By Christoph Schlinke
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When thinking about Austria, her cultural heritage such as the historic centre of Vienna or the old towns of Salzburg and Innsbruck might come to mind. Aside from that, Austrians identify themselves through “their” national sport, skiing. This is not surprising, as world-class ski resorts are scattered throughout the Central Alps.Instead of creating new artificial skiing resorts, traditional towns have shifted to skiing tourism. Villages offer a range of wide and quiet runs, but off-piste areas in picturesque landscape are nowadays a must. After a long day up in the mountains, these towns attract people not only with their warm and traditional atmosphere but also with fantastic après ski features catering to all age groups.
Kitzbühel - also known as the “most legendary city of wintersports”- is situated in the Kitzbühler Alps and offers perfect conditions for a skiing holiday. The resort is embedded between Kitzbühel and its neighboring towns of Aurach, Kirchberg, Reith and Jochberg, where a total of 200 km of groomed slopes in combination with the contrasting landscape provide an unforgettable skiing experience. Night owls will see their expectations met as well, either in one of the numerous bars and clubs or in an après ski bar like the “Stamperl”, “Fünferl” or in the “Ganslernalm”.
When thinking about the town of Kitzbühel, one inevitably recalls the famous “Hahnenkamm” race, one of the most important events of the skiing worldcup. The race down the hazardous “Streif” and the tricky “Ganslernhang” has been held since 1931. Austrian Skiers like Toni Sailer, Franz Klammer and Hermann Maier have become legends by winning this race. Ski champions such as Luc Alphand (FRA), Didier Cuche (SUI) and Bode Miller (USA) crowned their outstanding careers with successes in Kitzbühel. This season the race will take place on the weekend of 21st -23rd of January 2011.
The “Arlberg region” - located on the border between Tyrol and Vorarlberg - is rated one of the best ski resorts on the planet. It consists of five different tows, which provide their guests with a distinguished mix of individual charms. St. Anton am Arlberg, a lively town and the biggest amongst them, and the cozy, relaxed town of Stuben are complimented by the up-market towns of Lech, Zürs and St. Christoph.
The Arlberg region features well-prepared slopes up to an altitude of 2300 meters. Good snow conditions are guaranteed from December through until the end of April. For 50 years the towns have been connected by a unique ski circuit called the “WHITE RING”. One can ski from Lech to Zürs, go up with the chairlift to the “Madloch” and go back via the little traditional town of “Zug”. With a bit of luck one may be greeted by one of the chamois, which are often hiding behind one of the picturesque rocks. Another delightful feature of the Arlberg region is its range of prestigious off-piste slopes. When skiing through free-terrain on fresh deep powder snow, true skiing and boarding may be experienced. Lech is also the first town in Austria where Heli-skiing and boarding is offered.
In the province of Salzburg, just a 45-minute drive from the hometown of Mozart, the Salzburger “Sportwelt Amade” is considered a dynamic ski region, offeringa wide range of opportunities. Some of the Austrian skiing champions such as Annemarie Moser-Pröll or Hermann Maier were born there. It may not be easy to choose where to go, as one has to decide between ski resorts such as Gastein, St. Johann im Pongau, Hochkönig, Zauchensee-Altenmarkt or Obertauern. All of them cater for a variety of skiing styles, providing everything from groomed slopes to cross country skiing. The ski resorts throughout Salzburg are especially popular amongst young people.
Vienna, Austria'’s vibrant capital, is surrounded by a few small skiing venues. Interestingly, Vienna is said to be the only capital city in the world where an FIS Worldcup race took place. The “Hohe Wand Wiese” hosted an FIS Worldcup Slalom in 1986. The venue is located in one of the outer districts of Vienna. The slope is accessed by a 400 meter long T-bar ski lift, has a maximum slope of 25% and is equipped with flood lights. This enables operation to continue until 9 pm. From the DA you can take the U4 to its final stop at Hütteldorf. From there you continue with the bus 249 to Mauerbachstrasse.
At an elevation of 1600 metres and only 60 km to the South of Vienna the skiing resort of Stuhleck/Semmering offers approximately 10 ski lifts and 25 km of slopes for all levels of difficulty.
When going a bit further to the West of Vienna, the Ötscher and Hochkar region offers valuable skiing areas and is popular amongst skiers who want to take off a day from city life. The ski area is located about 150 km, or a two-hour drive from Vienna.
During your stay as a student here in Austria, you should definitely not miss the experience of skiing in one of the numerous resorts throughout the country. They are quite easy to reach either by car or by train. Some of them offer in collaboration with the Austrian Railway Company ÖBB the so called “Wedelweiß Ticket”. It includes the trip by train, the transfer to the accommodation and a ski pass for either three or six days.
It does not matter if you are already a skilled, ambitious skier or more of a newcomer to the sport. Austria’'s resorts offer you a good opportunity for an enjoyable holiday, and will welcome you for sure with a hearty “"Ski Heil”!"