We learned a lot this past weekend (as we always do when we travel). We learned about the town, we learned about how to make the whole process of toting a combination of children and tons of ski equipment a little bit easier, and we learned (quite a bit) about what we would do differently next time. Here’s what we took away from our ski weekend:
Alpbach We stayed in the town of Alpbach. Alpbach is in the Alps, southwest of Salzburg on the way to Innsbruck, in the Tirol region of Austria. It is absolutely beautiful. It’s exactly what I always pictured when I imagined an Austrian mountain town. I particularly loved the fact that the whole town was still decorated for Christmas, even in mid-January. And, if I went again, I would plan to take a carriage ride around the town (they even put sleigh bells on the horses). The village is set down in a little valley, surrounded by mountains. The town itself is pretty compact, and is no trouble to get around without a car. It has everything you’d need for a weekend (or a week) away: a grocery store, several restaurants, some shops, a couple of ski schools, a variety of ski rental places, and bus routes to connect you throughout the region. On the negative side, it was a little tough to access from Vienna. There are two train stations close by to Alpbach: Jenbach and Brixlegg. Jenbach has a direct train connection to Vienna, but very few bus connections to Alpbach. Brixlegg requires a train change (or two) to connect to Vienna, but has more bus connections to Alpbach. Neither is particularly convenient. (We took the “hotel shuttle” — really just a ride from our hotelier — on the way to Alpbach and took a cab for 45 Euro on the way back.) The day we arrived, the town got several inches of fresh snow, which made everything even more lovely.
Train We opted to take the direct train from Vienna to Jenbach. It was a little difficult to get between Alpbach and Jenbach (not too much though) but the train ride itself was lovely. We had a compartment to ourselves (almost the entire time). The trip was 4 1/2 hours (5 hours on the way there, due to delays because of the snow) and we had a great journey. The kids handled the train ride beautifully, and we all enjoyed ourselves. Jenbach is a small station, and very easy to negotiate.
Aparthaus Sonnenhof We stayed at the Aparthaus Sonnenhof, which is located a 5 minute walk straight uphill from the center of town. It’s really an excellent location — we got the benefit of a lovely view while still being close to everything. The apartment house itself was really nice — spacious and very clean. The appliances were all new and everything was in great shape. Our hostess, Margaret, picked us up from the Jenbach train station, and her daughter helped us arrange for a cab ride back to the train station for our departure. On the down side, the management does not live on site, so although they were very helpful in getting us set up, there was no one around to ask little questions of. Also, although we knew it was a self-catering apartment, we were taken by surprise at the fact that there was literally nothing provided in terms of paper towels, napkins, toilet paper, coffee filters — usually, we’ve at least found whatever was left from the previous guest, but there wasn’t anything. Overall, it was a great place, though, and a good value, and we would consider staying there again if we came back. (The only reason I don’t know for sure that we would is that we might opt to stay closer to the ski lift in town if we were coming back for a ski vacation.)
Ski school There are two ski schools in town with very similar names: Skischule Aktiv and Skischule Alpbach. The prices were nearly identical, but we chose to go with Skischule Alpbach simply because they were more prompt in replying to my email queries. They had an office right in the center of the town, and they helped us figure out which bus to take to our lesson and pointed us in the direction of the most convenient ski rental. However, we were not very happy with our experience. The beginner lessons are held in Inner Alpbach (which requires a bus ride) and our instructor was pretty terrible. She seemed frustrated to be teaching beginners, and wasn’t interested in teaching children. (Jo, Benjamin and I took the lesson.) She acted bored, largely ignored the adults, and was neither engaged or interested in our progress. She was frustrated when B’s attention wandered, but did nothing to keep his interest. Our lesson was held in the same area where the Skischule’s “Kid’s Club” is held, and I saw similar disinterest and bored faces from the instructors working with the other kids. I would try a different school if I went back to Alpbach. (Although more advanced students might have better luck.)
Ski rental We used Conny’s ski rental, because they were located right in the center of Alpbach. Their prices were reasonable, and their equipment seemed to be just fine. At first, I wasn’t thrilled with the service — no one gave us any particular help or advice, even though we were complete beginners — but I was very happy that they didn’t charge us for Liam’s skis after we told them he didn’t use them at all. Conny’s also has a ski shop (for sales, rather than rentals) in the center of town. I stopped by there to purchase some snow pants and got excellent service. We stopped by again, later in the weekend, with a question about directions, and everyone was very nice and helpful.
Skiing We’re complete beginners, so we don’t know a lot about what to look for (or even to describe), but I’ll do my best. In each of Alpbach and Inner Alpbach (two little towns, close together, but too far to walk — lots of bus connections, though) there is a normal, gondola-style ski lift and also an inexpensive drag lift area for beginners. We only used the lifts in Alpbach, but the ones in Inner Alpbach seemed to be very conveniently located to the bus stops as well as within walking distance to the center of Inner Alpbach. The gondola lift for Alpbach itself is actually outside of town (on the way back towards Jenbach) and would be too far to walk (but also has a bus stop out front). The drag lift in Alpbach is centrally located, behind the church and by the Congress Center. This is where we skied our second day, and we would go back here again if we returned to Alpbach. You do need a lift ticket (sold on site, cash only, kids are free — not sure what ages). You can either buy a 2 hour ticket for about 25 Euros, or buy one with about 12 runs worth of “points” on it. We opted for the point system (since we wanted the option of taking breaks, depending on the needs of the kids) and we shared one ticket. It worked out great for us. B got to do several runs with Dan, Dan got to do a few on his own, I went twice and Jo went once. It was just about perfect for our second day, since we weren’t sure how much patience and energy we were going to have for skiing. On Friday evening, we saw some night skiing not far away, but I’m not sure which lift/ski area that was — there didn’t seem to be night skiing in Alpbach or Inner Alpbach.
Restaurants We visited two of Alpbach’s restaurants during our stay. Flo’s has an assorted style of food — everything from traditional Austrian to pizza, along with a kids menu. The pizza was surprisingly good, not too expensive, and was also available for carry out (unusual in Austria). The rest of the food was pretty good, if maybe a little overpriced. The service there was typical Austrian — a little slow, not too interested in customer service (she brought me the wrong dish and then tried to get me to keep it) but perfectly adequate. The atmosphere was busy enough to not worry at all about the kids. We had a comfortable lunch there and two carry out dinners of pizza. We also went to the Post Alm Hotel restaurant where we were very pleasantly surprised by the food and the service. The food was traditional Austrian and excellent, and the service was attentive and prompt. The prices were very reasonable (we paid the same for a dinner at the Post Alm as we did for lunch at Flo’s) and the restaurant felt very welcoming to families. We also stopped in to the Gasthaus Jakober (but didn’t eat there) — they had an interesting menu (also Austrian) and a nice ambiance.
General notes First, we expected to find some kind of lockers or storage spaces, either at the lifts or at the ski rental places — we didn’t find anything like that in Alpbach (and it would have been so nice if we had). We rented our skis the morning of our first lesson and had to carry our boots and all of our things along with us all day, in addition to toting the skis, boots and poles for all of us. Also, our favorite moment of the entire weekend was when we took a walk up above the town (beyond the Sonnenhof) and looked down into the valley. Whatever time of year you visit, it’s worth the walk to see the village from this perspective.
Overall, we had a great trip, and although it was challenging, I think we’ll ski again. I would go back to Alpbach. I might stay in the same hotel (unless I could find one right by the drag lift in town, or a good hotel close to the lifts in Inner Alpbach) and I’d probably rent my skis from the same place. I would definitely try the other ski school, though. This trip was, as always, quite an adventure.