Contributor NIGEL HEATH recently jetted off on a family ski holiday to Obergurgl in Austria – one of the highest ski resorts in the Austrian Alps…
Jetting off on a family skiing holiday to Austria via busy Heathrow with a party of six adults, a five-year-old and four-year-old and a 15-month old baby in a buggy on the first Saturday of the Easter holidays might, you’d think. have its challenges. Add to that nine suitcases to be checked in together with three bulky child car seat bags and that buggy and with hordes of people everywhere, even though it was only 7am then the situation called for a measure of calm, I told myself.
But the friendly man at the check-in desk wasn’t at all phased to be confronted by five trolleys piled high with luggage and presented with nine passports and in no time at all we were all safely through to the relative calm of Terminal Two’s massive departure lounge. But then to our surprise, the size of our party suddenly swung to our advantage when we arrived at the departure gate with baby buggy in the lead and were all priority boarded on to our Lufthansa flight to Munich. My wife Jenny’s son James and his wife Fiona, who arranged the trip, had hired two people carriers and four hours and some stunning alpine scenery later we drove into the small picturesque village of Obergurgl, which at nearly 2000 metres, is one of the highest ski resorts in the Austrian Alps.
And better still, our Hotel Pirchhuett was almost opposite a ski school and despite it being early April there was still plenty of fresh snow on the ground. This friendly hotel was built in Alpine style thirty years ago by husband and wife team Martin and Andrea Gruner and they have run it ever since. Martin, who was born in the village, was also a ski instructor until two years ago and both their son and daughter have followed in his footsteps. No sooner had we arrived and checked in then everyone, excluding Jenny and I and her daughter Anna’s baby Elvy, went off to buy their lift passes and get kitted out with their skies, boots, helmets and poles.
Needless to say, it was early nights all round and by 10am our party had joined dozens of other parents delivering their off spring to ski school and waiting around while they were grouped into classes by age and past experience. While James and Fiona’s five-year-old Archie had lots of previous experience and was soon off up the mountain by Gondola with his group, it was the first time on skies for his four-year-old cousin May. So Mum Clare, Jenny and I, who were looking after Elvey, spent the morning watching as she and twenty other tots made their first mostly cautious moves towards learning to ski. So, the pattern was set for the next few days with ski enthusiast parents swishing down to join their children for lunch and then taking to the slopes again until it was time to collect them at 3.30pm, It was a novelty for me to watch three giant ‘ piste bashers’ with lights flashing and horns blaring, levelling the runs for the next day’s sport but being so close to the end of the season there were no tiresome queues for the gondolas, chair lifts and button tows. However, come the evening, we found it necessary to book an early supper in three of the hotel restaurants where the choice and quality of all the fare was excellent.
It was while investigating the possibility of a group transfer from Munich to Obergurgl rather than hiring cars that I came across ‘Ted’s Transfers.’ ‘Ted’ Paul Fieldhouse, it transpired, came to the area from near Oxford in the UK in 1996 to become white water and Kayak instructor and liked it so much that he stayed to work in the tourism industry before launching his taxi service five years ago. Sadly, Ted was already booked but gave us lots of useful local information so we met up for a coffee during our stay. One morning Jenny and I with baby in buggy arranged to meet the rest of the family at a mountain top restaurant for lunch and I found the charge of 46 euro’s for just one trip up and down for two just a bit hard to swallow. Still it became a little more palatable when I learned that all the revenue from the lift companies in Obergurgl and neighbouring Hochgurgl was reinvested in improvements to the ski areas. ‘I bet those giant piste bashers alone must have cost a few quid!’
Anyway, there were lots of delicious Tyrolean dishes on the lunchtime menu at reasonable prices and all was forgotten when I tucked in to a hash brown that covered my plate like a pancake accompanied by a healthy portion of cold smoked salmon with cress and cream. Apre ski was in full swing when our family reassembled in a busy outdoor cafe near the gondola station at the bottom of the mountain, some members of the party having skied all the way down, and it was definitely time for a Gluhwein. The mulled wine tasted especially good as we listened to some lively music with the snow falling for the second time that day. Just across the street we visited the small shop run by Bernhard Scheiber, who like our host Martin, was born in the village, but was still a ski instructor in the winter and wood carver during the summer.
The last Thursday morning of our holiday turned out to be the special time when all the proud parents assembled on the slope beside the ski school to watch their youngsters compete in a series of group time trial races. It was quite amazing to see just how many youngsters took to the junior slalom course like ducks to water. Fact File Obergurgl is really only a winter ski resort with most of the hotels closing between the end of April and mid- November.
Many families make reservations for the following year when they leave, so early booking is wise especially as the resort sold nearly 700,000 room nights in the 2017-2018 season. For the Hotel Pirchhuett phone 0043 5256 6390 while for Ted’s Transfers its 0043 650 8610959 It’s a much shorter drive to Obergurgl from Innsbruck but flights are fewer and can be circa £200 more expensive than those from Munich.