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Ischgl: the modern classic

Ischgl is one of Austria’s top ski areas. It is one of Switzerland’s top ski areas as well because it sits right on the Austrian-Swiss border. ‘Silvretta Arena Ischgl-Samnaun’ - as it’s officially called - has 239 km of groomed runs (that’s about as much as Vail), 90% of which are above 2000 m above sea level. For Austria, that’s considered high. For that reason, Ischgl-Samnaun has a very long season, typically from late November until early May. For a ski area without a glacier, that’s long. Only Les Trois Vallées in France has a similarly long season without the help of a glacier.

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Layout and terrain
The ski area has the Austrian town of Ischgl and the Paznauner Tal in the North and the Swiss towns of Samnaun and Kompatch in the South. Both Swiss towns are quite sleepy and mostly get skiing visitors in their tax-free shops. In fact, the run all the way to the valley floor (the red 80) is called the ‘smuggler’s route’ for that reason. By Swiss standards, Samnaun and Kompatch are not very expensive to stay, but then again they aren’t ideal. They are on the south-facing slopes of the ski area, meaning slush and bumps most afternoons. And Kompatch doesn’t have a direct lift back up to the ski area. One has to take a bus to Samnaun to enter the ski lift system.

On the mostly North-facing Austrian side, runs are long and mostly quite firm down to the village. These red runs can be icy even and crowded too in the afternoon. There is no shame in taking one of the three gondolas back to Ischgl if you don’t fancy an icy human slalom in the shade.

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Skiing is generally much more relaxed and less hectic up top. Around the Idalp on the Austrian side or Alp Trida on the Swiss side, wide-open bowls and fast chairlifts knit a tight network of runs of all types. Challenging blacks, wide easy blues and many great reds. Almost everywhere in between is nice off-piste terrain. Most of this is above treeline and easy to scope from lifts and groomers. Hardly any natural obstacles such as cliffs, cravasses stand in the way of an awesome powder day. Easy to access, almost always leading to a lift or a run and literally on every aspect of the mountain great off-piste runs can be found. Even some tree runs under the Höllspitzbahn chairlift (E2). Be aware though, that once outside the marked runs you actually are off-piste, and therefore need to be able to take care of avalanche safety.

All the lifts are coded. The entire area is divided into sectors A-N, making navigation easy. It is difficult to get lost anyway, since there’s always a lift bringing you back up to one of the main entry points of the area. Even though the place is huge and it takes a few days to ski it all, crossing from one side of the ski area to the other can be done in an hour or two. This entire thing of being huge and hugely diverse and quite compact at the same time makes Ischgl-Samnaun so great - for me at least.

Accommodation and villages
Ischgl itself is a lively town. (In)famous for its après-ski, as a matter of fact. ‘Kühstall’ (literally ‘cow barn’) and the Fire & Ice bar right at the bottom of the Silvrettabahn (A1) are the most noteworthy hotspots in town. On the mountain, the Paznauner Thaya is the place to be for a bit of après-ski (just at the bottom of the aforementioned Höllspitzbahn). They serve a great Tyrolean lunch and from 3 PM onwards, the Thaya turns into party central. You still need some balance to get back to the valley though, there’s no cheating and taking gondolas down from that spot.

Ischgl is not the cheapest place to stay in Austria. If you do want a bit more peace and quiet - or maybe a bit more accommodation or wellness for your buck - stay in one of the other villages in the Paznauner Valley. Mathon, Waldhof, Nederle, Höfer Au - they all have access to Ischgl through a well-run bus service.

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What’s more, from either of these places you can easily get to one of the three other ski areas in that same valley. Galtür, Kappl, and See are all on the big Silvretta Skipass, each adding around 40 km of runs to your adventure (thus bumping it up from 239 to 363 km of runs). The Silvretta pass will set you back € 387 for six days, whereas the Ischgl-Samnaun pass (VIP Pass) is about € 323 for that same number of days (prices from high season, 2023-2024).

Nice little extras
Ischgl offers great skiing, a long season, easy access, and cross-border skiing both on and off-piste. During the main season (roughly Christmas until Easter) one of the main high-end ski rental shops - Silvretta Sports (named - as everything else over there - after the Silvretta mountain range the ski area sits on) runs a test shop on the Idalp. Smack in the middle of the ski area they offer ski demos for almost nothing (it was free the last time I was there). It’s Europe, so expect a lot of Hero Elites, Redsters, Racetigers, and Worldcup Rebels and not much over 90 mm in waist width.

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About author
Age: 42
Hight: 6' (1.82 m)
Weight: 200 lbs (90 kg)
Skied: 14 seasons
Days a season: ~30
Based in The Netherlands, skis in the Alps (Austria, France, Italy, mostly)

I test skis. In the Netherlands, that's quite rare. And since we have no mountains, I drive to the Alps to try the bunch. And I write reviews about them as well. On my own website gigski.com


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