Glacier skiing on a high at Sölden, Austria

Similar to Hochgurgl, Sölden is located within the Ötztal valley not far from Innsbruck. The resort has certainly become famous as it was the shooting location for recent James Bond movie ‘Spectre’, with the resort due to open a cinematic installation celebrating the movie franchise at the top of one of its gondola station.

Valley view from the gondola
Valley view from the Giggijoch gondola

While considered as one ski resort, this is a large resort, and I would classify it as 3 main distinct ski areas even though they are all connected via a network of cable cars and ski chairlifts. On the west end of the village is the Gaislachkogl where fans of James Bond can look forward to a homage installation to the movie franchise. The eastern end of the village, also the one closer to Innsbruck is the newer Giggijoch with the largest capacity cable car in Sölden, and perhaps the one most skiers will take. Because, the last area – Tiefenbach Glacier is the most remote and only accessible by skis from the Giggijoch side.

GETTING THERE

It takes about an hour to an hour and a half depending on traffic to get to the town proper from the centre of Innsbruck. The best way to get to Sölden is by renting a car as I find the roads to be well maintained most days during winter and it should be no problem getting in and out of the village.

Base of Giggijoch
Base of Giggijoch

Another way to get to Sölden will be by a combination of train and public buses, taxi or booking your own shuttle from the Ötztaler Shuttle, which I had a bad experience with. My recommendation is to book a one way transport from the hotel/airport/train station where you will be leaving from and book the return transport through your accommodation in Sölden.

Parking garage
Parking garage at Giggijoch

Within the Ötztal valley itself, there are a good network of public buses that brings skiers to the bases of several cable cars and gondolas in Sölden, Hochgurgl and Obergurgl, though many of the buses do not run until late night. Updated bus schedules within the Ötztal valley can be found here.

Gletscher Stadion
Gletscher Stadion

CHAIRLIFTS & GONDOLAS

From the valley base, there are 2 cable car systems, which are really more like gondolas since they have a larger capacity than the average cable cars. Taking the Gaislachkogl brings skiers to the mid-base station where an aerial tram brings skiers to the Gaislachkogl summit at 3,058m high. The other cable car is the Giggijoch with a more modern base station at the other end of the village that brings skiers higher to the base of 3 chairlift, providing plenty of skiable terrain.

On the Giggijoch
On the Giggijoch

From the top of Giggijoch, there are numerous quad seater chairlifts and an 8-seater chairlift heading to different directions. Amongst them, the parallel Hainbachkar and Silberbrünnl shares the same queue entrance though the Hainbachkar attains a lower altitude gain. Meanwhile the faster Silberbrünnl which sees longer queues brings skiers to the top of Rotkogljoch, allowing them to take the cable car to the Rettenbach glacier.

Hainbachkar and Silberbrünnl chairlift
Hainbachkar and Silberbrünnl chairlift

When weather permits, the highlight here is being able to ski in 3 different glaciers, with the Tiefenbachgletscher having its own cable car/gondola, and requiring several transfers. There is even the Gletscherexpress cable car that will transport skiers from the top of Einzeiger chairlift to the base of the Schwarze Schneid and the Gletscher Stadion.

On the cable car at Tiefenbach
On the cable car at Tiefenbach
On the Gletscherexpress
On the Gletscherexpress

By now, it should be obvious that there are just too many chairlifts and cable car systems to list in this review. At last count, there are a total of 6 cable car systems and one aerial trams, and that is not counting the number of 6-seater and 4-seater chairlifts. On the slow side, there are a couple of older 2-seater chairlifts like the Rotkogl chair for the uplift of visitors staying at Hochsölden.

Eugen's Obstlerhutte
Rotkogl chairlift seen from Eugen’s Obstlerhutte

Then there are some chairlifts that brings skiers back up either on the Gaislachkogl of Giggijoch side from the Rettenbach Valley. Both Langegg and Stabele chairlifts are 6-seater high-speed chairlifts with bubble covers to protect from the elements. I do have to stress that Austrian resorts does have some of the most modern and complete ski-lift infrastructure. This certainly makes it much more a breeze to explore more areas in the mountains!

