Sölden's off-piste Austrian slopes and in-spa treats add up to all out bliss
Jutting out at a slight angle, almost entirely covered by what must be about 5ft of fresh powder, sits a small signpost. As the early afternoon light catches on the glistening snow, it all looks so beautiful up here on the glacier above Sölden. That is, until I notice what's on the sign - a figure tumbling backwards off a mountain. Picture-postcard pretty, perhaps, but Sölden in the Ötztal Valley, Austria, is not for the faint-hearted - and this is a sharp reminder of why it's important to have a guide when you're skiing off piste.
We head beyond the sign, and I'm sure my heart misses not one but several beats as we head through drifts that rise gently up to my knees, then hips, then waist. Venturing further and further away from the groomed comfort of the piste, I'm very grateful for my pair of Salomon powder skis, which mean I can glide effortlessly through this dream-like white stuff, and off the slope. And what a slope it is! In fact, it's the very same one I'd pointed at half an hour ago as we ascended, gasping in awe at its shadowy grandeur.
Sölden not only has 148km of groomed slopes, but is also Austria's only ski area with three mountains higher than 3,000m, (the Gaislachkogl, Tiefenbachkogl and Schwarze Schneide) as well as two glaciers, making fantastic snow a certainty.
And it's not just skiing that's taken seriously - it seems there's no half-measures about anything here. From the nightlife (think all-night dancing on tables in moonboots) to food (my hotel, Castello Falkner, serves up minimum five-course suppers - and the breakfasts are not that much smaller, either). And then there's the spa. With two pools linking the inside to the outside by a short tunnel, there's plenty of space to unwind from the thrills of the glacier, and the treatment rooms offer serious pampering with rigorous sports massages to smooth out knotted muscles. I have my massage with added arnica oil to ease the bruises from my off-piste adventures - what better way to get your ski legs back? Reclining post-spa, I decline the glass of Champagne offered to me - the altitude and adrenaline-fuelled living is more than enough excitement for me!
Castello Falkener costs from 158 - 200 euros per person for six nights in main season (www.castello.at). Easyjet flies from London Gatwick to Innsbruck. A lift pass in Solden costs 243 euros for seven days.
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