On Top of the World

Reaching new heights

It takes a little longer to reach the resort of Stubaier Gletscher the next (and our final) day, though at a little over an hour it’s hardly an epic journey. We hop on a coach that’s stopping first at the resort of Schlick 2000 before Stubai, and it’s not long before the rumours on the bus (like the wheels) start to go round and round. The Stubaier Gletscher is going to be a whiteout; the snowfall by now is heavy, and the once-blue skies are dark, brooding and ominous. Schlick, by comparison – according to the sages – will be a paradise of blue skies, perfect visibility and (I imagine) people/angels handing out steaming glühwein on the pistes.

Stubaier Gletscher

When we pull up at Schlick it looks no less grey than anywhere else, but the bus virtually empties out, leaving a hardy few’ to wind their way further down the valley to the Stubaier Gletscher. Unlike Kühtai, where we practically fell out of Toby’s car onto the slopes, everyone’s funneled into a huge gondola that creeps up a perilously steep wall of rock until it meets a hub, at which you can take one of four smaller lifts. The view from the gondola isn’t exactly promising; it looks rather menacing and monochrome, like an Ansel Adams photo, though the sheer cliffs loaded up with pillowy snow do at least suggest we won’t be skiing on bare rock.

As it turns out, the conditions are neither as bad as the bus sages had prophesied or as good as we’d had in Kühtai or Mutters – and we find the height and layout of the runs makes it easy to seek out spots with good visibility. We head right for the summit of the Schaufelspitze – and its Ronseal-channeling ‘Top of Tyrol’ viewing platform at 3,210m – and leave the thick layer of clouds below us as we set off on a long, cruisy blue. It starts off wide, open and empty and ends with us carefully picking our way post-to-post through the lingering fog, which turns out to be something of a theme as we navigate Stubaier Gletscher’s mostly red and blue runs.

By early afternoon, freaked out by one too many total whiteouts, we join almost everyone else and decamp to one of the resort’s many decent restaurants for enormous beers and even more enormous sausages. I glare out through the tall windows, which look out over several runs, waiting and hoping for the miracle of blue skies and empty pistes.

It never comes, though we find out on the bus home that it wasn’t any better in Schlick 2000. The talk on the bus is of more of the same tomorrow, which anywhere else might be a ski-holiday disaster, but in Olympia Ski world – with the bustling and charming city of Innsbruck at its centre – there’s always an alternative.

You could look at it as a ski break with a difference, or a city break with a really big difference. Either way, you’re winning – and you might even get to spot a golden roof.

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