Stabele chairlift
Stabele chairlift

COST & VALUE

One day ski passes here costs EUR53 (~$65) for adults and EUR29 for children. Though with the size, it is unlikely one day is enough to explore the whole mountain. Meanwhile skiers buying 3-day passes for EUR154 (~$189) can gain access to Hochgurgl/Obergurgl on the same pass.

Top of Giggijoch
Top of Giggijoch

At these prices, I would highlight that they are usually on par or even cheaper to ski resorts of the equivalent size in North America. That makes skiing in Austria pretty good value overall.

Einzeiger chairlift
Einzeiger chairlift

BEGINNER RUNS

First time skiers and snowboarders would most probably start off at the Innerwald area, served by 2 T-bars and accessed from the village via a funicular service. This mild ski area on the Gaislachkogl side is also home to several chalets and apartments with night skiing on selected days.

Upper village of Innerwald
Learning area at Upper village of Innerwald

Once they start to progress, the fun truly starts for beginners at the top of Giggijoch that has a total of 4 chairlifts, one of which is a 8-seater. Plenty of blue runs that are long here makes it suitable for easy progression. With numerous chairlifts and a large ski lodge, the area is great for families as well.

Base of Silberbrünnl
Blue runs seen from the base of Silberbrünnl
Giggijoch chair and ski area
Giggijoch ski area with long blue runs

When the whole ski area opens up on a bluebird skiing day, beginners who are starting to be comfortable on steeper terrains can head to the Tiefenbach glacier, though they need to navigate some red pistes on the way there. While many of the terrain in the Rettenbach and Tiefenbach glaciers are marked as blue, they have some steep gradient between them. Thus I recommend these area only during a clear weather for beginners and only if they are comfortable with making turns.

Tiefenbach Glacier piste
Tiefenbach Glacier piste

However one note is that there are no blue runs over on Giggijoch that would lead all the way back to the village. This means beginners can only use the cable car to download back to their lodging if they stay at the village. And because all the pistes back to the hotels in Hochsölden are red or black, beginners have an even difficult way back if they stayed there.

INTERMEDIATE RUNS

More advanced pistes are marked red here and the majority of these start at Rotkogljoch on the western section of Giggijoch. Red pistes from Rotkogljoch leads back to Giggijoch before heading to Hochsölden and back to the village or they can lead to the Rettenbach valley for skiers looking to ski on Gaislachkogl side. Similarly there are red pistes from the top of Gaislachkogl that leads back into the Rettenbach valley.

View from Rotkogljoch
View from Rotkogljoch
Downhill on piste 12
Downhill on piste 12 from Rotkogljoch to Giggijoch

Over on the Tiefenbach glacier, the red runs here are primarily served by the 6-seater Seiterkar chairlift which is visible from piste 39. As this red run gets crowded fast on a powder day, there is every incentive to come early here. There is also piste 37 that is served by the Mutkogl T-bar on the Tiefenbach ski area that is worth trying for less crowds.

View of Piste 36 on Tiefenbachgletscher
View of Piste 36 on Tiefenbachgletscher

Another challenging run here is piste 19 that can be narrow on certain portions leading back to Hochsölden and the bottom of Rotkogl chairlift. While not overly steep, the narrow sections of the piste can be tricky for beginners but this piste is interesting as it leads all the way back into the village.

Valley view from piste 19
Valley view from piste 19 to Hochsölden
Powder day
Powder day on piste 19

While the ski map might indicate more blue runs, some of them can be viewed more as a red run due to their steep gradient. Piste 33 that leads to the base of Gletscher Stadion from the top of Seiterkar does have slightly steeper sections compared to the usual blue runs. This does make it more suitable as an easy red piste, and the wide open bowls in this area certainly allow for a lot of fun for progression!

