What a difference a day made, to misquote the old Dinah Washington ballad. And the difference was snow. It was, perhaps, the most sudden, dramatic change in the weather that I have ever experienced in the Alps. Though the ski season was still in full swing the temperature gauge in the car, as we drive along the Inn Valley between the Tirol resorts of Alpbach and Kirchberg, reached 23 degrees centigrade.
The woman at the Innsbrück airport car rental desk had had asked us if we thought it was still worth adding the cost of pre-ordered chains to the bill. “Sun. sun, sun” she replied, when I asked for the prognosis.
In the Alpbachtal they were planting out pansies in riotous roadside beds, suggesting locals believed spring had taken an unbreakable grip. In Kirchberg the terrace of the Lorenzoni Konditorei was crowded with après skiers in T-shirts, drooling over the kind of cakes in whose creation the Austrians are world leaders: Apfelstrudl, cream and fruit slices, raspberry Topfen. South facing slopes in both resorts were vivid green. On those facing north, skiers and boarders intent determined to make it all the way to the bottom, rather than ride down on the lift, had to negotiate narrow, thinning ribbons of snow.
Next morning we skied, as we had for most of the week, through heavy slush. It was hard on the aging knees, trying to flex enough that the skis turned in smooth arcs. Happily the man at the commendable Sport Riesen ski shop, just beneath the bottom station of the Pengelstein gondola lift, reduced the effort as far as possible by recommending a wonderfully versatile pair of Blizzard G-Power FS skis but despite that it was warm work. Never mind all that nonsense about ladies glowing and gentlemen perspiring. This was what horses do – sweat.
We had been cynical about the weather forecasts, which, in the run up to our departure had several times predicted snowfall which either turned out to be a dusting or failed to materialise at all. So it was open mouthed amazement that we draw back our hotel room curtains the following day to see thick flakes blanketing the entire landscape white.
My wife wasn’t feeling well, so we let it snow and pottered for the day, exploring Kirchberg’s posher neighbor, Kitzbühel – their pistes are linked – with its pastel shaded facades and smart shops. In a street overlooked by the 13th century tower of St. Andrew’s church, the window of a boutique designed for dog owners displayed a canine gilet, complete with comforting for collar.
Though there was powder our return to slopes didn’t make for instant nirvana. The top of the mountain was fogged in stubborn cloud. Until I reached the tree line, where some definition improved visibility, my nerves were stretched by the memory of a serious accident the previous season. So until the sky began to clear we stuck to the home run, a lovely intermediate descent across snow covered meadows, with three pleasant eateries en route. The Gauxer Stadl is one of these, an old wooden building where a cheery lady served me Pressknödl in clear broth, potato dumplings mixed with herbs and two kinds of cheese and grilled.
If the start of the trip had been overshadowed by pessimism that this would be ten days of ploughing through snow the texture of cooling porridge its conclusion was joyous. At last we were able to swing down a clutch of glorious runs towards Kitzbühel on near perfect snow, and to ride the impressive 3S gondola on an eight minute journey across the valley from the Pengelstein to the Jochberg area, where similarly mouthwatering conditions awaited.
After a lunch of delicious Tiroler G’röstl – sliced potatoes, caraway, pork and bacon served from a great frying pan – and a shared Germknödl with vanilla sauce at the Berg Gasthof Hochbrunn and a cold beer on the terrace of a guesthouse on the last run of the holiday, we were even inclined to nostalgia for those first, unseasonal days. Hot weather may not make for purist skiing but pulling your boots off at the end the day and relaxing on in the sunshine surely beats thawing frozen fingers in a bar thick with Jägertee fumes.
Roger Bray stayed at the Hotel Sonne in Kirchberg. Inghams offers a week’s half board there next winter, with flights from Gatwick from £900. Flights from regional airports are available for a supplement.
The Sonne has 140 rooms, a spa and a very large indoor swimming pool. When snow cover is good it’s possible to take a hotel shuttle to the Maierbahn lift and ski back almost to the door.