Nestled in the heart of Tirol, Samnaun, Switzerland and its sister mountain Ischgl in Austria, seem to have been carved out for a perfect ski weekend for an intermediate skier or snowboarder. Samnaun and Ischgl have 44 lifts and 238 km of pistes, 65 percent of which are red (intermediate) runs.
Arrive with your girlfriend and her sister at your apartment in Samnaun-Ravaisch, located 500 meters from the Gondola (score!). Samnaun looks like it could double as a setting for a snow globe, especially with all the snowflakes swirling about you. Breathe in the crisp mountain air and exhale any stress you have.
You forgot beans for the burritos you are going to make tonight, so take a three-minute drive to a “tank-station” (Gas Station). Meet the nicest small business owner in Switzerland. The owner has beans – at home. Think that you also have beans at home, but that doesn’t really help you here. To your amazement, he runs across the street and picks up beans from his house. Eat awesome bean-filled burritos in your apartment.
Take your first “Piste” of the year at 9 am. Unfortunately, the weekend is not starting out well. The weather Gods are not fond of you and berate you with a stinging wind. Use the bad weather and poor visibility as an excuse to go slow and practice your technique on the blue run 63 and the red runs 65 and 69, as they seem to be the least mogul-y.
After a full day of Snowboarding, your legs feel like Jell-O.
There is only one elixir that you need and is part of any good "ski weekend": a Flying Hirsch, (better known as a Jager bomb). Go to Smugglers Alm for Après Ski, recommended to you by the nicest small business owner in Switzerland.
Now feel the warm Jager clash with the cold red bull in your mouth and let it slide down into your belly. Slowly you forget about the pain in your legs. You feel like singing and so does everyone else. It doesn’t matter how tone-deaf you are. Thankfully they are playing a song you know.
Country roads, take me home
To the place, I belong
West Virginia, mountain momma
Think it's going to be a great weekend after all.
Wake up. Immediately make your way to the Austrian side using lift N1. Leave your girlfriend’s sister, who hasn’t skied in 18 years, at the bottom of Idalp where there are multiple “uebung” (practice) slopes of increasing difficulty.
After lunch, thank the weather Gods. Visibility is better and due to the storm, “freshies” can be found, especially off the side of Piste 12 (red). Enjoy gliding through the powder, finding your groove. Heel side, toe side, heel, toe. You feel weightless. This is why you came.
After doing piste 12 and 23 (blue) a couple of times, ride the 6 km duty-free run 80 (red) all the way down to the front door of Smugglers, where Flying Hirshces and Après Ski await you once again. But first slip and fall while getting on lift 20. Have a concerned older women look at you and tell her son in German “that’s why he is wearing a helmet”. Ride up the lift in silent embarrassment.
Enjoy walking through Samnaun village, passing by ornate hotels that have been made to look like old chalets and duty-free shops that offer rolexes and diamonds. See an intriguing and somewhat out-of-place establishment at the end of the village named “US-Mexican Restaurant”. Sit down for some potato skins, Buffalo wings and Miller beer. Although the Buffalo wings are not exactly like back home (they are covered in BBQ sauce, not hot sauce) the Sour Cream dip is a welcome surprise, since it’s hard to find in Europe.
The temperature rises to 8 degrees Celsius and the sky is a deep, cloudless blue. Instead of fighting the weather, you now have to fight the other skiers in Alp Trida. Head over to lift C2 on the Austrian side where the crowd is lighter and freshies can still be found off-piste.
Make it to the top of lift B8 to eat at the Pardorama restaurant (not a misspelling!). The wispy, white caps seem to go on for 100s of kilometers in all directions. Feel really, really small. Marvel at the view while stretching out your tired legs on the deck with the other sunbathers. You’ve earned it.
Top 11 Travel Tips for a Ski Weekend in Samnaun
The US-Mexican Restaurant has a shuttle service that will take you back to your apartment or hotel for free!
If you are an expert or would like to push your limits, try Piste 14a, where there is up to a 70% pitch.
At the top of Palinkopf, 2864 Meters, you can see Austria, Switzerland and Italy.
Avoid the self-service restaurants at the bottom of Alp Trida. The prices are higher than those on the Austrian side and the wienerschitzel is not prepared fresh, i.e. it was frozen.
Ischgl is famous for its Après ski. We didn’t get a chance to go, but we have it in our sights for next time.
It’s faster to ski from Samnaun (Switzerland) to Ischgl (Austria) than it is to drive, which takes up to an hour and a half.
The quality of riders and skiers at the snow park near lift B2 is impressive. Taking 15 minutes to watch them is worth it. If you want to try a jump yourself but are afraid of cracking your head open, they have a jump with an inflatable pad in the landing area where you can practice without risk.
If long runs are your thing, take piste 13 from the top of Greitspitze (2872 meters) to the town of Ischgl (1400 meters). Its 11 kilometers long.
There is another nice restaurant at the bottom of Idalp called "Panorama". The waiters still wear Tracht - traditional Austrian clothing. Order the Mini Schnitzel and steak platter.
If you are used to skiing in the Rockies, the snow here may surprise you. In the alps, the snow is a bit heavier and requires more effort to turn. You may be sorer at the end of the day than you expected.
At Smugglers Run, there is live entertainment from 4 to 6 pm. Besides a flying Hircsh, try a Smuggler beer which has a smoky and hoppy taste and is only sold at the restaurant.