Ischgl is an ideal resort for family skiing, although there is also a massive amount of off-piste. The ski area is linked to that of Swiss Samnaun.
Huge as Ischgl's ski area is, the pisted runs are predominantly intermediate and ideal for family skiing. Serious challenges on the network of marked runs have to be hunted out - although there is a massive amount of off-piste. When snow conditions are good, almost all that can be seen can be skied.
An invisible line linking the peaks of the Greitspitz and Idjoch is the frontier between Austria and Switzerland, and cross-border skiing is a feature. The resort links with Samnaun in Switzerland, a duty-free enclave that is a cross between picturesque village and tax-free showroom, full of liquor, watch and fragrance stores.
Across the border to Samnaun
The lift-pass covers both Ischgl and Samnaun. Technically you should have your passport with you when you visit Samnaun. There is a Customs hut at the high-altitude frontier that is allegedly manned occasionally to check the bulging rucksacks of skiers returning from Switzerland with their duty free booty. But I've never seen a check made in 15 years of visits.
Ischgl's forty-two lifts serve 200 kilometres of runs, and with 90 per cent of the skiing at over 6,600ft, snow is virtually assured through a long season from the end of November to the beginning of May. From the village of Ischgl at 4,590ft, three gondola lifts rise to the main skiing area. The Silvrettabahn, from the village centre, and the Fimbabahn, from the eastern end, take skiers and boarders to Idalp, at 7,582ft. The Pardatschgratbahn gondola is located next to the Fimbabahn, but goes to Pardatschgrat at 8,609ft.
From Idalp, an initially confusing array of lifts fans out towards all corners of the ski area. The immediate area in front of the Idalp lift station is often thronged with skiers studying lift maps as they try to get their bearings. This can take some time. The ski area is vast and the chances of taking the wrong lift very high. Trial and error is the best way to get to grips with the place enjoying the runs as you go regardless of whether they are the ones you intended to ski.
The area close by the Idalp complex, which houses a large self-service and waiter service restaurant as well as ski hire shop, ski storage and ski school, serves as the learning area. There is a dedicated drag lift here for beginners as well as neighbouring blue runs to which to graduate. The learning area is also served by a chairlift.
From Idalp, intermediate and advanced skiers can take the Idjochbahn, the world's first eight-person bubble-covered chairlift. The top station is just yards from Switzerland, and you can drop down on long cruising runs to Alp Trida.
Alp Trida is a hub, like Idalp, from which a number of lifts radiate, serving more sweeping reds and blues. There are a couple of restaurants here, Skihaus Alp Trida and Bergrestaurant Alp Trida, among the cluster of lift stations. Just above here, by the Grivaleabahn, is the Restaurant Alp Bella.
From Alp Trida the Alp Trider Sattelbahn takes you to the top station of the double-decker cable car from Samnaun. By now you are beginning to get an idea of the scale of the place. Ischgl is one of those resorts where each lift ride brings you to a ridge that reveals yet a further expanse of skiing. Just finding your way around is an adventure for the first couple of days.
Days out from Ischgl
Ischgl is now linked, as far as administration and marketing is concerned, with the other resorts in the Paznaun Valley, Galtur, Kappl and See. Galtur, at 5,200ft, is a quiet, traditional village, with houses clustered around its church. It has been extensively rebuilt since being hit by a devastating avalanche in 1999. Millions have been spent on snow defences to ensure no such tragedy can ever happen again here. The skiing starts a short bus ride from the village, with a modest range of slopes. It does boast some very good nursery slopes and is a good choice for families seeking peaceful surroundings. Galtur also has nearly 40 miles of good cross-country tracks.
Regular buses link Galtur with Ischgl, as with Kappl, further down the valley. Kappl has some superb slopes, about 25 miles in total, including several tough reds. It's well worth a day out from Ischgl. See is further still down the valley towards Landeck, with a small ski area above the village lining the road.