Austria: Sloping off

By Pete Thompson

Pete Thompson visits Fieberbrunn, famous for mountains and fountains.
Freeride Hotspot Fieberbrunn, Tirol, Austria.
Freeride Hotspot Fieberbrunn, Tirol, Austria.

In the idyllic ski region where James Bond wreaked havoc in the last 007 blockbuster, Spectre, I have taken on a mission of my own to discover one of Tirol's best-kept secrets.

Careering down steep slopes in the heart of the Austrian Alps, my pulse races as I glance back to spot a figure on the horizon in hot pursuit.

The sound of explosions had earlier reverberated around the valley, but now all I can hear is the wind whistling past as I hurtle down the mountain at full tilt.

There's not even a sniff of trouble when I return to the quaint resort village of Fieberbrunn, my mission for the day accomplished.

The blasts I'd heard were in fact detonations to prevent an avalanche, rather than 007 and an assassin trying to kill each other.

Daniel Craig's daredevil adventures have brought thousands of skiers to Soelden in the Otztal Valley, but a couple of hours' drive away is a dreamy resort set to attract an increasing number of thrillseekers.

Daniel Craig as James Bond in Spectre.
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Spectre.

Tucked away in the Kitzbuhel Alps, it will no doubt be a mystery to many who frequent the more mainstream ski resorts.

But the opening of the Tirol-S gondola should put Fieberbrunn firmly on the map, making it part of Austria's largest interconnected ski area, with a whopping 270km of pistes.

Decades after the idea was first discussed, the addition of the high-speed gondola to connect the slopes of Fieberbrunn with the Salzburgerland resorts of Saalbach, Hinterglemm and Leogang finally came to fruition in December.

Now winter sports enthusiasts are spoiled for choice, regardless of ability.

Mother Nature also smiles on this stunning part of the world, which has been dubbed a "snow hole" due to its vast quantities of the white stuff.

The PillerseeTal, where Fieberbrunn is located, is regarded as the most snow-assured region in Tirol -- and within 24 hours of my arrival, a metre of snow has fallen.

Fieberbrunn annually hosts the only Freeride World Tour event to be staged in Austria or Germany, with daring skiers descending 620m on the daunting north face of the Wildseeloder mountain at a gradient of up to 70 degrees.

Though dicing with death on the Wildseeloder was never going to be on my itinerary, the vast and varied ski area now accessible by the Tirol-S gives me plenty of opportunity to go beyond my comfort zone.

Rapid, steep, red runs get the blood pumping as I ease myself back into the swing of things two years after I last clipped into a pair of skis, and I'm soon heading off piste. My reward for pushing back the boundaries is traditional Tirolean cuisine at the Wildalpgatterl restaurant.

Austria Trend Hotel Alpine Resort.
Austria Trend Hotel Alpine Resort.

I order fried chicken and potato salad in the homely archetypal Austrian ski hut as my burning thighs take a much-needed rest.

Later that evening, I skip apres ski in favour of a guided hike. According to legend, Fieberbrunn got its name when Princess Margarete of Tirol was cured of a fever after drinking water from a fountain beneath the church in the town - "Fieber" and "Brunnen" meaning fever and fountain in German.

I pass that very place of worship before returning to the warmth of the Austria Trend Hotel Alpine Resort. The ski-in, ski-out hotel is perfectly located and offers a pool with a view of the piste, a sauna and the option of a massage if the skiing has taken its toll.

But I have no intention of putting my feet up on my final day, when a short ride on the Tirol-S offers one last foray over to Saalbach.

Meandering blue runs allow me to marvel at spectacular sun-kissed peaks, while challenging reds have my jaw dropping again for very different reasons.

Romantic mountain huts appear ever closer as I descend into vibrant Saalbach, then I head back up for lunch in the cosy refurbished Reiteralm, in front of a roaring fire.

A potent shot of schnapps sends me on my way and ignites my engine for the rest of the day.

I even allow myself a little Bond-style swagger knowing I have unearthed a gem of a resort, which will not remain a secret for long.



Cathay Pacific flies from Auckland to Austria via Hong Kong and London. Return Economy fares start from $2569.


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