Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Where Ski's Far from the Limit; with Its Steeper Mountains and Spa Towns Austria's Gastein Valley Region Offers More Than Your Average Ski Resort, as MICHAEL BROWN Discovers

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Where Ski's Far from the Limit; with Its Steeper Mountains and Spa Towns Austria's Gastein Valley Region Offers More Than Your Average Ski Resort, as MICHAEL BROWN Discovers

Article excerpt

Byline: MICHAEL BROWN

HIGH above some of Austria's highest snowcapped peaks, a golden eagle soared majestically in the midday sun. Far from thoughts of the miserable British weather - but less than three hours flight and transfer with Crystal from Newcastle (or Birmingham, Bristol, East Midlands, London Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Manchester) - the weather is gorgeous and the snow still good on many a run even late in the season.

All of which is highly comforting after arriving in the ski resort of Rauris and on a balmy March day to find the "golden valley" looking more prepared for a summer of hiking in the Hohe Tauern National Park than winter pursuits.

A quiet village only around an hour from Salzburg, the former goldminers' settlement seems a perfect place to take to the slopes for beginner and lapsed intermediate alike.

Even with global warming taking its toll on the Alps - coupled to what locals say was a once-in-ageneration warm winter in 2013/14, with temperatures 40degC higher at February half term than the previous year - skiing could still be found by the 3,114ft high resort's gondola base station, which is easily walkable from any nearby hotel.

While 10 minutes and a further 1,780m up the side of the Hochalm, long, wide blue runs provide ample space for many a Brit - quite a few of whom find themselves under the tutelage of the Karl Maier ski school and its international array of friendly, English-speaking instructors.

It's perhaps a little unnerving at first to see so many small children whizzing about on the nursery slopes like they were born with skis on their feet, but it's testament to the instructors that they soon bring you up to a similar sort of speed.

When fully open, Rauris' runs extend 30km, with a top gondola reaching 2,193m up the Schwarzwand mountian, and routes all the way down to the village itself, which is home to a range of family run accommodation, including the newly refurbished Hotel Alpina.

A friendly, welcoming, traditional style hotel, with a stop for the free ski bus just outside, it has undergone much work in recent years, with an indoor swimming pool, sauna area, gym, children's play room and spacious wood clad dining room among the more recent additions.

Its bedrooms were comfortable, with stunning views of the mountains, while the food was more than a match for many a smaller restaurant in the UK - and has the added nice touch that the chef comes out to chat and make sure everything is all right after your meal.

Iif village life sounds too staid, seemingly a world away, but only around 8km across the mountains as the bearded vulture flies, lies the town of Bad Hofgastein, one of the three resorts in the huge Gasteinertal ski area.

Renowned as much for its natural thermal springs - the 32,000sq m Alpentherme is one of the town's main attractions for both locals and tourists alike - as its skiing, the much larger resort is still considered relatively quiet despite its bustling, cobbled, pedestrianised centre and choice of bars and restaurants. …

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