British skiers are missing a trick. Sölden, in the Austrian Tyrol, has perfect April skiing that transcends the usual mud and slush to be found at this warm end of the ski season. Leave foggy Gatwick at 7am and you can be sitting on a sunny chairlift by 12.30pm.
The village slopes are now bright green, carpeted by white anemones and grazed by woolly, long-horned sheep – a surreal strip of man-made snow enables hardcore skiers to descend to the village through the trees instead of by gondola — but above the treeline conditions are perfect.
This is because Sölden, just over an hour’s drive from Innsbruck airport, is a glacier resort that rises to 3,340m, offering snow of delicious squeaky, icing-sugar consistency and immaculately groomed pistes that are blissfully uncrowded even in the school holidays.
Michael Waschl, business director at the five-star Das Central Hotel, brilliant fount of local knowledge and fun ski guide par excellence, estimates there to be some 8,000 skiers on the mountain but you’d never know it. As the hotel’s friendly marketing manager Monique Wöckl says, ‘Up here, it’s pure freedom.’
Only 25% of the village’s business is British – some might consider this a plus point – and most passengers on the Easyjet flight to Innsbruck seemed to be heading for St Anton, Kitzbuhel and nearby Obergurgl (a week’s skipass in Sölden includes a day here).
However, these resorts can’t offer the height and extensiveness of Sölden where proposed new developments will make it the largest area of glacier skiing in Europe. Das Central has just opened Ice Q, a futuristic icecube-shaped restaurant that manages to be both cosy and edgy; it’s at 3,048m with views stretching as far as the Italian Dolomites and the German Zugspitze.
The post-skiing return to Das Central, with its beautifully appointed spa, Venetian-themed swimming pool and friendly staff clad in national costume, is like a homecoming. The family atmosphere, combined with an ultra-professional eye for detail and the best food you’ll find in the Alps, is the vision of hotel owner Angelika Falkner, clearly an iconic figure in the valley.
Her father, a farmer, built Das Central in 1969; many of the staff have been there for more than 25 years and some guests have been coming for even longer – during my visit, a group of judges were celebrating their 30th holiday.
So, it’s not too late for a last-ditch blast on the slopes – the resort is open until the start of May – or book early for the autumn glacier season on the Rettenbach and Tiefenbach. Prices start from €176 per person per day half-board (www.central-soelden.at).
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