Travel journalist Jan Henderson visits the Austrian ski resort of Nassfeld declaring the trip ‘A nice surprise’.
Think of skiing in Austria and resorts like St Anton, Kitzbuhel, Soll or Mayrhofen probably spring to mind – but there’s a lot more to Austrian skiing than the big name resorts. You’ve probably never heard of Nassfeld – I hadn’t until last year – but it’s one of the country’s ski areas that is starting to make a name for itself, and with good reason, as I found out back in January.
The largest resort in the southern Austrian region of Carinthia, Nassfeld is close to the border with Slovenia and Italy and boasts 110 kilometres of piste. It’s a fantastic area for intermediates, with a variety of different blue and red runs to improve your technique on, although there aren’t many pisted runs that’ll offer a real challenge for expert skiers – there’s only one marked black run, the Trogkofelbfahrt, while the majority of runs are categorised as red.
Since the majority of UK skiers who head out to the Alps fall into the intermediate category, that means that Nassfeld will most likely suit you and your party – it also has a friendly ski school that caters for beginners on the extensive nursery slopes of Tressdorfer Alm, at the top of the Millennium Express gondola, or the Sonnenalpe beginner slopes. Of course, lessons are also a great idea for skiers and boarders whatever your standard, and the ski school caters for every need – they all speak English, and indeed have a handful of Brit instructors on the team.
Nassfeld’s publicity catchline is “Nice Surprise” and that’s certainly what you’ll get – a bit like the old US Avis car rental adverts when they were number two to Hertz, they try harder. Because they haven’t yet got the cachet of the big Austrian resorts you get the feeling everyone is trying harder, just that bit more friendly and more helpful – in fact, trying to ensure you have that nice surprise on your hard-earned holiday.
Some of those surprises include more than 20 wifi hotspots on the mountain, The Snake course through the trees for kids, ski movie race and parallel track, collecting badges for the Nassfeld Challenge and an express ski and board service right on the piste to tune up or repair your equipment, to name but a few. You really do get the feeling that the locals are pleased to see you and want you to enjoy your experience on their mountains – something that can’t always be said for some of the bigger, more impersonal resorts in France, for example…
Nassfeld claims to be one of the sunniest resorts in the Alps, with some 100 more hours of sunshine than rival resorts in the northern Alps – they even have sunshine clocks on the pistes with an integrated sunshine hour counter to back up their claim. Certainly it was mostly sunny – we did have a morning of low cloud – during my stay, and that was in January when conditions can be unkind to fair weather skiers like me.
All that sun doesn’t seem to have an adverse effect on snow conditions either – Adriatic lows high in precipitation dump an average of seven to eight metres of snow on the resort every winter, and there’s 100 per cent coverage of the ski area with 360 snow cannons if the natural stuff should fall short.
If you should tire of skiing, there’s the opportunity to try alternative ways of getting down the mountain, including five toboggan runs, snow bikes, snow shoes and zipflbobs (a variety of snow sled), as well as 80km of cross country ski trails, 55km of winter hiking trails, ice climbing or horse-drawn sleigh rides.
I tried a snow bike – pretty much what it sounds like, a bike frame with skis attached instead of wheels – no brakes, and steering assisted by using your skibooted feet as ‘outriggers’ to help keep you upright. It’s actually quite easy to master and good fun on pistes that are not too steep – well worth a try as an afternoon’s alternative to skis or boards.
Equally important for a good holiday is what you do off the slopes, and of course your accommodation is a key factor in this – and again Nassfeld came up with a nice surprise in the stunning shape of the Hotel Franz Ferdinand, conveniently situated a short walk from the main ski lift.
The Franz Ferdinand really is an extraordinary building – originally a cube-shaped youth hostel aimed at snowboarders, it has been comprehensively renovated and realigned into two linked futuristic cubes. It retains the visual impact of the original hostel – the vaulted interior still boasts a climbing wall and a ramp that originally allowed boarders to slide down from the top floor to the lobby – but is elegant and sophisticated, with all the home comforts you could want, while each spacious room has its own lobby where you can store and dry your equipment.
The main self-service restaurant offers a wide selection of international and regional food, and there’s also a good variety of restaurant choices both on the mountain and in the resort itself – we sampled delicious, and filling, traditional regional food at Plattner’s Einkehr and Kofel Alm restaurants for our mountain lunchtime breaks.
With Nassfeld so close to the Italian border – the piste system will actually take you into Italy – an evening meal at a traditional Italian restaurant is an enjoyable option. We ate at the Albergo Ristorante Wulfenia da Livio, which is as Italian as you can get although literally a short walk from the border, where they specialise in fantastic seafood dishes – slightly odd considering how far from the sea they are, but delicious nonetheless.
Of course any skiing holiday is bound to be an expensive enterprise, but in comparison to the big Alpine resorts Nassfeld is pretty reasonable and offers excellent value for money. A six-day adult lift pass will cost up to €245 depending on the time of the season, while standard adult six-day ski hire is just over €100. Ski school has to be booked in resort.
They say that you’ll get a nice surprise when you go skiing in Nassfeld, and I reckon you will – I certainly did!
Jan Henderson travelled with Crystal Ski Holidays (www.crystalski.co.uk; 020 8610 3123) who offer a week’s full board at the three star Franz Ferdinand Mountain Resort from £613 per person (based on two sharing) including flights from Gatwick to Klagenfurt and transfers (price given is for departure on 16 March 2019). Direct flights available from all major UK airports.