The ski resorts of Obergurgl and Hochgurgl, collectively called “Gurgl”, will take your breath away, both literally and figuratively. At 2150m, Hochgurgl is the highest ski resort in Austria, with Obergurgl following close behind at 1,930m.
The resorts are so high that there’s barely a pine tree in sight, and you feel as if you may have reached the mythical Mt Olympus, surrounded by a blanket of glossy snow. Perhaps this is why Gurgl has earned its position as “The Diamond of the Alps”.
Due to its high elevation, Gurgl can experience some challenging ski conditions due to high winds. The resorts have come up with some clever ways to keep visitors entertained, should the weather take a turn for the worse (more on this later).
About Obergurgl & Hochgurgl
Obergurgl first came into the limelight in 1931, when Swiss explorer Auguste Piccard was attempting a historic hot air balloon flight and had to conduct an emergency landing on the nearby Großer Gurgler Ferner glacier – he became the first man to fly into the stratosphere. In 1948, the first ski lift was built in Obergurgl, and it has been a popular ski resort for British families since the 1960s.
Obergurgl is by far the larger of the two resort towns and has a decent selection of mid to upper-tier hotels, restaurants, après ski bars and shops. It’s quite spread out, so you may need to hop on a bus to travel to one of several ski lifts to take you into the mountains.
Hochgurgl has the region’s only 5-star superior hotel, TOP Hotel Hochgurgl, but it’s a relatively small area with monolithic buildings and less of a traditional vibe. There’s just one gondola that starts in Hochgurgl, and it’s possible to ski all the way back here at the end of the day.
Collectively Gurgl offers more than 105km of pisted slopes, with 23 ski lifts and a maximum elevation of 3,082m. Pistes are well maintained and on the wider side with good visibility (fog withstanding) meaning that you can ski safely.
The two resorts are connected by a 15-20 minute gondola, the Top-Express, and ski conditions in Hochgurgl tend to be more forgiving than Obergurgl as it is less exposed. However, there’s a lovely, long red at the top of Hohe Mutt Bahn in Obergurgl that curves around the mountain and is best skied early in the morning.
Beginners and nervous skiers can stick to the blue and green runs that cluster around the middle station of Hohe Mut Bahn. However, they may have more fun skiing in Hochgurgl, which has a vast selection of blue ski runs in a beautiful, sunny surrounding.
Why go there
Excellent for confident skiers: Obergurgl is better suited to more experienced skiers, as there are plenty of black and steep red runs. There’s a fantastic black run at the top of the Plattachbahn chairlift – it starts with a gentle blue then as you ski around the corner you are presented with a steep, wide piste with fantastic views of the valley. I must have skied it at least six times as it was perfect for practising short turns.
Quality ski instructors: Whether you are new to skiing or hoping to improve your skills, the ski instructors in Gurgl are well trained, patient and encouraging. It’s worth booking a couple of private lessons to start with, as you’ll improve much more quickly than skiing in a large group.
The X Factor: If you can ski at least a blue run, then take the Wurmkogl II chairlift to the peak of Wurmkogl, which is the highest ski point at 3,082m. Stop for a hot chocolate at the glass-enclosed Top Mountain Star bar, and step outside on the deck for some spectacular panoramic views of the region. You then choose between a winding blue path or an eye-popping black run, which both lead to multiple ski lifts, so you can ski a variety of different routes.
What else is there to do?
If it’s a particularly windy day, then the ski lifts sometimes have to close for safety reasons. If you find yourself with some time on your hands, head to the newly built Gurgl Carat, an exhibition space, music venue and conference centre has been constructed to resemble a diamond.
Gurgl Carat is currently hosting an exhibition by British artist Adam Attew, who paints photorealistic portraits of mountainscapes. From far away it is almost impossible to distinguish Adam’s paintings from a photograph, as he has painstakingly painted every crag, rock and tree. The exhibition space also has a 20m by 5m cinema screen showcasing Adam’s photography and videos of the mountains in Gurgl. Adam’s has just completed his artist residency in Obergurgl and his exhibition will remain in the Gurgl Carat until April 2020.
Hochgurgl’s newest gondola, the Kirchenkarbahn, is home to Top Mountain Crosspoint restaurant and Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum, owned by twin brothers Alban and Attila. The Motorcycle museum contains an impressive collection of 338 vintage motorcycles, from Harley Davidsons to Ducatis – some of the bikes have been sold in auction for over £600,000. Next summer the museum will expand to double the size with a new wing, and the brothers hope it will become the largest motorcycle museum in Europe.
Where to eat: On the slopes in Obergurgl, enjoy a traditional schnitzel or Käsespätzle (cheesy noodles with crispy onions) at Zirben Alm. The Top Mountain Crosspoint restaurant at the lift station in Hochgurgl also serves a delicious thin-crust pizza cooked in a proper Italian oven.
For dinner, enjoy a delicious Fondue Chinoise at Hotel Enzian, where you cook a selection of chicken, beef, pork and plump prawns in broth and oil, accompanied by vegetables, jacket potato and a vast selection of dips.
Après Ski: Finish off the day with a pint and some live rock music at Nederhütte, which is close to the middle station of Hohe Mut Bahn.
Where to stay: The 4 Star Superior Hotel Mühle Resort 1900 is located at the end of Obergurgl and has an impressive spa including a sauna, steam room and swimming pool. There’s a bus stop right next to the hotel to transport you to the ski lifts, and the hotel also offers free transfers if the bus isn’t running.
Ski pass: Prices start from €54 per day for an adult, covering both Obergurgl and Hochgurgl. If you purchase a skipass for three or more days you receive the valley-wide Ötztal Super Skipass, which also includes Sölden.
Getting there: Obergurgl is easily reached by car or taxi in around one hour and 20 minutes from Innsbruck airport (96km). Easyjet offer daily flights from London to Innsbruck from Gatwick Airport.
More information: For more information on Obergurgl and Hochgurgl visit https://www.obergurgl.com/winter.html. Austrian National Tourist Office’s website is also a useful source for more information about holidays in Austria.