home for the week was the Hotel Tyrol, a wonderful base which offers guests marvellous cuisine, spacious accommodation and lively bar.
Typically Tirolean, the hotel is family owned where Joseph and his team help create gemutlichkeit, an Austrian expression of warmth and hospitality.
The ski slopes are a fifteen minute slog uphill, so take advantage of the regular ski bus, you can leave your equipment by the gondola station for a small fee.
Having skied in more than 100 resorts, I rate the Ski Welt as a four-star paradise for intermediates, who will relish cruising the Blues and pinky Reds.
The Hohe Salve lies in the middle of the Ski Welt. Unless you are prepared for a very early start, a good idea is to ski the areas on the left or right of the summit on alternative days. The Hohe Salve provides the most demanding challenge and often requires a leap of faith from the summit. From past experience don’t catch an edge on the Black or you will fall for ever.
Soll’s local area is accessed by modern gondola to the mid-station, from where a variety of lifts shoot off in all directions. From the top of the Hohe Salve, apart from the Black piste, the best runs descend to Hopfgarten which should get those thighs burning.
If you fancy an easy day, the pistes above the village of Ellmau are ideal, allowing a mixed ability group to visit the atmospheric Rubezahal Hut for lunch. This rustic retreat is straight out of the pages of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Admire the carvings in the crooked hostelry, but avoid the low beams and door, ouch! The Rubezahal oozes charm, normally you will have to share a table, however the wholesome fare and joviality ensure you remember this lunchtime for awhile.
Off the slopes or, for a change of scene, there is a wonderfully equipped swimming-pool complex and a mind- blowing toboggan run from the top gondola station.
Walking possibilities are endless, either locally or by using the regular post bus. The holiday company offers various excursions to the likes of Salzburg and Innsbruck. For the independently-minded, I would recommend a visit to the much closer Kufstein, which has a remarkably preserved old quarter and imposing fortress.
In Austria’s Tirol, après ski sometimes seems more important than the actual art of skiing. The resort of Soll is no exception, the village in the 70s and 80s had a reputation for the wild antics of the British visitor, think Kavos on snow and you get the picture. Today the worst excesses of those distant days are long gone, but Soll is still buzzing and showing the visitors a good time.
After a hard day on the slopes, après kicks off at the Moonlight by the lift station, a handy venue to dance on the tables or fall off a barstool. A few minutes away, the Hexen is a rustic venue which is positively heaving by 4.30pm. Crazy German music attracts an international motley crew of oddballs bopping around in ski boots. It’s good fun but arrive early to bag a seat.
The Underground, where mine host, amiable Englishman Dave, has some of the best live music, regularly featuring the brilliant Sless and Mick who pack ‘em in. Sless, having played with Paul Rodgers, Paul Kossoff and Huey Lewis, certainly knows how to hold an audience. Hotel Post normally has Bloodshot Eyes appearing, a folk band from the Lake District.
If you want a little sophistication, the Rossini is a modern bar, good for cocktails and also features live music, while Red Horse is a multi-screened sports bar. All in all, Soll is a smashing resort, a beautiful village, lots of skiing, entertainment and easy on the pocket.