When people ask us about our experience visiting the best ski resorts in the world, the most repeated questions are: which is your favorite ski resort? And the best slope?
And the answer is always the same, it depends on many factors, the time of year, the snow conditions, the weather, who we are skiing with, or our mood at the time of the visit.
The truth is that we could not choose the name of a single ski resort or slope. So we will start this series by dedicating the first five posts to our favourite slopes on the glaciers of Tirol where we started our 2021-2022 season.
Since the 2000-2001 season, the yearly Women’s and Men’s Alpine Ski World Opening has taken place on Sölden’s Rettenbach Glacier.
Sölden offers the marvelous BIG 3, Austria's only ski area with 3 mountains higher than 3,000 meters which are accessible by lifts. From November to May thanks to the ski area's high-Alpine location (1,350 - 3,250 m) and the modern snowmaking system (covering all slopes lower than 2,200 m) snow is guaranteed in Sölden.
With a surface covering more than 20 km² and 34.5 km of pistes, Sölden's glacier ski area ranks among the largest in Tirol and Austria. Located between 2675 and 3250 meters, the scenic mountain ski areas of Rettenbach and Tiefenbachferner are connected by a ski tunnel.
Eight modern mountain lifts take skiers up the glacier ski mountains. The base lift stations at the Rettenbach and Tiefenbach Glaciers can be also easily reached by car or bus via the highest Panoramic Road in the Eastern Alps.
If you drive towards the upper valley through Sölden, the glacier road branches off to the right at the very end of the village. On spectacular bends and steep ascents, you will quickly gain altitude on this connecting toll road (free of charge with a valid ski pass).
An average gradient of 11% awaits drivers on the 13 km long route to Rettenbach Glacier. If you also want to visit Tiefenbach Glacier you have to cross the mountain through Europe's highest road tunnel (1,8 km), passing also the highest point of the glacier road (2830 m).
To reach the start of the World Cup racecourse by lift you must take the Schwarze Schneid Bahn I + II, an 8 passenger Gondola lift (mono cable circulating ropeway) built in 2003. In less than 7 minutes you move from the Base station (2.673 m.) to the Top station located at 3250 meters a.s.l.
The start of the course (blue piste number 33 and 32) is easy and relatively flat (Gletschertisch) until you reach the start of the big impressive steep wall, the "Eisfall" (black piste number 31, with the steepest section of 65%).
A challenge suitable, and enjoyable, only for experienced and skilled skiers. Not without reason, the Giant Slalom of Sölden is one of the toughest in the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup calendar.
If you are not sure about your skills don't worry, you can stay on the blue 33 piste to go all the way down, or from just above the steep wall you can take piste number 35 and be amused by the fantastic view of the glacier.
The final part (Elefantentränke) of the track is flat again, and it is at that point where the race is often decided.
Facts Race Course:
Altitude at the start: 3,040 m
Altitude at the finish line: 2,670 m
Vertical drop: 370 m
Length of race track: 1120 m
Lowest gradient: 15.5 %
Steepest section: 65%
Average gradient: 33,1%
Ski racing speed: 65 – 80 km/h
Gates: 41 –56, depending on the race track
Sölden's racecourse features a different shape every year. The reason is easy to explain: the race track is built on glacier ice which moves permanently. Especially in its lower part, the slope has become steeper and steeper over the last years.
The preparatory works for the World Cup Opening weekend held in October start in early spring by piling up masses of snow and covering the storage areas with sun-reflecting fleece.
In mid-September, they started to remove the fleece cover and spread the snow equally over the entire slope. At the same time, the snow-making devices go into operation and the track is groomed on a regular basis.
Snow density -a function of moisture and compaction of the snow- is the primary factor in ensuring a good racing surface for all of the competitors. World Cup Races require racecourses to be prepared with the use of a Water Injection Bar or by spraying water on the track in conjunction with grooming. These techniques add water to the racecourse and, when set, provide a firmer racing surface.
TV broadcast cables are laid, safety fences and crowd barriers are installed about 10 to 14 days prior to the event.
During World Cup week, the whole race track is closed by the International Ski Association to guarantee perfect slope grooming conditions.
The goal is to achieve a well-prepared racecourse/track that is not only perfect for the races but also later for recreational skiers and ski fans from all over the World.