Austrian Winter Sports beyond Skiing

Snowboarding is highly popular in Austria - but there are wintersports off the slopes, too.

Every year, ten thousands of international and domestic tourists flush the slopes of Austria to enjoy their skiing holidays. This is the case for decades now, and like every form of mass tourism, mass skiing has its negative sides. Young trees are damages by the ski′s hard edges and sharp ends; Alpine ecosystems are sensitive to such things.

The social and economic situation of villages has changed dramatically - people who were farmers and shepherds some 70 years ago are now - well, dead; but their ancestors are ski instructors, landlords or otherwise involved in the craft of entertaining foreign visitors.

The national religion of Austria: Skiing.

One is tempted to believe that there is little else to do in Austria other than skiing. And in fact, a stunning 4.5 percent of the General Net Product (GNP) of the country is generated by the skiing industry. This has an unpleasant side-effect: With such a strong focus on a single industry, the entire tourism sector is rather vulnerable. The warm winter of 2006/2007 showed how dangerous it can be to rely on a single sport.

For this and other reasons, many hotel owners, tourism authorities and entrepreneurs try to establish alternative activities that make a stay in winterly Austria worthwhile, regardless of whether or not the weather permits skiing action. You can get drunk (very popular with Scandinavian or British visitors), go to a thermal spa or sauna or even try to be hardcore and do some sightseeing with an "I don′t care if I freeze by balls off" kind of attitude.

However, if you came with sportive intentions, here is a short list of what kinds of winter sports you could try apart from skiing itself:

Nordic or Cross-country Skiing

The snow on the proper slopes does not allow actual skiing? Well, it might still be enough for some cross-country skiing. This might be more exhausting and less exciting, but many cross-country slopes lead you to very scenic spots that you wouldn′t see otherwise. Speed-junkies should ask for special, extra-wide slopes for racing mode cross-country skiing. Alternatively, try the much faster…


Every year, innumerable people enjoy adrenalin boosts and break both speed records and their limbs - this could be you! Forest roads are often closed in the winter for cars and make excellent routes for tobogganing. If this is too dangerous for your taste, try to…

Ride a horse-carried sledge

Now this is really touristy, but usually comes with a charming, red-cheeked chap speaking something only remotely resembling English, but carrying a bottle of schnapps and telling something his grin identifies as jokes. Blankets and schnapps will keep you warm whilst winter wonderland Austria rushes by your sledge - ask in your hotel or at the tourist information centre whether there are any sledge-equipped farmers in the area that might do such a thing. It is likely that there is. If you prefer to move using your own muscles, try…

Ice Skating

With more than 300 lakes in Austria, you don′t have to go to an indoor ice rink. Skating outside on natural ice can be fantastic, at least until fresh snow covers and spoils the immaculate ice. Once snow is on the ice, skating can become a bit exhausting and less enjoyable. However, you can still brush off the snow and use the icy surface for…


Everywhere in Austria you can find old men gathering in the winter with odd devices that they throw towards an aim on the ice in a manner similar to curling. This is a traditional winter game, straight-forward to learn and usually involved the loosing team to pay for schnapps for the winning one. Therefore, tourists who are total beginners are usually quite welcome to join the locals. If all that doesn′t help to keep you busy…

Build a snowman.

Further Reading

Skiing in Austria

Physical Geography of Austria

Wikitravel on Winter Sports in Austria