bert walsh got his skis on to sample the delights of the Ski Welt in the Austrian Tyrol
Having skied at more than 100 resorts throughout Europe and North America, I’m forever asked which is the best.
It is a hard one to call as I’ve yet to find the perfect resort, although I do have my favourites.
Ideally, a top all-round ski destination should provide entertaining skiing amid wonderful scenery.
And home from home for a week should be a quality hotel in a charming rustic village.
If you find such a combination and it throws in a liberal dose of vibrant apres ski then you’ve cracked it.
And the chances are you are in Austria.
The country’s most exclusive resorts are Lech, Ischgl and St Anton, and as with anything in the premiership you need deep pockets.
Drop down a division and, although you will miss rubbing shoulders with the beautiful people, there are a host of delightful resorts which fit the bill, such as Söll in the Austrian Tyrol.
The village lies in a wooded valley beneath the region’s highest peak, the Hohe Salve. Its attractive centre is dominated by the most impressive baroque church in the western Tyrol and this is gorgeously candlelit at night.
Last season I made a welcome return to the typically Tyrolean family-owned Hotel Tyrol where Joseph and his team help create ‘gemutlichkeit’, an Austrian expression of warmth and hospitality.
Guests can expect marvellous cuisine, spacious rooms and a lively bar in this highly regarded four-star establishment.
The village centre is a five minute stroll away, while the ski gondola station is a 15-minute walk.
But fear not, the ski bus stops right outside the hotel.
The Hochsöll Gondola accesses the ski area above Söll, which provides a gateway into Austria’s largest linked ski area, the Ski Welt comprising 280k of piste serviced by over 90 ski lifts.
At the top of the Hohe Salve there is a choice of piste. This includes two black runs, one requiring a leap of faith from the summit.
Regretting the last round of Jägermiester the previous night, faith did not prevail as I tumbled for an eternity down the mountain.
The piste resembled a battlefield, with my ski poles, hat, shades etc strewn over the steep descent.
Pride and body were both battered, the only saving grace being an undamaged hip flask!
There are a vast variety of wide cruising runs available, and for those intermediates who love to bomb along the blues and pinky reds they will be in heaven.
The Ski Welt has improved considerably of late, with 75% of the slopes covered by snow cannons.
The village of Westendorf via its gondola is much easier to reach and makes for a good trip from Söll.
If you fancy an easy day head for Ellmau, an ideal spot for mixed ability groups who can meet up at the Rubezahal for lunch.
This rustic retreat is straight out of the pages of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Admire the carvings in this crooked hostelry, but beware the low beams and doors – ouch!
Off the slopes, if you crave more action, there is a wild and wicked toboggan run from the top of the gondola.
And you can visit the wonderfully equipped swimming pool complex to ease those aching muscles.
The holiday companies offer excursions to Salzburg or Innsbruck whilst, much closer, Kufstein and Kitzbuhel are easily reached by local bus.
If your idea of apres ski is strudel at 4pm, a glass of wine with dinner and tucked up by 10pm, then forget Söll.
The village’s apres ski is some of the best in Austria, starting early and finishing late, but fortunately no longer suffers from the excesses of the 70s and 80s.
Today, the various bars compete with each other to provide the best live music.
After a hard day on the slopes you can kick off at the Moonlight, a handy venue to dance on the table or fall off your bar stool.
A few minutes away, the Hexen is decidedly Teutonic and is manic by 4.30pm.The crazy music attracts a motley crew bopping about in their ski boots.
Salven Stadl features live music most days, as does the Red Horse, which showcased Cuckoo, a brilliant Irish group last season.
Part of the fabric of Söll for the past 25 years are Blood Shot Eyes, a folk group from our own Lake District who have quite a following. The best venue to catch them at is the Postwirt, but arrive early to bag a decent spot.
Söll is a super resort for skiing and partying, yet doesn’t cost an arm or a leg.
Bert Walsh travelled with Crystal Ski. 7 nights HB at Hotel Tyrol, Söll from £478 (Jan 2015), inclusive of return flights Manchester to Salzburg and resort transfers.