It’s bright over Patscherkofel, a nearly cartoonish colour-palette of fiercely white slopes, green treetops, cloudless blue above. This is one of the coldest winters Innsbruck’s had in years: Stefan, who’s been guiding and teaching skiiers on this mountain for more than 30 years, sticks his gloved hands under his armpits and says he’s known maybe three winters like this.
Cold, but fiercely, bitingly beautiful. It’s hard to give it our complete attention, though, to start with. All of that attention’s been diverted to things we usually take for granted: staying upright in public places, not inflicting mild-to-moderate flesh wounds on yourself or anybody else. You know, the basics.
We’re here on one of Inghams’ four-day ski ‘taster’ trips, for new or newish skiers who don’t want to commit an entire week (and a staggering amount of money) to a holiday where they might spend most of it stuck facedown in the side of a mountain.
That’s certainly my expectation. Two previous skiing trips in recent years of a day each suggest my MO is: vast, unearned confidence, followed by exhilaration, followed by the facedown-mountain thing in short order, followed by regret, fury, and spending the rest of the day counting down the time till it’s legit to abandon the slopes and seek out a bar serving hot cheese.
Thank god for Stefan, who delivers a perfect mix of calm reassurance and overblown compliments, watching over us fondly in our baby-deer-learning-to-walk struggles.
Somehow this time, some alchemy of Stefan’s calmness, Patscherkofel’s loveliness – and the fact that however much I pretend I don’t care about being good at skiing, I do actually, really want to be good at skiing, winging down a mountain like a nonchalant hawk, not being overtaken by 6 year olds – mean the exhilaration lasts.
It’s not hard to see why Inhgams chose Igls as one of a small handful of places the shorter trips are offered – there are plenty of solid, logistical reasons for the small Austrian resort to be on the roster. Speed of transfer, which really matters on a short trip – Igls is just a quick 12km drive from Innsbruck airport, along roads which bloom in a matter of minutes from urban grey into mountain-flanked beauty. There are decent nursery slopes, at multiple altitudes, and some gentle blues to move on to if you get cocky.
All good reasons for Inghams to choose Igls. But there are other, compelling reasons for a new skier to land here. For one thing, hot chocolate. Sorry Switzerland, mi dispiace, Italy. Austria has you by the absolute balls when it comes to hot, whipped cream-topped chocolate. And there’s the dumpling soup, and dense sausage stews and schnapps. Schnapps everywhere, not the sticky-sweet sort that smells like the inside of a Body Shop, but the punchy, grappa-like shots that you can feel warming you from the inside in a tangible, traceable way, like a heat map radiating through your body. Food’s good, and ridiculously cheap compared to some of the French and Swiss resorts, which is fortunate because when you’re a new skier and it’s freezing and it takes all your energy just to stay vertical, you need refuelling (*dumpling) pitstops on the hour, every hour.
And dumplings and hot chocolate aside, there are so many non-skiing things to do on and off the slopes that there’s no requirement for you as a new skiier to spend all daylight hours testing the limits of Stefan’s patience.
If a four-day trip doesn’t sound like a lot of time to cover the other winter activities of Igls, our itinerary begs to differ.
We go curling, on a small outdoor rink fronded by mountains and pumping out nineties disco from a wooden cabin; a good but freezing hour I look back on fondly as the start of a lifelong love affair with longjohns. We take the cable car up to Nordkette and Restaurant Seegrube where we eat Tyrolean specialities (more dumplings: it’s not that the food in Innsbruck is one-note, just that I’m fixated on cramming the highest possible amount of carbs and fat into every meal).
We climb through a frost-gripped Innsbruck to drink in the bar at the top of Bergisel ski jump, to drink with a panoramic view over Innsbruck’s roofs. And – oh, yeah, we take a casual spin down the Olympic bobsleigh run.
But surprise contender for most dazzling thing we do – other than the skiing, where I’m dazzling myself constantly by being alive at the end of every day – is the snowshoeing. We take the Patscherkofel cable cars as far as they go, and slide off sideways away from the pistes, into the forest. And just walk, on fresh snowfall, so light it puffs out little sighs of powder when you pad across it. The air turns sparkling and silver around us in swirls, something Stefan calls diamond dust, too cold for the snow crystals to form flakes. It’s just us and the bird tracks here, and it’s not just the cold or the altitude that has our breath coming short. It feels like I imagine the best drugs for richest people feel – walking through a deep green forest, cloud-soft underfoot, and the air you move through turning radiant at your touch like a welcome.
And another point in Igls’s favour is that we’re only ten minutes’ drive from the bars and clubs of Innsbruck. Not that we act like it. Those bars would be more alluring if we weren’t entirely – what’s the word, you know? The one when you’re entirely broken and ache everywhere, in muscles you didn’t know existed, and you can barely string a sentence together and if you manage to, it’s going to be ‘Schnapps, bring me schnapps for my muscles’, and the only thing you’re really good for is eating endless schnitzel in the Sporthotel Igls restaurant and stretching out by a fireplace – but at the same time, you feel sort of… great? Tired and splattered with bruising but somehow, great.
So we never make it into the Innsbruck nightlife, though we do end up more often than seems likely on a four-night trip drinking in the trippy, early nineties vibes of the Aegidihof bar, across the road from our hotel.
And on the last morning of skiing, when Stefan points back up the slope he’s just brought us down and says, ‘So you can tell what that is’, and I can see the black flags lining the (last, small, extremely gentle bit we came down) – it feels like Inghams and Igls aren’t offering a taster holiday, they’re selling a gateway drug.
The Arbuturian travelled with Inghams. Four-night ski holidays with Inghams on a half-board basis at Sporthotel Igls start from £698 per person in January 2019, including return flights to Innsbruck and transfers. To book, or to arrange lift passes and equipment hire, visit www.inghams.co.uk.