View of the Gletscherstraße
Piste 33 on Rettenbach Glacier with Seiterjöchl T-bar on the right

EXPERT RUNS

Black-marked pistes are surprsingly common here as well. As an overnight guest at Hochsölden, the most direct return to the hotel was through piste 20, which is a black-marked bowl just behind the Giggijoch Restaurant.

Black piste no 20
Black piste no 20 from Giggijoch

Roßkirpl chairlift on the east side of Giggijoch ends up at the top of Hainbachjoch where there are only black-marked pistes heading down. The black markers generally indicated an ungroomed area so skiers can expect bumps and plenty of powder after a snowfall in this section. Piste 14 is considered one of the most breathtaking and steepest slopes in Sölden along with piste 25 and 31.

Piste no 14
Piste no 14 on Giggijoch

Piste 25 is the all black run served by the Schwarzkogl chairlift. With little crowds here most of the time, this is a very nice run for advanced skiers and snowboarders.

Black run at Schwarzkogl
Black run at Schwarzkogl

Another black run to take note is piste 31 at the lower half of the Schwarze Schneid cable car. Starting from the top of the Schwarze Schneid section I cable car, it leads back to the Gletscher Stadion and is a venue for the Skiing World Cup. Many of these black pistes are easily accessed by chairlifts and I figured they are safe enough for stronger intermediate skiers and snowboarders.

Schwarze Schneide cable car
Black piste by lower Schwarze Schneid

BACKCOUNTRY & TERRAIN PARK

As a large ski resort, there are many areas carved for fun here. With slaloms popular in European ski resorts, there are BMW-sponsored xDrive Cup race areas over in Giggijoch, complete with electronic records that can be accessed at the Giggijoch Restaurants using your ski pass. This is part of the funslopes area at Giggijoch with the starting point between the Roßkirpl and Giggijoch chairlifts.

xDrive Cup starting point
BMW xDrive Cup starting point

In Sölden, the ‘Funslopes’ are what is as described, providing a mix of wave courses and banked slaloms. There are 2 Funslopes in the Giggijoch area, one between the Silberbrünnl and Giggijoch chairlift and another on the side of the Hainbachkar chairlift,

Funslope at Giggijoch
Funslope at Giggijoch

The one beside Hainbachkar is also the home of the terrain park in Sölden with all the fun one could have with twin tips skis and snowboards. While it is not the largest terrain park, this is one of the better equipped ones I have seen in Europe.

Funslopes at Hainbachkar
Funslopes at Hainbachkar

For backcountry skiing, there are no dedicated backcountry gates here but there are several areas which is open for off-piste skiing. Freeriders can enjoy some of the open terrain on the several glacier runs here, notably the one off piste 37 and 39 at Tiefenbach, or anywhere around the Schwarze Schneid chairlift to Rettenbach Gletscher Stadion.

Piste No 39
Piste No 39

Even below the Giggijoch gondola, there are some areas with pristine powder that would eventually lead to the black-marked piste 22 back to the village base. Due to the alpine elevations here, there are plenty of terrains without tree runs, so on a clear day with unlimited visibility, nearly much of the lift-accessed terrain is open for skiing, and with so much acreage to cover, it is unlikely one will get bored even after skiing a week in Sölden!

Off-piste tracks below Giggijoch
Off-piste tracks below Giggijoch

ON-MOUNTAIN LODGES

Up by the slopes, there are plenty of ski huts and lodges offering a warm place to rest and fill the stomachs. Many of the lodges are large with plenty of amenities and offering lots of seats for skiers during the lunch hour. The largest and most complete lodge has got to be the Giggijoch Restaurants which has 2 self-service restaurants Giggi Treff and Giggi Panorama and one table-service restaurant Wirsthaus Giggijoch.

