Relax... If you can. Ischgl-Samnaun review
"Relax. If you can..." - this slogan will be seen almost everywhere in this Tyrolean resort. Ischgl, in the Paznaun Valley, is now one of Europe's most developed resorts. Modern infrastructure and, thanks to a connection with Switzerland's Samnaun, the amount of pistes declared at more than 200 km tempt skiers from all over Europe.
Getting to Ischgl
We went to Ischgl at the beginning of the 2016/2017 season in the first half of December. The resort is located in the southwestern part of Austria on the border with Switzerland. Access is possible via the A12 highway and the S16 expressway connecting Innsbruck and Bregenz. From north, by far the fastest way to get there is to make up the route via Germany. During our journey based on traffic, the GPS repeatedly suggested different solutions. In the end we decided to go through Bregenz, thanks to which we reached almost all the way to Ischgl without having to turn off to regional roads. It is worth mentioning that driving from the west through Bregenz, we have to cross one of the longest road tunnels in Europe - the Arlberg-Straßentunnel with a length of almost 14 km. Driving through this two-way tunnel is an additional fee (€9.50) despite the need for a vignette entitling us to travel on highways and expressways. If you're not fond of tunnels (and there are a lot of them along the route), you can try the eastern side - via Munich and Innsbruck, or make your way through the Alps via local roads. The latter, interestingly, is often suggested by Google Maps. The only way to get to Ischgl in the winter time is to take the exit named "Pians/Paznaun/Ischgl." - From there it's only a little over 20 km to the town.
Getting to Samnaun
Deciding to stay on the Swiss side in the town of Samnaun, the easiest way is to take virtually the same road, and take the Knoten Oberinntal exit a few kilometers east from the highway and continue through Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis to reach the town. Taking this road, there is no need to buy an expensive Swiss annual vignette, and you literally cover 4 kilometers in Switzerland itself. From Switzerland's Grisons, drivers also often choose to go through Austria to avoid the troublesome Engadine Valley road and its shuttle train service.
Accommodations in Ischgl are tailored to meet the needs of a variety of customers. Accommodations in the town range from luxury hotels (in close proximity to the cable cars to the mountain) to more budget guesthouses and guest houses. Prices really vary, and when looking for accommodation, we encourage you to use the search engine on the resort's website - there's a very good chance of finding a better deal than on popular accommodation booking sites.
We arrived at the site late in the evening. Our guesthouse shared a reception area with a popular hotel, where we went first to pick up our room cards. Here the first surprise - most guesthouses and guest houses have underground garage parking available. The comfort of unpacking the car is greatly increased, and we can use it without having to shovel snow if necessary. We entered the apartments by elevator - this is also the standard here, and it significantly increases the quality of the stay, especially in more than 4-story chalets.
The furnishings and standard of accommodation here are mostly uniformly high, and this is definitely a strong point of the resort.
A car left in the underground parking lot is unlikely to be of any use to us, as everything in Ischgl is within walking distance.
In our case, the hotel offered us its ski room, so we didn't have to walk from the guesthouse, 400 meters away, in our ski boots. From the hotel to the lower station of the cable car was literally a walk across the street. Thanks to all this, our first impressions were already very good.
From Ischgl we get to the slopes by three cable cars - the state-of-the-art 3-S cable car, the gondola cable car and the funicular. The stations of all three are spread out along the length of the town, giving guests an equally short distance to walk. The 3-S cableway station itself impressed us - everything is very modern and clean. We paid for our ski passes by card. Unlike Italian resorts, there is no problem with cashless transactions here. The station building also has an equipment rental store, a store, a tourist information center and cash registers on several floors. Of course, we get everywhere by elevator or escalator.
The Ischgl-Samnaun complex spans 1400-2872 meters above sea level and, according to the resort company claims, offers 238 km of slopes. However, it later turned out that this is counted in a specific way and we are dealing with a marketing ploy. Geometrically counting the trails there are 172 km. This is still quite a lot, and all doubts are clarified by the resort's website.
The time we hit was quite dry and sunny - there was virtually no snow in the town. However, after reaching the level of 1800 meters above sea level it became white. All the slopes were really perfectly snowed and you could access both Samnaun and Ischgl. Conditions were very good and the slopes were groomed, but it was clear that we were skiing on artificial, frozen snow. The reason, of course, was the aura, and the resort authorities did a good job here. There were no pebbles or branches on the slopes, and all the slopes were very well prepared by snow groomers.
We were somewhat surprised by the difficulty level of the slopes. While the black runs met our expectations, some of the red pistes really gave us a kick. Among others, we are talking about piste number 1, which we get to Ischgl. Just before the town itself, the slope is so steep that it was, in my opinion, boldly eligible to be marked black.
The vast majority of the slopes are intermediate - red. People taking their first steps on skis or a board will find something for themselves here, but they will have to overcome more difficult slopes to get to those marked blue. This is definitely not a resort for beginners, and I guess that's what Ischgl is trying to tell us with the slogan "Relax. If you can...".
The entire resort is located on the slope of five peaks, 4 of which are in the immediate vicinity. In my opinion, especially noteworthy are the descents from the peaks of Palinkopf (2864 m) and Greitspitze (2872 m). From the former there are several black runs, including the excellent and very fast route numbers 33 and 34, which will take you over an elevation difference of more than 800 meters. From Greitspitze, on the other hand, we have at our disposal black routes 13 and 14 (with several variations). It is worth mentioning that from the neighboring Idjoch we can try our hand at the slalom route with computerized time measurement. Great fun guaranteed.
