Our choice of resort this year was the same as it would have been last year, had we not had to cancel our holiday at the last moment: Alpendorf in Austria. I had been attracted by the apparent extent of the skiing available, but would it live up to expectations?
We were travelling once again with Crystal but had to change the hotel from the one we intended to use last year, to a 5 Star hotel (Oberforsthof), as the other one did not have any vacancies on the dates we wanted to travel. It turned out to be a good choice. I will review the hotel separately.
We flew from Stanstead, which was actually a mistake on my part but turned out to be a happy mistake; we had intended to fly from Gatwick. The day we were to fly was the day the UK was covered in snow. A flight from Gatwick might have been in jeopardy but in the event there were no delays of any note from Stanstead. We drove to the airport on the previous day, in any case, and stayed over night, just to be on the safe side. Stanstead is only around a half hour further away.
Thompson is the carrier of choice for Crystal and the flight had the added bonus that we got a 23kgs baggage allowance rather than the "normal" (normal that is unless you are flying with rival Thomas Cook - 15kgs!) 20kgs. We exploited it to the limit, though taking with us this time just our ski boots and not our skis, which we were hiring in resort.
The flight, into and out of Salzburg, was uneventful: Thompson no longer provides any in-flight entertainment, so bring your own, or hot meals, other than snacks, so bring your own! Arrival at Salzburg and clearance to transfer went smoothly and without any substantial delay. Transfer to Alpendorf takes just over an hour, the final leg to the hotel, in our case, being completed by local taxi, hired for the purpose by Crystal.
To be honest, there's not very much to Alpendorf. It's just a single road off of the one running up and down the valley, with mostly hotels and a few shops at the lower end and, above that mostly private chalets and apartments. Signs suggest more development is on the way. There is little by way of independent bars and restaurants or night-life. However, the hotels do provide such that it isn't really necessary to go out.
We did spot two bars advertising "Apres Ski". One was associated with the Rothirsch Hotel and the other, which we did visit, is a bar right across from our hotel and next to the 6-man chair lift (Sportsbahn Gernkogel1), called, colourfully, Butz & Stingl. This latter we did like and lunched there a couple of times; their Gulaschsuppe is recommended.
The other recommendation is the restaurant separate from but associated with our hotel: Oberforsthof Alm, on the opposite side of the road to the hotel and situated right beside the piste down from the chair lift to the gondola (Gondelbahn Alpendorf) so great for ski in/out. The food here is excellent and up to the high standards of the hotel itself, and not exceptionally expensive.
There are a couple of places where you can hire ski equipment and it would be my suggestion that you don't bother pre-booking with Crystal as none of them will be very far from where you would be staying and the prices and range of equipment seem to be very reasonable. We were happy with our skis.
I would also suggest that it probably isn't worth pre-booking your area ski pass either. These are easily bought at any of the town level ski lift stations; the passes themselves are contactless proximity cards that you simply need to keep in your pocket; I put mine in the pocket on my ski jacket sleeve and left it there all week.
Austria is not known for its "joined up" skiing, though this does appear to be changing. Alpendorf is a part of Ski Amade/Salzburger Sportswelt, with includes the next "big" town (Sankt Johann), Wagrain and on through to Flachau, all of which are covered by the area lift pass. Alpendorf, Wagrain and Flachau can be reached on ski with the single current proviso that to get to Flachau from Wagrain you have to hop on the free ski bus across the town to the next gondola. That will change next season (2013/14) when the cross-valley gondola connection is completed, avoiding the need to ski down to Wagrain (unless you want to).
However, there are many other villages and towns which seem to be completely inaccessible by ski, the most bizarre of which is Sankt Johann itself. Its ski area seems to be completely isolated and only accessible by ski bus, unless you're staying there. However, if you do want to visit then the town is only 10 minutes away by bus, which runs at intervals between half an hour and an hour and a half, until early evening (no matter what the pocket timetable says!), and is covered by your lift pass.
I would call the skiing "challenging". Red runs predominate and even some of the few Blues can be a bit daunting in places. This is probably Intermediate and Expert Heaven. The vast majority of the lifts are modern high-speed 6-seaters (with heated seats!) and gondolas, with just a few slow, old lifts from days gone by, which can easily be avoided. Lift queues are almost unknown and the slopes free from undue congestion. Many slopes are covered by snow-makers and those in Alpendorf were turned on for the whole of the last day of our holiday.
Mountain side bars an restaurants abound and, if you wanted you would only need to ski a few hundred metres before your next beer. Prices are not extortionate although the Lisa in Flachau did take us aback a little. It seems to cater predominantly for the those who like loud music; it didn't even have Gulaschsuppe on the menu!
Of all the ski areas, we did like Flachau the most and, had we known what to find there, might have chosen to base ourselves there instead of Alpendorf, around 15kms away by ski. It's slopes are widest and sunniest we skied and offer an enormous variety of really long unbroken ski runs. From Alpendorf it takes around 1 ½ hours to reach by ski, including the short ski bus transfer across Wagrain, once you've learned the route.
We enjoyed our holiday here, despite the weather being less favourable than it might have been. We had three days of excellent weather and all-day skiing, one day of iffy skiing and two days of near white-out conditions, when we did other things instead.
Would we go back again? Doubtful. The new gondola, to be opened next season, will be a big improvement but, apart from that, the area still contains far too many local areas that really don't have adequate connections to justify the cost of the ski pass that covers them. Bit of a swizz really. Maybe, in a couple of years there will have been further developments to justify a re-evaluation.
Until then, I suspect we will once again try somewhere complete different.