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Skiing in the Tyrol's a sound move

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: January 24, 2013

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AS sounds go, it is up there. Of course, there's the odd yelp of occasional terrible-turn terror to punctuate proceedings and that whooshing noise made by passing skiers who have been at it since the age of four. Or locals, as they are otherwise known.

I never fail to feel awed and humbled in the company of such pristine views of Alpine peaks while dangling and swaying in a four-seater lift. I love to ski as it affords me the opportunity to harness the momentum of gravity to a pure, elemental sense of joy. For many Alpenphiles like myself, there are few finer ways of spending a chunk of one's time, conditions, yelps and mishaps permitting.

There's something about the Tyrol that keeps drawing me back. The whole region exudes a charm and an excellence to which you become accustomed without ever taking it for granted.

Söll – properly pronounced Searle (as in Chris, because of the good old umlaut) – it is large for a small village, as can be seen by looking at it from above as it sits sprawling in the wide valley between the gnarled Wilder Kaiser mountain and the eminently skiable Hohe Salve with its famous conical peak.

It has done well to take a step back from the reputation it earned during the 1980s as a haven for young Brits drinking too much, and nowadays can claim to be on the right side of lively while being a top family ski resort. It generally offers excellent value for money without ever feeling cheap.

The town centre is small and easily explorable, the onion domed Baroque church of St Peter and St Paul nestling in the centre. We stayed in the comfortable Hotel Tyrol, hotelier Josef making us feel very welcome.

So, on to the important stuff, the skiing. The SkiWelt is a Mecca for improving intermediates. It is huge and there are masses of runs to explore, 279km of them in total. The challenge is to ski as much of it as you can, a ride to Elmau and back for example is a good day's skiing in itself. Söll isn't the highest resort ever at 703m above sea level, but the local slopes down the Hohe Salve are north facing, and coupled with an impressive amount of snow-making machines, they have a good snow record. The gondola is a little out of town, but a few minutes in the free ski bus isn't a hardship.

The lift system is impressive with much investment in recent years. The highest proportion of graded runs are red (48 per cent), and there are so many of them, you need not ski the same route twice should you wish. Easy blues are well represented with about 43 per cent. If you're an expert skier and get off on taming tough blacks, moguls and off-piste action, then the SkiWelt is probably not for you. The toughest skiing on the mountain seems to be from the top station of the Hohe Salve, which I found to be steep enough to provide a good challenge without being overly terrifying.

Should you feel the need to go further afield, then buying a Kitzbuehler Alpen ski pass will open up all of that region too since they connected the two areas from the relatively new gondola via Brixen.

One thing to note is that many of the local runs offer night skiing, the Hochsöll, Salvenmoos, Keat, Hexen6er and Stöckl runs combine to provide the largest selection of night skiing anywhere in the SkiWelt. Also, the Wintergarten fun-park provides night-time action for the boarders out there.

There are 73 mountain restaurants to choose from so you'll never run the risk of thirst or hunger. In my experience, they are generally excellent, ranging from the cute and rustic converted cow shed of the Gasthof Stockalm, to Hohe Salve top station's restaurant with its impressive views.

Nightlife is spirited with much in the way of live music to nourish your ears. For evening drinks, head over to the relatively new Underground Bar where Londoner Dave and his Austrian partner Claudia will extend a warm welcome. For late-night dancing and merriment, the Whisky-Muhle is there for those who want to ski with a hangover the next day.

Söll is the one-size-fits-all resort of the Tyrol. The only things it lacks is an opportunity to shop and some really tough black runs, but the skiing, the nightlife, the quality food with amusing names (specknodel anybody?), the charm and tradition of Austria are all there in abundance.

The fact that it turns out to be good value for money as well is a bonus. A highly recommended base for your winter sports adventure.

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