STUBAI VALLEY, Austria — When you mention a ski vacation in Austria, many Americans think of Kitzbuhel or St. Anton, but few are familiar with the Stubai Valley, a favorite of many Europeans.
The Stubaital, as it's known locally, is less than 15 miles southwest of Innsbruck. It contains several small ski areas, two medium-size developments and one enormous complex on the glacier at the far end of the valley.
The snow never melts on the glacier, where you can ski all year. The Stubaital has other attractions, too. Not yet as well known as some of the older European ski meccas, it has a friendlier, less sophisticated atmosphere. The Austrians call it \o7 gemutlichkeit\f7 .
Best of all, a week in the Stubaital will cost you a good deal less than a vacation at one of the more famous Alpine resorts. And lift prices are considerably lower than at major U.S. ski resorts.
A six-day Stubai Valley ski pass, which includes all the lifts at all the ski areas, runs about $100 U.S. It also includes shuttle-bus service throughout the valley and admission to the swimming pool. A six-day lift pass at the nearby Innsbruck Olympic area is about $80.
Stubai Valley History
People have lived in the Stubai Valley for hundreds of years. Many homes and small hotels still carry the stamp of their owners, with ornate artwork and lettering decorating the building exteriors.
But much of the resort development is relatively new, and, though built in the traditional Tirolean style, pensions and hotels are modern and comfortable.
Accommodations range from a guest room in a small farmhouse to a deluxe hotel with indoor pool, sauna and solarium. Most hotels offer half-pension, which includes buffet breakfast and dinner. (Small pensions and private homes provide only bed and breakfast.)
A week in the Stubaital can range from $70 in a private home or small inn to more than $400 in a deluxe hotel during low season. High season (holidays, much of February) runs a bit more. Apartments rent from $15 to $75 a night, depending upon size and season.
The town of Neustift is a good place to headquarter. It's about half way between Innsbruck and the glacier, and it has its own ski area on Mt. Elfer.
The Schlick, above the town of Fulpmes, is somewhat larger and has a variety of terrain for beginners to experts. You can walk to the lifts from each town or take the bus from a neighboring village.
But the most spectacular vistas and the best snow is on the Stubai glacier, which boasts one of the largest year-round complexes in Europe. Enclosed gondolas take you onto the glacier, and from there an intricate series of lifts fans out across the huge sea.
If you've never skied on a glacier, you'll enjoy the wide-open feeling and the not-so-steep vertical pitch, which are great for the ego. More accomplished skiers will find plenty of good terrain out on the edges, on the back side of the mountain and below the mid-station of the gondola.
On a clear day after a blizzard we found more than a foot of fresh powder and never seemed to run out of untracked snow all day, so vast was the area.
Those seeking even more challenging skiing can find it at the Olympic sites of Axamer Lizum and Igls, a short drive in the other direction. And Italy's Val Gardena ski circus is just south of the Brenner Pass, an easy day trip from Neustift.
For the ski touring enthusiast there are more than 60 miles of winding cross-country trails along the valley floor. Some visitors find this the ideal way to get around, with stops along the way for picture taking and a leisurely lunch.
Non-skiers also come to the valley just to enjoy the mountain air and the magnificent scenery of the Tirolean Alps. They may spend a day exploring the town and its shops shops and cafes, or take a day trip to Salzburg, Venice or the castles of Bavaria.
The gondolas make the glacier available to everyone, and lunch at the large modern restaurant at the top provides a panorama of the surrounding peaks.
Neustift has a large municipal pool, along with indoor tennis and squash courts. You can also go skating and tobogganing or try your hand at curling.
Area Night Life
The larger towns of the Stubaital have their own restaurants, discos and cozy bars, some with live entertainment. But the night life is more informal than at some of the big name resorts.
Many of the restaurants are in the hotels (all include dinner in the price of lodging). If you eat out, dinner with wine or beer will run from less than $10 to about $30. A couple of places in Neustift that are well recommended: Platzl on the low end, and Silberdistel for a real dining experience.
If you're looking for a change of pace in the evening, Innsbruck is only about half an hour away. It's fun to wander through the old part of the city, have dinner in town, and perhaps take in a hockey game or an ice show at the Olympic Stadium.