Giggijoch restaurants entrance
Giggijoch restaurants entrance
Wirsthaus Giggijoch
Wirsthaus Giggijoch

Other large ski lodges with shops, several restaurants includes the Mittelstation Gaislachkogl which is the mid-station for skiers on the way up on Gaislachkogl, with both table-service restaurants and self-service spots. Another great dining location is at the base of Rettenbachgletscher beside the Glacier Stadion where there is a self-service Market Restaurant and a full service restaurant on the spot.

Chandelier in the restaurant
Chandelier in the Market Restaurant at Rettenbachgletscher
Seating space
Seating space at Market Restaurant

For those planning on enjoying haute-cuisine, they can enjoy the Panorama Restaurant at Ice Q. This glass enclosed modern ski lodge is the shooting location of ‘Spectre’ which makes it a draw for visitors as well as providing a great view from its location at the top of Gaislachkogl.

Ice Q at Gaislachkogl
Ice Q at Gaislachkogl

And if Ice Q does not exude the traditional ski-hut feel, plenty of alpine huts in Tyrolean architecture like Rotkoglhütte can provide the same view from Rotkogljoch. And while this might be a self-service restaurant, skiers wanting to enjoy a warm ambience can head to Eugen’s Obstlerhutte by the Rotkogl chairlift in Hochsölden which has table-side service.

Rotkoglhütte at 2,662m
Rotkoglhütte at 2,662m
Outdoor patio
Outdoor patio at Eugen’s Obstlerhutte

Even in the most remote ski area over at Tiefenbachgletscher, there is a self-service restaurant with plenty of seats. The official count for on-mountain ski huts number 33 in all within Sölden, so there are always one convenient spot to break for lunch wherever you are skiing at.

FOOD & BEVERAGES

The food skiers could find in the self-service restaurants can vary, but many of the larger self-service outlets have a salad bar, soup station, and a dessert counter in common. Amongst main courses, the common ones are pastas and bratwurst with a mix of Tyrolean specialties and burgers.

Salad counter
Salad counter at Giggijoch
Desserts selection
Desserts selection at Market Restaurant

And since we are in Austria, it is easy to spot the purple packaging of Milka chocolates and they make some of the best ski snacks to be enjoyed on the chairlifts!

Assorted Milka chocolates
Assorted Milka chocolates at Market Restaurant

Some of the dishes I enjoy having in Austria includes Wiener Schnitzels, bratwurst and a loaded baked potato with speck. Over in Tiefenbachgletscher Restaurant, I even had a Veal Escalope that was nicely seasoned. While the food variety is good, it is by no means international in selection. That means if you are picky or have specific dietary requirements, it is indeed difficult for ski resorts to offer the food you need or want. On the whole, I still found there were much better foods elsewhere and recommend the restaurants with table service for higher quality food, albeit with higher prices to match.

Loaded baked potato
Loaded baked potato at Giggijoch

Food prices here range between EUR9-10 for simple main dishes like pizza and pasta, with meat options like spare ribs, schnitzels and burgers costing around EUR13-18. Side dishes like soups and salads are usually between EUR5-9 in the self-service restaurants. Meanwhile in restaurants with table-service, pastas could range in prices between EUR12-15 while main courses could cost up to EUR25-28 for steaks. At the Ice Q, there are multi-course meals for around EUR40-70 that one could enjoy if not on a budget!

Veal Escalope with fries
Veal Escalope with fries at Tiefenbachgletscher Restaurant

Choice of beverages here is very good though, whether on the self-service restaurants or the full-service ones. There are a wide choice of hot and cold beverages from cognac-infused coffee to Austrian beers, there are affordable alcohol choices. Even the self-service beverage fridge have plenty of non-alcoholic sports drinks and mineral water to choose from.

Beverage fridge
Beverage fridge at Giggijoch

LODGING OPTIONS

It is possible for day trippers to ski in the area and returning to Innsbruck at the end of the day, but the village of Sölden is large enough with plenty of amenities and other activities in the valley itself to make it worthwhile to stay in the village. And if one does not want to stay in Sölden, they can always choose to stay in Hochgurgl/Obergurgl or over in the other towns within the Ötztal valley. In the valley, there are plenty of hotels that cater to skiers, with many of them in the 3-4 star range, ensuring plenty of quality accommodation. Once again, luxury 5-star accommodations are limited so book early if you need those.

