A late but enthusiastic embrace of skiing has made our Mayfair doyen all the more keen to embrace the chic alpine lifestyle once in a while
Column by Trevor Pickett
My skiing is erratic, I guess it’s a bit like my riding in that I came in to it late (i.e. aged 35)… so what do you expect! But I feel to participate is important and learning new skills is half the battle (and maybe it will keep me young), so I feel a bit like a student at the moment.
So, with limited experience of skiing resorts I write this with caution… I am taken skiing by enthusiastic friends who encourage and give me faith to go from blue to black runs in a week, and until this year, Chamonix was the only resort I had enjoyed, usually staying in Argentiere despite the drive to the ski runs. However, last week I left for Hochgurg, an Austrian village adjacent to the Dolomites, and is the east side of the better known Obergurgl.
For me it is a perfect skiing resort with a mixture of levels and abilities, so I was able to build my skills and confidence from starting on a ‘blue’ Sunday afternoon to a ‘red/black’ by the following Saturday afternoon. I am told by those with more adventurous and advanced skills, who want a more challenging day in the mountains, that it is great skiing and with more pistes just opened this year, and more planned for next year, it is a growing resort. The Scheiber family own the whole resort and their core values are reflected along with the history, but it is ahead of the curve, and whilst the resort style is contemporary, glamourous and chic it is all in a gently understated way and the balance is right.
The friend who introduced me to this resort goes here every year and always stays at The Top Hotel (a Relais & Chateaux establishment) where you slip into a beautifully heated boot in the skiing-wear room before heading onto the lift a mere 12 meters outside.
The hotel is the perfect alpine retreat and if there is the odd half day or whiteout you can chill and relax in the traditionally decorated hotel with its subtle mis en scene that marks out truly relaxing luxury. It has a refreshing feel without that tick box of a 5-star hotel customer’s expectations or affiliated trade groups. It all appears to be effortlessly run like clockwork with the staff wearing an assortment of traditional alpine dress, it has that crispness you associate with Col Von Trapp but never veers into full ‘Sound of Music’ tweeness.
Rooms are beautiful appointed with a traditional Tyrolean feel, i.e. plenty of pine, and of course a mountain view which is worth the extra spend as you look across the valley to Obergurgl. Wandering down to breakfast you are greeted by a banquet of anything and everything you can imagine for your start to the day – a bountiful breakfast which can cancel lunch out – although when I ski my diet is gluhwien so any opportunity to stop on the slopes and I am there!
With the expansion of the slopes there are now more pistes with a new cable car and an amazing restaurant with a museum have been added. The ambiance and style of the restaurant is very outdoor-chic and the food is far from disappointing.
After a day on the slopes the spa has the answer to all your requirements, a proper swimming pool not merely a plunge pool, inside for a swim though with an area of the pool outside. There are of course Jacuzzi’s, Steam Room, Sauna, Scandinavian sauna – plus every treatment you can imagine, including hair and beauty.
The resort is also (perhaps bizarrely) a paradise for motorcycle enthusiasts… Not only content with owning the mountain and resort, the Scheibers have built up one of the largest and most valuable collections of historic motorcycles in Austria in recent years and the Top Mountain Crosspoint has the thick end of 100 manufacturers’ bikes now on display. In the summer motorcyclist enthusiasts from across Europe meet up at the museum and ride on the most attractive route over the Alps – the Timmelsjoch High Alpine Road. The road also has interesting instillations of art as you drive over the pass.
Having not been lured out of Hochgurgl during our stay, we braved it and headed to the Sportsbar Ice-berg in Obergrul. The bar has ice skating adjacent, another winter activity, so we had a great time in this lively establishment, well we thought it was lively, until a motorised sledge was organised to take us onwards to Nederhütte and we realised what a sheltered life we had for the trip… and the past years. The atmosphere here was electric, there truly was dancing on the table and the feel of a beer house you see in images for October Fest; a raucous couple of hours and a lively break from the cocoon of our luxurious base camp… but we were rather pleased to return to the Top Hotel at the end of the evening!