I’ve never felt so out of place. We are standing in bulky, mismatched clothes we’ve never worn before, borrowed from friends. People jostle us as they squeeze inside the funicular train that will take us to the top of the mountain. Everybody wears a helmet and goggles, and carries skis and sticks. Apart from us. Welcome to our no-ski skiing holiday.
It’s not the first time we’ve been here. We’ve spent glorious summers in this part of Austria – walking on the lush mountainsides, swimming in the lakes. People always ask if we’ve been in winter. And: “Do you ski?”
We don’t. Not me, my husband or our 13-year-old daughter, Nancy. Skiing seemed to be an expensive habit we really didn’t need. Consequently, winter in the mountains has always felt out of bounds. But what if we could have fun in a ski resort without taking part in the downhill action?
A recent survey by Direct Line gave us hope. Nearly a million Brits jet off to ski resorts annually without doing winter sports. Instead, 28% said they went walking, 20% shopped, 19% spent their time eating and a sloth-like 10% stayed in bed.
For our experiment, we’ve picked two proper ski resorts, not far from Innsbruck – the Seefeld Plateau, twice home to the Winter Olympics, and buzzy Sölden, in the Ötztal valley. The night we arrive marks the start of a record-breaking freeze, and snow is thick on the ground at Seefeld. So, would one of us crack, and actually don a pair of skis?
Our first destination is the Rosshütte funicular train. In the café at the top we drink hot chocolate, feeling very cold, despite our merino base-layers. Skiing, we realise, would keep us warm. We think about walking instead, and take the Härmelekopfbahn cable car across to a higher peak where, last summer, my daughter made a posy from wild flowers. But we can barely stand outside for two minutes as the blizzard bites. We head down to the valley for a lunch of hot sauerkraut, warming broths and homemade strudel at a lovely inn beside the Möserer See, a picturesque lake of thick ice, where intrepid families skate.
From there, we take a horse-drawn carriage around Seefeld town and lake. Snuggled up under thick sheepskins, it’s pretty but feels a bit too sedate. Clip-clopping past the Olympic area we spot cross-country skiers: Seefeld has more than 271km of cross-country ski trails for all ability levels. It looks fun. Is Nordic skiing allowed? Technically, it’s not what we think of as skiing – it’s on the flat and looks a bit like using a cross-trainer.
So we squeeze into boots and clip them into skis for the first time in our lives. It’s harder than it looks. I’ve barely started when I twist my ankle, which I guess serves me right for going near a pair of skis. The others carry on without me.
Next morning, we drive to Sölden, where snow is almost guaranteed from October to May.
It’s a thriving ski resort, with equipment hire and après-ski haunts everywhere. Our hotel, Das Central, is owned by Angelika Falkner, of the family that built the very first cable car here, in 1948. The latest, opened in 2016, shuttles an astonishing 4,500 people up to the pistes every hour.
The skiers piling into cable cars are oddly reminiscent of commuters. At the Giggijoch base station, 2,284m high, we sit and enjoy enormous noodle soups and schnitzels in the Wirtshaus mountain restaurant, watching the skiing outside. Finally, the appeal of the slopes becomes clear. I send a little WhatsApp film to a ski-mad friend back home. “Don’t you have a powerful urge to get on skis,” he replies, “and throw yourself down the mountain?” Ignoring him, I order Sachertorte for pudding.
Next morning we are driven 2,000m up hair-raising snowy tracks to Gampe Thaya. We sit inside, for a delicious brunch in a tiny wooden room, then venture outside to watch, mesmerised, as skiers whizz past in colourful outfits. It’s restful, like watching fish in a fishtank.
Cooking at high altitude is a challenge (water boils at a lower temperature), but they pull it off brilliantly. Our consommé is served from a teapot at the table to make sure it’s piping hot. We finish with grappa served from an enormous bottle. Skiing – or not skiing – doesn’t get more glamorous than this.
For our final day, we try snowshoe walking. Far from the hectic slopes, the place is silent, the snow largely undisturbed. Our guide points out the tracks of rabbits, foxes, deer… And we enjoy a blissful hour of peace until, at a junction, we cross a family tobogganing down the icy road at speed, shrieking with joy.
It’s been an extraordinary trip. Otherworldly. So, can you enjoy a skiing holiday when you don’t ski? Most definitely, yes.
Way to go
Hotel Das Central in Sölden has double rooms from €153 per person, half board (central-soelden.com). For more information on Sölden. visit oetztal.com. Hotel Lärchenhof in Seefeld has double rooms from €75 per person, half board (hotel-laerchenhof-seefeld.com). For more information on Seefeld, visit seefeld.com. Easyjet flies to Innsbruck from £28.49 one way (Easyjet.com)
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