The Gastein Valley is in Salzburgerland, in Austria’s South Eastern Alps. The top altitude is 2685 metres at Kreuzkogel. Comprising four ski zones – Bad Gastein, Bad Hofgastein, Sportgastein and Dorfgastein – with access to Grossarl, it falls under the Ski Amadé region.
The Gastein Valley is steeped in Austria’s imperial past with the healing spas much loved by Mozart’s mother, Romans, Paracelsus and even Kaiser Wilhelm. In the last 70 years a modern ski resort has grafted itself onto the spa transforming Gastein into must-go ski area. In concert with Grossarl, there are 208km of pistes including exceptionally long top-to-bottom runs where you get 10km of uninterrupted skiing.
The resort is as famous for its Radon Caves (Heilstollern) and Spa facilities (hence the Bad in Badgastein) as it is for its skiing with the two going hand-in-glove as the best destination for a ski-spa break. Skiers love it because it can be relied on to deliver fabulous snow conditions at Sportgastein.
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A good choice for families and skiers travelling with non-skiing partners as it offers 100km of winter walking trails, curling and ice-skating.
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Skiing is in four main areas over 218 km of pistes for all standards of skiers and boarders: 50 ski lifts provide easy access to 64km blue (beginner), 118km red (intermediate) and 24 black/itinerary (expert) runs, snow parks and powder fun on the unmarked itineraries. 66% of slopes are covered by snow-making facilities and lifts open from the end of November to April. The tranquil Kotschach Valley is a paradise for cross-country skiers and winter walkers.
The M-shaped area between Badgastein and Badhofgastein offers good nursery slopes in the centre, long pistes on the sides (including the Hohe Scharte Nord) and the latest gizmos including a snowpark with jumps, rails and a half-pipe, a self-timed slalom track and a knee-trembling suspension bridge across the void from the top lift station – not for the faint-hearted.
Sportgastein is at the head of the valley offering high altitude slopes for reliable conditions and exciting off-piste.
Graukogel, the original ski area in Badgastein, played host to the 1958 World Championships since when the downhill racing pistes have lost none of their bite.
Why go there?
The challenge: The Hohe Scharte Nord (10.4 km and 1440 m top-to-bottom drop) is one of the longest – and most beautiful – downhill runs of Europe’s Eastern Alps: ski non-stop at the end of the day for a well-earned soak in one of the two public natural spas, Alpentherme in Bad Hofgastein or Felsentherme in Bad Gastein. Badgastein’s Heilstollen Caves are one for the bucket-list: a 2 km journey into the heart of the mountain stopping at ever increasingly hot caves (37° to 41°) and 100% humidity is surprisingly relaxing (not for sufferers of claustrophobia, however).
Proximity: All four ski areas are well-linked and most accommodation offers easy access to lifts: the largest ski zone is concentrated between Badgastein and Badhofgastein for exceptional piste skiing and powder between 860 and 2300m.
To escape from the throng: Graukogel, Badgastein’s original ski area is worth a trip on a busy morning for its sweeping forest pistes. Alternatively head further afield for the picture-pretty neighbouring Grossarl Valley via the skischaukel – an over-the-mountain link from Dorfgastein. Mountain huts are plentiful and well-groomed intermediate pistes offer skiers a leisurely cruise through delightful Alpine scenery.
The X Factor: The Grillparzerstrasse (silver bullet) is one of Bad Gastein’s most popular Apres Ski Bars for live music into the small hours and boys toys (flying fox, slack line, climbing wall and more). For night life Eden is numero uno and Ginger n’ Gin at Hotel L’Europe is party, party, party offering a selection of more than 130 different gins to pep up your tonic. For a perfectly prepared traditional meal in a cosy atmosphere, Bertahof Restaurant in Bad Hofgastein fits the bill and definitely make time for the Feng Shui pilgrimage to Restaurant Unterbergerwirt in Dorfgastein – the feng shui must have brought fortune to the kitchen because the food is exceptional. Finally, don’t leave the Gastein valley without tasting the local specialities: Apfelstrudel, Kaiserschmarrn and Sachertorte. Every tea room has its own recipe for these Austrian masterpieces, and every one is good.
A wide range of accommodation to suit all budgets and tastes is available, prices from €35 per person per night b&b and from €48 per couple per night in a self-catering studio/apartment. For luxury and style, Grand Park Hotel in Badhofgastein takes some beating; close to the ski lifts, ½-board rates in January are from €171 per person per night or search below for weekly packages.