If you are looking for great late season skiing, look no further than Obertauern in Austria.
Never heard of it – give me a quick rundown:
It’s a lovely little ski resort that is around an hour from Salzburg. It’s on an old Roman road through the Alps in the Niedere Tauern mountain range, and is as high as it gets in Austria. A former copper mining centre, at the beginning of last century some skiers saw another use for the place. Unlike most Austrian resorts, it’s not built around a quaint old village – there are some private houses but the village is predominantly made up of hotels; 150 of them in all, with a combined 9,000 beds.
Halt, who goes there?
It’s only a couple of hours from Munich so there are inevitably a lot of Germans, plus – given that it’s just 90km from Salzburg and 20km from Radstadt railway station – lots of Salzburgers. There’s also a fair smattering of Brits, although numbers almost halved immediately after the financial crash and have yet to climb back up to the previous numbers. There’s fantastic apres-ski, especially at the Edelweissalm Chalet in the late afternoon and then the Lurzer Alm Ski-Hut and Monkey’s Heaven in the evening. If you’re an expert skier there’s plenty of terrain that guides can show you, but the overwhelming majority of visitors are families because of the easily accessible intermediate runs and the fact that all 95km of pisted runs basically head back to the base area so that it’s virtually impossible for kids to get completely lost. Also, the sensible on-piste lunch prices also mean that families are not put off.
Why would you go there?
Several reasons spring to mind. The first is that with its base at 1700m and its highest chair going up to 2,313m Obertauern is the highest resort in Austria and pretty much assured of snow at Easter, no matter how sunny it is. We found that this year, one of the hottest and least snowy on record, when Salzburg had virtually no snow (an unprecedented event) and resorts such as Kitzbuhel were verdant pastures by mid-March, that Obertauern still had virtually all of its pistes open by Easter, even if the snow was beginning to get a tad slushy. There’s not quite a guarantee of snow, but it’s not far off.
Okay, so it’s snowy. Anything else?
Actually, there’s plenty more. One of the main things is the fact that because the place has been built around its hotels (and no, it doesn’t look like Flaine!), virtually every room is ski-in, ski-out. Our hotel (of which more later) actually has a ski shop in the basement, and is exactly one hundred paces (we checked it after several schnapps) from the first bit of skiable snow.
Are we done yet?
Nope. The fact that Obertauern is so close to Salzburg means that it’s fantastically easy to get to. Many of the hotels run transfers, and the standard price for the bus to Obertauern is E31, while a shared taxi can also make good financial sense. And, of course, it’s famous (in Austria at least) as the only place where the Beatles played in the country.
The Beatles? Das ist ein joke, richtig?
Nein, it’s nicht a joke. Fifty years ago, in 1965, when the non-skiing Fab Four were making the feature film Help! they needed somewhere where they could be guaranteed snow late in the season, and chose Obertauern. Ringo Starr and George Harrison had their girlfriends in tow so didn’t try and learn how to ski but John Lennon and Paul McCartney enlisted the help of the unspeakably glamorous Gigi Mackh, a 20-year-old ski instructor who just happened to be Miss Austria and the national water-skiing champion in a vain effort to learn how to ski. For almost three weeks they stayed at the Hotel Marietta, named after Gigi and current owner Wolfgang’s mother, and would play cover versions such as Summertime each evening in the hotel ias around 300 locals and visitors packed into the hotel (although the hotel also lost a lot of business from disgruntled families who complained about the ghastly racket downstairs!). The crazy thing is that no-one in this corner of Austria had ever heard of the Beatles, although Gerhard Krings, a businessman who owns the super-smart Seekarhas Hotel and who acted as George Harrison’s body double throughout the film, also has some Beatles memorabilia tastefully displayed in the lobby of his hotel.
So the Beatles brought a little bit of star quality to Overtauern?
Yep, and with the fiftieth anniversary of Help! being released coming in 2015, expect to hear plenty more about it. Still, Obertauern has always has its share of celebs, of whom Der Kaiser (footballer Franz Beckenbauer, not the pointy-hatted former German monarch) is just one of several to have houses in the village.
Given that Franz probably isn’t looking for house guests, where would you stay?
The aforementioned Seekarhaus is very comfortable, but a bit out on a limb, so we chose the Marietta, which is right in the centre of town, within a pitching wedge of the piste, has a ski shop on site and is there place where The Beatles chose to stay fifty years ago. Back then it was a lot more traditional and was dominated by Marietta, a beautiful former German chanteuse who had wowed Viennese society before decamping to Obertauern straight after the War. The place is now much changed under the ownership of her son Wolfgang, who has turned it into a smart 150-bedroomed contemporary four-star hotel with a sizeable “wellness” area (pool, treatments, solarium, gym etc) of the sort that Germans and Austrians seem to love so much. Rooms start from E100 per night, and there are family rooms.
We liked: The ease of getting there, the ski-in ski-out, the late snow and the lively apres-ski.
We didn’t like: The limited skiing, and in particular red runs masquerading as blacks.
Getting there: Fly to Salzburg: Jet2 (www.jet2.com) have regular flights from Edinburgh. EasyJet fly daily to Munich from Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Cost: Staying at the Marietta costs from €100 per night.
Skiing: There is 1 cabin cable car, 18 chair lifts, 1 combi chair/cabin cable car and 6 T-bar lifts at Obertauern, with 95km of pisted slopes and 31km of cross-country skiing. There is also a terrain park, complete with half-pipe. Lift tickets cost €174-205 for six days.
Richard Bath and his son travelled to Obertauern in Salzbergerland, Austria, as guests of Inghams (www.inghams.co.uk / 01483 791111) and the Obertauern and SalzburgerLand Tourist offices (obertauern.com / salzburgerland.com)
Inghams offers 7 nights’ ½-board accommodation at 4* Hotel Marietta from £843 per person. The price includes Edinburgh/Salzburg flights and resort transfers. Inghams offers a 6-day area lift pass for Obertauern from £159pp; ski/boot hire from £123 per adult; ski tuition for 3 days from £135 per adult.
Obertauern has devoted the week of March 14-21 2015 to pay Tribute to the Beatles celebrating 50 years since they filmed HELP! in the village. There will be a host of live acts, events, a Beatles sculpture in the ski area near the Kirchbühellift (where most of the scenes were filmed), a replica piano (of the one used in the film) in a location (to be announced) in the resort, and special offers throughout the week including two firm dates:
- March 17th 2015 : Cult Tribute Band ‘Twist & Shout’ will present their live show ‘All you Need is Love’ encouraging the audience to sing along with 30 favourite Beatles hits and dancing is actively encouraged.
- March 19th 2015 : A Magical History Tour with the Beatles McCartney show official special guests, Ruth McCartney (Paul’s step-sister) and her mother Angie McCartney. The evening, an interactive live show, features a mix of Beatles’ film clips, personal stories and pictures of Angie and Ruth and some previously unpublished home movies and pictures from their personal archives.
Tickets are €53 per person per event (free for children up to 13 years). Performences will be held in the Sports Centre (add. 5562 Obertauern Ringstrasse 3), doors open at 20:00 hours, performance starts 21:00 hours. To reserve tickets in advance (a booking fee applies), visit: obertauern-tickets.com.
Images Copyright Tourismusverband Obertauern 2013/14. We expressly point out,that the images may be used only in conjunction with and after approval of Obertauern TVB.