During our time in St. Johann in Tirol it was often referred to as small and beautiful, in truth I didn’t find it that small, but it sure is beautiful.
St. Johann in Tirol is in the heart of the Kitzbuherler Alps and strikes you as a lesser known ski destination. I’m not entirely sure why. It doesn’t have the size of some of its bigger brothers, but it certainly makes up for that in the quality of skiing and picturesque scenery.
Couple that with very seriously friendly locals, who from the outset welcomed us in every way possible and took the time to enlighten us on all the things that make St. Johann in Tirol such a great spot in the Austrian Alps.
Your St. Johann in Tirol winter guide:
The snow in St. Johann in Tirol is pretty much assured all season, with a great covering and a huge investment in snow cannons, should the need arise. There are plenty of slopes for all levels, all with fantastic views over the valley. It struck me that things are at a nice steady pace here, there was no stress to get on the lift and very few queues. This is exactly how I like it. In addition, the runs are wide, flowing and peaceful. You can take your time, observe the scenery and breathe the fresh mountain air. That’s what skiing in Austria should be about, and it was genuinely some of the most enjoyable skiing I’ve done this season.
Because of the gentle, wide flowing slopes, St. Johann in Tirol has built a reputation for families and beginners. And with the new cable cars transporting 1,800 people per hour, it’s easy to see why. However, the more experienced skiers can also head further up the mountain on the chairlifts, for more challenging red and black runs. If this ski area isn’t big enough for you, take a look at the ‘mega ski pass’, the second largest ski pass in the world. It combines St. Johann in Tirol with other resorts and totals 2,750km of pistes in 25 ski areas around St. Johann in Tirol.
Insider Tip: If you’re looking for ski and snowboard rental, try Noichl, the skis were some of the best I’ve rented and they pride themselves on all of their equipment being less than 3 years old.
- Ski Area: 43km pistes, 16km easy, 23.5km medium, 3.5km difficult
- Lifts: 17 lifts, 4 gondolas, 5 chairlifts, 8 drag lifts
- Huts: 20 Alpine huts & mountain lodges
- Snow parks: 1
- Highest Point: 1,604 metres
- Night Skiing: Yes
Sleep on the mountain
If you truly want to feel like you’re in the mountains, why not stay up one? Angerer Alm is a little gem of a mountain hut, and at 1,300 metres it’s only reachable by gondola. Here you’ll find award winning cuisine and a family run business with some of the friendliest staff in Austria. It was previously one of the highest farmhouses in the area, it has several rustic guest bedrooms and a panoramic terrace with a view like no other. It’s the best way to immerse yourself in the mountain, wake up on the slopes and be the first one to lay fresh tracks on the freshly groomed runs. Oh, and did I mention a wine cellar with over 6,000 bottles? You can find out more about the wine from Annemarie, the sommelier in the video.
You must try! Ski through sausage and beer! Yes, my dream come true. If you head for the Berghotel Pointenhof, you’ll find a small bar serving hot dogs and beer, with casual outdoor seating. It’s the perfect place for a quick bite to eat before getting back to some skiing.
With St. Johann in Tirol hosting Austria’s biggest open cross-country ski race, the Koasalauf, it’s no wonder there’s a worldwide reputation here amongst the cross-country world. There are number of cross-country ski schools and ski hire options available, and open cross-country slopes. In fact, everywhere you turn in St. Johann in Tirol, you can see someone trying it out or training for the next big race, either in the classic or skating style. The area itself has over 250km of prepared pistes and cross-country routes, all of which have been awarded with the Tirol seal of approval.
Being my first time, I took a lesson with Gunter Werth from Erpfendorf Biathlon Centre, situated at Erpfendorf in Tirol. Gunter showed me the ropes, explained the equipment and it wasn’t long before I had the hang of it. It’s a totally different skill to skiing or snowboarding, I can tell you that. We did a few laps around the track before having the opportunity to get out on a trail and it was then that I really saw the appeal of cross-country skiing. This really is a chance to experience not just the mountains, but the valleys too in a totally different way. It was peaceful, there was solitude, and as the sun set over Kirchdorf in Tirol I didn’t want to stop.
It is not just cross-country skiing this area is known for, it also has some fantastic opportunities to practise biathlon. Biathlon combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. Its roots as a survival sport have seen it become an important sport in the winter Olympics, with Austrian athletes often performing well. Gunter showed us the shooting from a standing and laying position, the difference between the two and how to transition from skiing to shooting. I can tell you now that’s the tough part! Shooting is all about precision and timing, and when your blood is pumping from skiing, that just gets harder and harder. It was great fun practising this skill and I only grew greater respect for biathletes that compete at the top level of this sport.
Another popular way to see the St. Johann in Tirol area is snowshoeing. It’s an increasingly popular hobby all around Austria, mainly because you can cut your own path through the snow-covered mountains. I recommend going with a guide, not only for safety, but as they’ll take you along the best routes and explain some of the nature and history to the area. It’s also important to behave correctly in the winter terrain, and look after the natural surroundings – your guide will help you to do that. We snowshoed to an excellent view point over the Wilder Kaiser mountain, which means Wild Emperor in English. It’s a beautiful and famous landmark, and the walk to it was breath-taking.
Explore St. Johann in Tirol town
The town centre of St. Johann in Tirol is quaint and scenic, and you should allow some time away from the slopes to see it. The buildings have a unique style, with lots of pretty murals and a striking catholic church forming the centrepiece of the town centre. Being small has its advantages, you only really need an afternoon or morning to explore, nonetheless I have a couple of must do’s. Firstly, check out the Huber brewery, which was established in 1727 and has a beer selection to suit all tastes. And even if beer isn’t your thing, then the panoramic restaurant at the top of the brewery is worth the visit alone. Secondly, for coffee and cake head to Café Rainer, a café nearly 100 years old and open 7 days a week. It has a beautiful upstairs terrace for the sunny days and a cake shop if you don’t have time to sit. I recommend the Sachertorte and the Apfelstrudel!
Where to stay
There’s a good selection of hotels available for all budgets, most of which are in the Harschbichl area, close to the slopes and gondolas. If you want to go for style and luxury, I really loved Hotel Penzinghof, a beautiful family-run eco-friendly hotel. The look and feel of the place instantly hit you, and it has an incredible spa with an infinity pool with amazing views of Wilder Kaiser.
And the best bit? It has its own chairlift right out the back, that links you to the main ski area. If you can’t stay here, then drop in for dinner at the award-winning restaurant. Or if apartments are more your thing, then Café Reiner has rooms (mentioned above) and is perfectly located in the town centre. For a smaller budget have a look at the Cubo Sport & Art Hotel, which has a variety of rooms including a family room, dorm style sport room and has breakfast included. You’ll also appreciate the panoramic views from the Skylounge.
How to get there
St. Johann in Tirol is nearby to three main airports, Innsbruck being the closest at just an hour’s drive, and Salzburg and Munich less than two hours away. Many people fly into Innsbruck around 95km away, and it has incredible views as you land. From here you can hire a car or take a direct train from Innsbruck to St. Johann in Tirol. Munich and Salzburg also have options for train travel and take a little longer. It’s also worth noting there are many private taxi and shuttle services, so I recommend you ask your hotel if they have one they recommend, or any discounts available.
Travel tip shared by Scott for Travel Dudes.