Travel review: Tirol in Austria may have plenty of snow, but there's more to do than just ski

Skiing newbie Andrew Wakefield takes to the white stuff in Austria and finds he can’t quite reach the heights of ski-jumping but discovers much else to savour amid the extraordinary Alpine landscape.
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Arms stretched aloft in a victorious 'V' I soar ever-skywards from Austria's highest ski jump, filled with unbridled joy as I share a knowing glance with a passing golden eagle. At least that's how I pictured things panning out. Arched into the vast Alpine mountains of Innsbruck - Bergisel ski jump - looms 250 metres high above the city.

With, admittedly no skiing experience to my name - but with my natural athletic prowess to fall back on - surely a hurtle down its 98 metre ramp could be on the cards after a few practice tootles down the nursery slopes?

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I'm universally derided for my extreme overconfidence by my travelling pals - apparently it takes years of dedicated practice to rocket from its edge towards Austria's fifth largest city. Some of the world's best jumpers flock here to show off their skills in front of a 28,000 seater stadium. But it's still one hell of a sight.

Walkers brave a snow shoe hike in KühtaiWalkers brave a snow shoe hike in Kühtai
Walkers brave a snow shoe hike in Kühtai

Taking a cable car to Bergisel Sky Restaurant - entry included in the highly popular Innsbruck Card (www.innsbruck-shop.com/en/innsbruck-cards) I'm able to appreciate their reasoning through its panoramic glass frontage as we look down on the jump's full glory with the gothic architecture of the city - which hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976 - set against giant snow-capped mountains while enjoying platters of traditional fare.

I'm eager to get a realistic sense of my abilities on the white stuff as we shake off our gorging to rent some highly reasonably priced gear from Die Boerse (www.dieboerse.at) in Leopoldstrasse and grab a ski pass before driving through winding snow lined roads to the Axamer Lizum Ski Area (www.tyrol.com).

I clip into my skis and take my first tentative steps. Suddenly I take an involuntary reverse slide towards one of my fellow skiers and end up wedged into his skis prompting effusive apologies and hands and knees scrambling to untangle ourselves.

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It's an inglorious start and those ski jump hopes now seem like a farcical cheese dream at best but I do recover some dignity through two hours of wobbly dedication and am soon snow-ploughing a bit more confidently with my fellow powder hounds against the backdrop of the Kalkkögel Mountains.

Andrew Wakefield taking on a snow shoe hike in KühtaiAndrew Wakefield taking on a snow shoe hike in Kühtai
Andrew Wakefield taking on a snow shoe hike in Kühtai

It's time to see how the proper skiers do things here. Last November Axamer Lizum opened a new lift, the Hoadlbahn, whisking skiers and snowboarders on a six minute cable car ride from the bottom to the top of the resort (2,340 metres).

Upon reaching the summit, the majesty of the Stubai Alps - topped by foaming plumes of white drifting snow - has to be seen to be believed.

Known as Innsbruck’s 'White Roof', a salute to the famous Golden Roof in the heart of Innsbruck we doff our helmets to skiers as they glide undaunted down into the beauty beyond of the red route. I'm in awe. And keen to advance my skiing so that I can join the adventure on my next visit.

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Descending, the apres party seems to be in full swing. Unlike many resorts, we're just 19 kilometres from the city here so while the infectious hedonism is alluring we decided to explore the eateries nearer to our hotel (www.stage12.at) which combines a trendy urban style and one of the best cocktail bars in the city with a traditionalism and superb location just 300 metres from the old town.

Maria Theresien Straße Pedestrian Zone. Picture courtesy of Innsbruck Tourismus  Markus Mair.jMaria Theresien Straße Pedestrian Zone. Picture courtesy of Innsbruck Tourismus  Markus Mair.j
Maria Theresien Straße Pedestrian Zone. Picture courtesy of Innsbruck Tourismus Markus Mair.j

It's warmer than Britain as we stroll through crowds of students in the hip areas of Mariahilf and St. Nikolaus - with many sitting on outside tables next to the River Inn.

We're wandering here in a city which became the capital of the Tirol region in 1429 - which means there's a very traditional side here too, infused with the modernity.

I'm keen to get a taste of that with some authentic Tirolean cuisine and in the upmarket and historic Weisses Rössl (https://www.roessl.at/en/) I plump for Tiroler Gröstl - a kind of sauteed meat and potatoes which proves a sumptuous treat.

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Other recommended highlights of our dining here over the trip include the juicy steaks at Restaurant Auis (www.auis.at/) and the 12th floor rooftop splendour of Restaurant weitsicht (www.weitsicht-innsbruck.at).

Bergisel ski jump © Innsbruck Tourismus  Tom BauseBergisel ski jump © Innsbruck Tourismus  Tom Bause
Bergisel ski jump © Innsbruck Tourismus Tom Bause

A city tour of the old town provides an opportunity to take in Zaha Hadid’s architecture (Hungerburg stations and Ski Jump) and show the Congress station of the Hungerburgbahn - a hybrid funicular railway connecting the district of Hungerburg with the city centre.

After three consecutive cable car rides we’re rewarded with more Alpine viewing loveliness and a performance space igloo. Culturally enriched, we head out to tackle another first for me - a snow shoe hike in ski resort Kühtai. I'm feeling more confident strapped into giant shoes with big metal spikes to tackle the byways of forest terrain as our guide leads on into the glistening wilderness.

Stunning views over sparkling rivers and snow-laden trees abound as skiers whizz by. But as we ascend into the high trees I suddenly feel a WHUMPH as my leg descends into the snow up to knee height. Unnerved, I reach out my poles and haul myself upright.

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I'm feeling like a proper adventurer as the trek proceeds and we drink pure stream water to refresh while marvelling at the huge stone pine trees set into the wonderland of deep snowy curves. With my Indiana Jones side satiated it's time to settle for a more genteel activity in heading for Swarovski Crystal Worlds (https://kristallwelten.swarovski.com/) - an experience attraction created by André Heller for the crystal glass manufacturer.

It defies expectations as we're transported through light exhibitions, fascinating modern art and stunning gardens that wouldn't look out of place in a psychedelic Beatles video.

And it's a perfect place to impress loved ones with your fancy holiday gifts. I'll possibly need them too when I explain to the wife my now seemingly insane plan to race down a professional ski jump - but perhaps I'll just wax lyrical once more about those unending views over this incredible Alpine gem instead.

Walkers brave a snow shoe hike in KühtaiWalkers brave a snow shoe hike in Kühtai
Walkers brave a snow shoe hike in Kühtai

*Kühtai and Axamer Lizum usually open at the last weekend in November or first weekend in December. The smaller resorts like Muttereralm open around mid-December, as does Patscherkofel. Nordkette is expected to reopen around the end of November