A great deal has happened to the high pastures and glaciers of the local Ötz Valley in the 5,000 years or so since Ötzi the Iceman was cut down by a hunter’s arrow and imprisoned in the not so perma-frost just a few yards across the Italian border. Until Ötzi’s sensational discovery in 1991, the most intriguing bit of history around was the rather unlikely claim that Hannibal, no less, and his 60,000 men, thousands of horses and 37 elephants had passed this way en route to do battle with the Romans.
Now every other year or so, hundreds of actors, helped by the odd elephant (or snowcats “disguised” as elephants)”recreate” in an open-air extravaganza Hannibal’s possible route over the Rettenbach glacier, although the Carthaginian General’s genuine route was more likely to have been hundreds of miles away, via Montgenèvre, close to where the 2006 Winter Olympics took place.
The Ice Man’s discovery was a crowd-puller, but sadly Ötzi was eventually claimed by the Italians, although his influence remains in such establishments as the Ötzi Keller, one of scores of bars and restaurants in this boisterous party town of Sölden. The resort has strength-sapping glacier skiing, an exceptional vertical drop, (1,870 metres – well over 6,000ft), and wonderful views across the Ötztal Alps.
Each of the “Big 3” (as the three peaks were dubbed when the glaciers suddenly became accessible), provides a platform with a “dramatic 360° panoramic view” so you can contemplate the exquisite scenery before plunging back towards the village. The lift gives skiers and boarders the chance to try the “The Big 3 Rally”, a thigh-burning 50km route of more than 10,000 vertical metres designed for four hours of hard skiing.
For those not quite so pre-occupied with the vast expanse of runs, the après-ski starts as early as 3pm, and gets “pretty damn wild” as one tourist put it.
As the tourist office once put it, the resort “fizzes like a firecracker that puts other resorts in the shade”.
For those looking for a slightly less hectic (but just as challenging) experience, Obergurgl, Sölden’s neighbour just up the road, offers 110km of beautifully prepared pistes and has 21 peaks topping 3,000m to ogle! (Maybe the resort – a favourite among the British with many guests returning year after year – could be renamed Ober-ogle?)
Right at the end of the valley, Obergurgl is quieter, but still has tip-top après ski. The Neder Hut, for example, is THE venue for dancing on the table (ski boots optional). Night skiing is a hit every Tuesday, coupled with an impressive fireworks display, and exciting formation skiing and demonstrations by the instructors of the Obergurgl Ski School – Skischule Obergurgl
Obergurgl is, of course, also home to the resort’s only boutique ski chalet for miles around – The Chalet, at 11º East. How Ötzi would have loved to sleep here rather than in the perma-frost of the high peaks where he slumbered for 5,000 years! Hannibal too would have doubtless enjoyed The Chalet’s creature comforts, although quite where he might have tied up his elephants is hard to tell.
The next Hannibal extravaganza is scheduled for April 21, 2017, when an armada of snowcats, skidoos, aircraft, helicopters and 500 participating athletes will provide a night to remember. Much of it, inevitably, will be sheer fantasy – but huge fun!