SOLD ON SÖLDEN
Sölden for ski racers signifies the start of the ski racing season. The Austrian ski area’s broad, treeless glacier hosts the first FIS World Cup at the end of October each season, starting a grueling circuit that takes the world’s finest ski racers from Austria to France to Italy to Norway to the U.S. to Canada and beyond. And while Sölden’s hosting of such a significant event is what we may think of first, the ski area is so much more than a broad, treeless glacier.
Situated in Austria’s Otztal Valley, about 100 kilometres west of the Olympic city of Innsbruck, Sölden counts itself among the ski areas of the Tirol—an illustrious crowd that includes Kitzbühel, Innsbruck, and St. Anton am Arlberg, which is known as the “cradle of skiing.” Sölden’s position among some of Austria’s highest, whitest peaks enables it to secure more than 144 kilometres of slopes each winter. With a top elevation of 3,080 metres and more than 300 inches of annual snowfall, skiing takes place on Sölden’s slopes from November to May – its season is one of the longest in Austria.
The ski area’s anchor is the village of Sölden, a snow-laden collection of classic Austrian architecture twisting through a natural valley, a fast-moving river running through it. Hotels, shops, and the ski area’s lifts line Sölden’s main route—the main ski lift sharing space with Bogner, J.Lindeberg and Napapijri stores, as well as restaurants and multi-star ski lodging, including the family-friendly Alphotel, and the swank Hotel Bergland.
A free bus system runs along Sölden’s main route, carrying skiers from their hotels to the main lifts. Up high in the alpine, overlooking the village, lies a ridge of runs across 144 kilometres of slope. Skiers ride lift after lift—there are 33 in total—rarely skiing the same piste twice, and pausing for hot chocolate or kaiserschmarrn (an irresistible Austrian dessert) in one of Sölden’s many mountainside huts. One of Tirol’s finest alpine dining spots is located on Sölden’s slopes: the new and Space Age-looking Bar Ice-Q is perched across a precarious bridge from the Gaislachkogl peak, with a view on a sunny day at an incredible 3,048 metres. Giant letters spelling ALMZEIT at another mid-mountain refuge offer kids hours of play—swings and slides are built right into the lettering—and, of course, the views are spectacular. Holding court in Sölden’s background is Wildspitze, at 3,744 metres it is Tirol’s highest, most majestic peak.
When the ski day is done, visitors often make the pilgrimage down to Längenfeld, home of the Aqua Dome (www.aqua-dome.at). This mammoth thermal spa is yet another example of Space Age architecture, its glass walls offering sweeping views of the surrounding high alpine. But it is Längenfeld’s natural thermal waters filling the Aqua Dome’s many pools that are most therapeutic and spectacular—sodium chloride sulphate thermal water that comes from a depth of 1,865 metres below Längenfeld at an approximate temperature of 40 degrees Celsius. Indoor and outdoor pools are warm and comforting regardless of how cold the outside temperatures—an adult-only Spa 3000 includes pools, relaxation lounges, mineral showers, and an alpine herb sauna infused with herbs (arnica and peppermint) found in the Otztal Valley.
The Aqua Dome holds a special place in Nordica’s heart. It plays host each December to the 125-plus participants in the annual Nordica IDM Ski Test—distributors, subsidiaries, and key Nordica personnel from 30 countries around the world arrive to test the new skis to be launched in coming seasons.
Consumers are also invited to test Nordica products each season in Sölden. A Nordica Test Centre opened from October to December, is situated on the glacier and it’s shared by Nordica, Blizzard, Tecnica, UVEX and Leki. Ski shop owners use the Test Centre as a base to demonstrate the latest in skis, boots, poles, helmets, and goggles. More than 2000 consumers sample products here at the beginning of each season. Nordica’s team on the glacier is comprised of Thomas Grüner, a mountain guide, and his son Christopher, a mountain guide and ski instructor. Thanks in large part to the Grüners, Nordica has a reputation for perfect service inside its test centre: two ski tuners are on hand to keep the skis in ideal condition, snacks are often served, and of course… always Italian espresso!
Lori Knowles is a Canadian ski writer. www.loriknowles.com