You don’t need a package holiday to ski and snowboard with the best. DIY can do it too
It’s October, it’s getting cold, and the days are shorter. For a growing group of people that means one thing - it's time to strap on the board and go shred some powder!
But before you rush off to a ski-tour operator to book a week on the slopes, take a minute to consider the alternative... after almost a decade of package tours, my friends and I decided to go DIY on the annual snow excursion this year. What’s the worst that could happen?
We chose Söll — pronounced ‘Sooll’ — in Austria’s Tyrolean Alps. The main appeal is its location at the centre of Austria’s largest interconnected ski area. Connecting nine towns, it has 90 lifts and 280km of pistes.
It’s not just about the skiing, though. Söll gained a reputation in the 1980s as a party hot spot in the Alps — and though the town has matured and now caters for families and older people, it still has some of the best après-ski in Austria. (Söll loves the Irish too, running an annual St Patrick’s Day parade and party.) All told, the perfect destination for six Irish lads looking for fun both on and off the slopes.
Söll and the SkiWelt villages are just over an hour and a half from two airports — Munich (served from Dublin by Aer Lingus, Ryanair and Lufthansa) and Salzburg (direct from Dublin with Ryanair). You can also fly into the Bavarian town of Memmingen with Ryanair.
Söll cannot be accessed by public transport, so we took a transfer bus with Four Seasons travel (tirol-taxi.at) from the airport directly to our accommodation, at a cost of €88 each. The short transfer means you can get into the town at a reasonable hour before either hitting the bars or the bed ahead of a day on the slopes.
DIY holidays aren’t for everyone, of course. If this is your first snow trip, then consider letting a tour operator do the heavy lifting (they generally allow you to bring ski equipment and a bag for free). Crystal Ski (crystalski.ie), Topflight (topflight.ie) and Directski.com do Söll.
Söll is the perfect place for easing you into the sport and also for those looking to get their snow legs back after a period away from the slopes. There’s guaranteed snow, making those inevitable falls marginally less painful, and plenty of beginner slopes that are serviced by gondolas and chair lifts. Snowboarding is tough at the start and, unless you are the next Shaun White, a large proportion of your first week will be spent falling on your backside. Get some lessons and stick with it; it will get better and you will get hooked. If you aren’t feeling it after three to four days, then pop on the skis and just enjoy yourself.
If you’ve boarded before, then welcome to heaven. Söll is only one of nine villages that make up the SkiWelt region — and you’ll fly around exploring them all.
The difference between a good and a great week is always going to depend on the amount of snow that falls. Alas, I can’t predict this, but travelling between mid-January and February should maximise your chances of fresh powder.
We were unlucky when we travelled out there last year, but all the slopes were open. We went with a guide one day and he showed us some of the hidden gems the mountains had to offer.
Some nice novelties include a movie park where you can watch a recording of your run and a speed trial.
There are five snowparks available for freestylers and boarders in the wider SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser-Brixental. Söll has a large snowpark as well as a ski/boarder cross course, which is a lot of fun to try with friends.
If you’re looking for big air, then head across to the boarders’ playground in Westendorf. Currently there is no half-pipe, but there are plenty of natural pipes dotted around the resort.
Söll’s nightlife is vibrant, offering bars, discos and restaurants to suit every taste. Söller Stuben (Dorf 120) is a cheap and cheerful eatery, while Bella Vita (Dorf 136) and Auf da Mühle (Dorf 89) serve excellent steaks and pasta, and you can always rely on Pizzeria Giovanni (Dorfbichl 2).
Lively bars include the Underground (Dorf 112), the Söll Sports Bar (Dorf 137), which doubles as the Red Horse nightclub and also Whiskey Mühle. Another unmissable spot is the Igloo Village at the top lift station in nearby Hochbrixen. You can stop here for a drink, stay for dinner or even book your own igloo for an overnight stay (skiwelt.at).
For those who haven’t had enough of the slopes during the day, Söll offers exceptional night-time skiing and tobogganing on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. For just €25 (skiing) or €19.50 (tobogganing), you can zip down freshly bashed slopes under floodlights.
Söll has plenty of hotels, but the real savings are to be found in apartments. We found that most landlords prefer to lease these out for the entire week, usually starting on a Saturday. This complicates things if you are hoping to have a longer or shorter break. We stayed at the Anna & Paul Appartements in the centre of town (tirol.at; from €109–€189 per night, depending on size and season). Ours was modern and clean with a small kitchen for preparing food. The main gondola, Hochsöll, was just under a kilometre from the apartment — there is no accommodation beside the slopes — but a regular shuttle bus service runs through the town all day.
For more information, see soll.tirol