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The best alternative alpine pursuits

From high-octane experiences such as husky sledding, ice caving and paragliding to exploring the shops of Innsbruck or indulging in some mountain-side yoga, the Austrian Alps offer many exciting activities in winter

Theresa Harold

Feature

by Theresa Harold

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If you’re leafing through this magazine, you’re almost certainly doing so while surrounded by snow-capped mountains, well aware of the wide range of winter sports that await you in the glorious Austrian Alps. That may even be the reason for your visit. But if you’ve had your fill of skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing – or you were never that taken with them in the first place – there are plenty of alternative activities.

Shop the city
The key to a successful non-skiing holiday is location. Happily the Austrian Alps resorts offer plenty of outdoor activities, yet are close enough to the bustle of the city for those bad-weather days that call for shopping and culture. The Tyrol region, with its breathtaking mountain scenery and vibrant main city of Innsbruck, makes a perfect destination. Retail therapy opportunities abound in Innsbruck, with international brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss and Swarovski vying for your attention; while Einwaller has all the warm clothing, appropriate footwear and sunglasses you could need for winter activities.

Husky fun
For the animal-lovers among you, husky sledding is a novel way to explore the region. The Husky Ranch in Angerberg has 27 dogs – all of whom live as a pack without any kennels. Founded in 1997, this family-run business now hosts a wide of experience packages. From twilight forest tours to three-day expeditions, this is an ideal way to learn more about a fascinating breed while getting back to nature. The well-trained dogs are excellent with children, and there is the option of a specially tailored family package, during which guests will be able to feed and bond with the pack, as well as taking the older dogs for a walk.

The great glacier
No holiday to the Tyrol would be complete without a trip to Stubaier Gletscher. Located at an altitude of between 1,750 and 3,210 metres, Austria’s largest glacier ski resort has snow from October to June. In addition to the usual winter sports, intrepid explorers can challenge themselves to a spot of ice caving or climbing. There is also a groomed winter hiking trail which gives everyone a chance to really take in the fabulous scenery.

Those keen to learn a bit more about the Stubai glacier area can catch the cable car to the Eisgrat mountain station. Here, visitors can access the ‘heart’ of the glacier in the ice grotto. Easily reached via a wide, signposted route, this unique experience is suitable for the whole family. The excursion should last around an hour, with plenty of interactive elements that bring this ancient natural phenomenon to life. For example, there are three viewers through which one can see micrographs of exotic species, such as beetle mites, within the glacier. There are even grains of Saharan sand which have been blown there by the wind, before being frozen in the ice.

Alpine yoga
Anyone who has come to the Austrian Alps for some much-needed rest and relaxation might find a morning of yoga more agreeable. Stubai Yoga Studio in the village of Neustift im Stubaital offers several programs including Yoga and Snowshoeing and Yoga and Hiking. Owner and founder Sherry Kranabitter is a Canadian expat who teaches classes in both German and English. Her warm and approachable manner makes the sessions enjoyable for novices and experienced yogis alike. Top tip: book a private lesson to make the most of her expertise. She will be able to correct your alignment and point out any problem areas.

The Stubai valley offers plenty of more energetic activities. As well as its 130km of cross-country ski tracks, it also has many cleared winter hiking trails which, depending on the snow conditions, offer plenty of places for a romantic stroll. Guests at the Jagdhof spa-hotel, again in Neustift im Stubitai, can also try their hand at ice-skating, curling and guided snowshoe tours for an unforgettable experience.

If you still have time after all that and the weather permits, why not try your hand at paragliding? The spectacular scenery will certainly encourage you to try new things.

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