Hotel Liebe Sonne
Hotel Liebe Sonne in the valley

Another option to stay would be higher up in Hochsölden which is home to 8 more premium 4-star hotels and a handful of apartments. This area is a lot quieter where a half board lodging package with dinner included is preferable as there are no independent restaurants in the area.

Hochsölden village
Hochsölden village accommodations

Those staying in Sölden itself can expect to find the amenities found in small towns around Europe with several supermarkets, bakeries, pubs, banks, medical clinics and a post office. As in many ski towns, there are plenty of shops retailing all types of skis, snowboards and apparels to occupy skiers when the weather is awful!

APRÉS-SKI

Sölden, like many Austrian ski resorts, excel in its aprés-ski and there are spots on the mountain, or back at the valley base to unwind. By the slopes, Rotkoglhütte is usually packed until before the sun sets when the last skier heads back down. Nearer to the base, Aprés-ski Philipp is a convenient choice for those staying at the apartments in Innerwald.

Aprés-ski Philipp
Aprés-ski Philipp at Gaislachkogl

Back in the valley, there are numerous pubs and bars that would be happy to serve customers until the night. It is here where all the action would be since the bulk of accommodations are here in the valley base.

Marco's Bar at the valley base
Marco’s Bar at the valley base

As a large ski resort, there are still plenty of things skiers can do after the last lift closes. Those staying in premium accommodations can usually relax in the hotel spa and there is even a thermal bath spot about 30-40 minutes away from Sölden that skiers can pay to relax in. Otherwise plenty of lounging areas by the ski lodges makes it easy to just relax in the warmth of a fireplace as one updates their journal of their skiing adventures in the Ötztal!

GoPro lounge
GoPro lounge in Giggijoch

SUMMIT VIEWS

With 3 summits accessible by ski lifts that are above 3,000m, there are plenty of photo opportunities here when the skies clear up! In fact, Sölden has created the ‘Big 3’ rally to showcase the beauty from the summit of Schwarze Schneid, the top of Gaislachkogl and the top Tiefenbachkogl.

View from the top of Schwarze Schneid
View from the top of Schwarze Schneid

From the top of Tiefenbachkogl, there is even an extending observatory that allows skiers to gaze outwards to the Mittelberg Glacier and the surrounding peaks.

Mittelberg Ferner
Mittelberg Ferner from the top of Tiefenbach

Many of these mountain peaks embody the majesty of the European Alps and that is why I enjoy skiing here! However while the views of mountain peaks are amazing at the top, one of the most memorable views to savour is around the Rotkoglhütte where skiers can soak in views of the northern face of Gaislachkogl along with the Rettenbach glacier.

Tiefenbachkogl
Tiefenbachkogl

OVERALL EXPERIENCE

Any skier or snowboarder would definitely enjoy the terrain that they can ski here in Sölden. Long ski routes, or wide gentle cruisers, to steep black runs, there are all the choices for skiers of every level. During the week I was there before New Year, there was plenty of snow. With its altitude and the valley location, I expect that to be the case most of the time. Considering the amount of work the resort puts into their piste for beginners, they are definitely attracting crowds of skiers and with several nice long blue pistes, it is not difficult to see why!

Skiing down piste 24
Skiing down piste 24 from Rettenbachjoch

Add to that the amazing views to be had and the ability to explore nearby ski resorts like Hochgurgl and Obergurgl on the same ski pass, and Sölden easily becomes one of the best places to ski in Europe. Visiting this ski resort certainly solidifies the standing of Austrian ski resorts, highlighting how a combination of high peaks with great lift infrastructure would make skiing amazing!

Moon over Gaislachkogl
Moon over Gaislachkogl
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