Epicurean festivals add a delicious twist to a day on the slopes, learns Georgia Boscawen, as she eats, drinks and skis at Wein am Berg...
Hopping out of the gondola, I set my skis on the ground, ready for the next run here on the Rettenbach glacier, part of the Sölden resort in Austria. One of the last European resorts to remain completely open due to its dizzying 3,000-metre altitude, the snow glitters in the late April sun, and only a few people (mainly those I’m here with) are in sight. I’m taken by surprise as a glass of Champagne Billecart-Salmon is thrust into my hand before I have a chance to clip on my skis.
“This is one of the wine stations,” says our ski guide (and former Olympian) Sandy, gesturing to the small alpine cabin, which is set up with three sparkling wines to try. “We’ll enjoy a glass or two here, before heading on to the next station,” she adds, which I do while looking over to the Dolomites, whose distinctive toothy peaks can be seen in the far distance. This isn’t a fortunate coincidence, but one of the core components of Wein am Berg, the annual food and wine festival held for four days across the resort by Das Central, the oldest five-star hotel in Sölden.
Celebrating its 20th year in 2023, Wein am Berg brings together Michelin-starred chefs from around the world, predominantly Austrian wine producers and former Olympian ski guides for skiing, wine tasting, music and sensational food in the final few days of the European ski season. Setting my glass down, I return to my skis and take to the piste for a couple more runs and some off-piste action before lunch. This tends to be the order of the day here at Wein am Berg – a few runs before wine, canapés and eventually lunch, followed by either more skiing or an afternoon at the Das Central spa, in preparation for the evening’s entertainment.
For those looking for a luxury ski trip, the concept of a ski festival doesn’t seem an obvious choice. It conjures visions of thousands of people huddled on the snow before a laser-striped stage or spilling out of après bars en masse in Val d’Isere. But many ski resorts and hotels hold so-called “festivals” that cater to something more focused and a whole lot more sophisticated. There are now several epicurean festivals of a similar vein across the world, including the four-day Mountain Gourmet Ski Experience at Courmayeur Mont Blanc created by Heston Blumenthal, which brings Michelin-starred chefs to the Italian resort (22 to 24 March 2024) and the St Moritz Gourmet Festival from 29 January to 3 February 2024.
But of course, great food and wine in a winter ski resort aren’t exactly rare, so how does an event like Wein am Berg offer something unique? The answer becomes quickly apparent from the dining room of Das Central as the guests mingle while selecting wine from more than 20 producers in attendance, including a deep ruby 2012 Gesellmann Syrah or Pino 3000, which is matured in barrels that sit 3,048 metres above sea level. The room is like a drinks party filled with old friends, each with a shared passion for fine wine, food and skiing. Convivial chatter fills the room, while oysters and canapés circulate.
I make my way into the kitchen along with other festival-goers, for this evening’s kitchen party where guests take their pick of dishes straight from the pass. Four chefs oversee the food this evening, including Andy Beynon of Behind restaurant, one of East London’s most exciting eateries, which gained a Michelin star just 20 days after opening. From the selection of small plates, Beynon’s dishes include freshly caught trout dressed in white soy sauce topped with a disc of rhubarb along with an immaculately presented English muffin with pickled shrimp and crab, carefully wrapped in sea lettuce.
While tonight’s event is in the hotel, Wein am Berg has been designed to show guests the very best of Sölden, which has 144 kilometres of slopes, left almost deserted in the very last days of the season. Each evening, dinner takes place in a different location across the mountain, including the gravity-defying restaurant Ice Q (featured in the James Bond film, Spectre), which sits more than 3,000 metres above sea level.
It’s this kind of experience that places such ski festivals into a category of their own – four days packed with exciting events, from wine tasting and Michelin-starred food on the slopes to a casino evening and a huge private fireworks display that marks the closing of Sölden’s ski season. It’s all punctuated with exceptional skiing for both fair-weather and adventurous skiers, with every inch of planning arranged. The altitude of Sölden and the date of the festival mean good snow, mild conditions and very few skiers. Peak season in other ritzy European resorts, such as Courchevel and Zermatt, attracts skiers in the thousands, spilling out of restaurants and bottlenecking at the lifts. It’s a rare treat to find conditions like these without many people around.
Also on the ski calendar for 2024 is the Superyacht Design Festival, which will return to Kitzbühel, Austria, 28 to 30 January.BUY TICKETS HERE