We waited a long time for this family ski trip to Hopfgarten in Brixental, Austria.
For a couple who met in an Austrian ski resort eight years ago, who later spent three weeks snowboarding our way around the Nordic countries, and who would typically try to squeeze in at least one ski trip a year, when we had our first child, we had a bit of a shock. My partner took a year off snowboarding but I actually took the best part of four years away from ski holidays what with being pregnant and then having a young baby or toddler.
But this year, with our son being just over two-and-a-half and with another family with a young boy (our son's best friend) being keen to join us, we were ready for our first family ski holiday. It wasn't difficult to decide on Austria because it's a place we love snowboarding, but finding a resort and a hotel was a little bit trickier, but once we stumbled upon Familotel in Hopfgarten we had very high hopes.
A Family Ski Trip in Hopfgarten, Austria
The real appeal of Familotel in Hopfgarten, which is part of the Ski Welt ski are in Tirol, was that it seemed completely set up for young families. And it was.
The whole hotel (and I mean the whole hotel!) is geared up for kids of various ages with a children's reception where they can pick out puzzles and board games, to children's meals and a daily and evening kid's club - the Happy Club - that is included in the full-board price you pay. There is a swimming pool with a shallower kids' pool, and there were multiple floating toys for kids to play with.
A lounge seating area had an area equipped with toys and a train set, and when we asked for cots and potties for our room, they were waiting for us when we arrived. There were always a childrens' menu and a whole row of formula milk and baby foods for people to help themselves at anytime. We had breakfast and dinner included in our rate, as well as an afternoon tea and cake around 3-4pm, and soft drinks. The only additional cost was any drinks from the bar.
Needless to say Familotel - which is a chain with other hotels across Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, I believe - is not 5-star luxury, nor is it a design or boutique hotel. It's family-friendly in every sense of the word with its bright and cheerful interior and a clown mascot that came to visit kids almost every day.
But believe me when I say that if you have small children, you will forego a lot of style in order to get some benefits like being able to let your two-year-olds wander around the hotel unaccompanied. It was honestly that safe, that relaxed and that family-friendly. The staff seemed to love kids and no amount of mess at breakfast or dinner diluted this.
Our two boys went to Happy Club most days leaving us adults free to go up on the mountain for skiing and snowboarding. Some days we came off the mountain early and picked them up to go for a swim all together before dinner, and other times we left them there while we enjoyed a bit of apres-ski, but to be honest, I was often so tired, it was nice to come back and have a bath or a steam room and feel refreshed before picking them up.
We arranged to leave our snowboards and skis in a depot in the Intersport shop by the main gondola lift, which was about 200 metres away from Familotel, so we had no distance to walk to and from the ski lift each morning. I always like that!
Just across the road from Familotel was a large ski school area where most of the older children staying in the hotel had their beginner lessons. The area included a place to sledge and bum-board so we took our boys over there a few times for sledging fun and just so they could play on the snow. I have to say they weren't as smitten with snow as I had hoped - I think all the toys in the hotel were calling them back - but they had fun and we adults did too! Next year we hope they'll be able to start skiing lessons so they will perhaps have a bit more fun then!
We also took the boys up to the top of the two gondola lifts to Hohe Salve, which is the highest point in the whole ski area. The gondola was obviously the main event in this little outing for them, but there was actually a funny goblin-shaped climbing apparatus with a slide at the top so they also enjoyed that and we got some lovely family photos with great views in the background.
One thing I feel I should mention about Familotel is that it's mostly German-speaking. They had some staff that spoke decent English and some of the hotel signs and communications were in English, but certainly not all. The Happy Club had English-speaking staff (and Dutch-speaking which was a bonus for us!) but the manager only spoke German so listening to her giving a semi-important intake speech explaining rules was a good test of my language skills! We were also the only English-speaking guests during our stay, which we didn't mind but if you're used to meeting other people from your home country you may want to consider this.
Exploring the Ski Welt Ski Area
While my partner and I know Mayrhofen very well, this was our first time snowboarding in neighbouring Ski Welt. The area is quite vast and connects Hopfgarten with similar sized resorts, Westendorf and Söll. These are not large towns or ski areas, but teh combined ski area is certainly big enough for a week's skiing and there is also a route you can follow to take you full circle around the whole Ski Welt area, though we didn't actually do this ourselves.
We were in Hopfgarten for a week in mid-March and we found the slopes to quiet in the morning but increasingly busy as the day went on. That's not to say they were full, and waits for ski lifts were never more than a few minutes. I would go so far as to say there was the perfect amount of people on the pistes, with the ski alm bars and restaurants on the slope having plenty of atmosphere.
The weather was also very decent. We arrived not long after the so-called Beast from the East - a cold front from Siberia - had swept through most of Europe dragging many Alpine towns' temperatures down to -20 celsius up on the slopes, so skiing and snowboarding in temperatures just above freezing felt very decent and manageable. We even had a few sunny days and one spectacular day where a few of our group camped out on the terrace of a restaurant at the bottom of a slope and didn't move for a number of hours.
The skiing conditions were also pretty good, and I say that as a fair weather snowboarder. With the sunshine and warm temperatures - and no new snowfall - it definitely got quite slushy by mid-afternoon and the last runs of the day were definitely the hardest, but you can't really complain when you get to ski or snowboard in sunshine. We also found the prices for food and drink to be very reasonable both on and off the mountain, so that's another plus for a smaller resort!
Top Tips for a Ski Holiday in Hopfgarten
Hopfgarten is a small resort with a limited number of bars and restaurants. If you want a ski resort that has as much entertainment at night as it does on the slopes, Hopfgarten may not be for you. However, if you like to feel part of a smaller community, and want to try some very traditional Tirolean and local food and delicacies, Hopfgarten is a good place to consider.
For such a small resort there is an impressive range of accommodation options in Hopfgarten. Needless to say if you have a young family, I highly recommend Familotel. But if you're travelling without children then there are other nice pensions, hotels and apartments to consider. A friend of ours stayed in Gasthof Traube and she spoke very highly of the value for money she got. We also ate at the restaurant there a few times and it was really good local, home-cooked food. For a more luxurious stay, Sportresort Hohe Salve was on the other side of the kids ski area and we often looked longingly over at the outdoor heated pool we saw people swimming in. This building looked very modern and flashy, something a bit different from the cosy Austrian Alpine chalet style that is everywhere (though I secretly love this too!).
If you choose to stay in a different hotel but you still have young children, it's worth knowing that there is a daycare in the same building as the gondola lift so you could organise childcare there for some skiing time. We didn't use it ourselves so can't vouch for it but it looked very professional and new.
It's worth noting that as with other ski resorts in Tirol (and across the Alps) will stop using snow canons and artificial after a certain date in March as they have an agreement with the farmers to let the mountains be able to return to pastures for their cattle. We were in Hopfgarten from 10th - 17th March (in 2018) and it was already past this date.
Getting to Hopfgarten from Amsterdam was relatively easy. We flew to Munich with Lufthansa and then took a private minivan transfer, organised by the hotel. There is actually a train station in Hopfgarten, not 100 metres from Familotel and about 250 metres from the ski lift, so trains are also something that may be worth investigating if you like to travel that way.
If you're looking for more skiing and snowboarding related posts, you can find my tips for your first ski or snowboarding trip, some advice for planning a ski trip with a toddler, a packing list for your first ski trip, and another packing list for going with a toddler. You can also read my reviews of snowboarding in Mayrhofen during Altitude Comedy Festival, and our week snowboarding in the Dolomites.
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Frances M. Thompson
Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
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