From the summits of Viderjoch, Idjoch and Greitspitze, we get to the Swiss part of the resort, where plenty of really excellent slopes around the Trida Alps await us. From Palinkopf, on the other hand, we'll take a very long 5 km ski run down to the town of Samnaun (with no way to get to the rest of the Swiss slopes) - this is probably the least interesting part of the resort, but it's worth bearing in mind that the bar here is really high. On the other hand, far away from the above-mentioned 4 peaks, Piz Val Gronda is a small mecca for freeride. There is a trail 42 from the top, but during our stay it was not prepared at all (and the cable car to the top was in operation).
An interesting feature here is the so-called Smuggler's run - a kind of challenge available in 3 variants to get from Austria to Switzerland and back to Ischgl as quickly as possible. A special free Ischgl mobile app is used for tracking, and all participants enter a prize draw. The availability of the runs comprising the Smuggler's Run can be always checked on the resort's website and on electronic displays. The idea is interesting and is a nice addition to the resort. The smuggler's runs (like all the others) are perfectly marked, and the uniform and clear communication other resorts can only learn from Ischgl. On the Swiss side it was a little worse, but still it was really difficult to get lost in this white desert.
Ischgl-Samnaun features more than 40 lifts, the vast majority of which are modern chairlifts with protective bubbles. Quite a few of them are also equipped with heated seats, which adds to the comfort, as it can get really cold on the mountain. Efficient access from Ischgl is guaranteed by three very efficient cable cars, including the fairly new 3-S railroad, which can fit up to 28 passengers into one cabin. In addition, an 8-passenger gondola and a 24-passenger funitel are spanned in parallel. On the Swiss side, two parallel aerial tramways will climb the mountain - one, a two-story cable car with a capacity of as many as 180 people. The other, older, accommodates 80 passengers.
The infrastructure is being successively modernized - a new 8-seater to Flimjoch was opened in the 2016/2017 season. A new sixpack chairlift on Palinkopf will be handed over this year. The old one was indeed already in need of replacement although it offered quite efficient access - almost all lifts in the resorts are buckled and equipped with chairs allowing a minimum of 4 skiers. The standard is really high, and the successively replaced infrastructure is really impressive.
Those arriving daily in Ischgl by car will easily leave their car in the huge, modern parking lot excavated into the cliff below the town for a fee of €7 per day. In addition, there are several other smaller parking lots in town, but the infrastructure seems to be prepared for the arrival of really large numbers of visitors.
Ischgl, while targeting rather younger people, is famous for its highly developed infrastructure for spending time after getting off the slopes. In the central part of Ischgl there is a hill, which we can cross by a tunnel drilled into it with moving walkways - this is the main communication path after returning from the slope and is another example of the fact that the resort authorities take great care to ensure the comfort of the tourists staying with them. We will enter most of the facilities in ski boots, and the buildings are equipped with stepless walkways and elevators, which makes it easier to move not only for skiers, but also for people with disabilities. The entire town is filled with skiers until late at night, who party in bars and clubs often in their clothes right after getting off the slopes. Moving away from the center, on the other hand, you will find peace and quiet - so, like I wrote before, everyone should find something for themselves here.
Ischgl is also famous for hosting world-famous artists - every year concerts are held on the Idalp slopes to start and end the season. We can see the celebrity gallery in the tunnels connecting different parts of the town.
On the Swiss side, it's more modest, and prices are slightly higher. Samnaun is a smaller town. It's definitely quieter there, and skiers are likely to eat fondue at local restaurants instead of going to the clubs. The hotel offerings are aimed at the more affluent, and the standard is somewhat higher.
In both Austria's Ischgl and Switzerland's Samnaun you'll find the necessary infrastructure - rentals, medical facilities and a pharmacy, as well as a swimming pool. The latter in Ischgl was a bit old, but well-maintained and offered additional attractions in the form of saunas, Turkish baths and Jacuzzi pools.
The 2017/2018 season at the resorts starts already on November 23, 2017, and is scheduled to end on May 01, 2018. The lifts will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and the cash registers at the lift stations will open half an hour earlier and close half an hour later.
If last year's scenario is repeated, part of the resort will be open from November and successively more lots will be opened. During our December stay, about 90% of the resorts were already open, so I confidently recommend this period already for the start of the winter season.
In the summer season, the resort offers guests biking and hiking trails, and adrenaline lovers (even in winter) will certainly like Skyfly - a zipline, which will take you over the level difference of more than 300 m at a speed of more than 80 km/h.
Ischgl is a resort that wins awards every year confirming the quality of its services. They are fully deserved, and so far it is probably the best resort I have had the pleasure of winter sports so far. The infrastructure is extremely modern, and everything seems to have been designed with the comfort of skiers and snowboarders in mind. It's worth mentioning, however, that the resort's audience tends to be more experienced skiers, and the rich après-ski is mainly aimed at younger people. A large variety of accommodations ensures that a trip to such a modern resort need not at all be more expensive than a stay in other resorts in the Alps.
Samnaun, on the other hand, is a place for those who appreciate nature and tranquility, but, for obvious reasons, a stay on the Swiss side will involve slightly higher costs.
**The resort is perfect for ** advanced skiers
- very modern and efficient infrastructure
- perfectly groomed slopes
- perfect piste markings
- a large variety of accommodation at the same time ensuring a high standard and attractive prices.
- ski-friendly town of Ischgl.
- rather noisy nightlife in the center of Ischgl.
- not many pistes for less demanding skiers