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Family-friendly through and through

Family-friendly through and through

Family-friendly through and through

Hochlitten above Riefensberg is an ideal place for families to learn to ski. It’s also great for those who appreciate well-groomed slopes. In fact, a two-time US Olympic champion once trained here!

“We get so many return visitors and there’s a reason for that,” says Robert Fink, who runs the Hochlitten family ski resort along with his wife Karoline. Karoline’s parents, Roswitha and Josef Bilgeri, established the first lift here in 1962. In the years that followed, the ski area constantly expanded. Soon, three new lifts and a self-service restaurant were built. The addition of a snowmaking system in 1991 was a true milestone. Especially beginner skiers have always felt particularly at home on the Hochlitten:  “Because the slopes are so easy to manage, it’s a great place to learn. Children can quickly ski on their own,” says Karoline. The wide-open slopes ensure safe skiing conditions, a fact that is also appreciated by ski clubs that host children’s ski courses during the holiday periods. From the terrace of the restaurant, parents can also keep a keen eye on their little ones.

Even when the parking lot is full, there is still ample space on the slopes. Uncrowded and uncomplicated are important factors to the Finks because the term “family-friendly” encapsulates Hochlitten’s entire competitive strategy. This applies to guests (often young mums with their sons or grandpas with granddaughters) as well as the attitude and spirit of the operators themselves: Founders Roswitha and Josef are still hard at work here, as are Robert and Karoline’s sons Julian (21) and Philipp (23). Long-standing members of staff at the lifts and in the catering trade also contribute to the pervasive feeling of familiarity and welcome that families count on. Robert is a trained machine mechanic and works at the Doppelmayr cable car company in the summer. “Back when Robert and I first got to know each other, my mother was immediately impressed by how much he knew about all the lifts,” Karoline remembers with a hearty laugh. She is  responsible for the organisation, the office and the catering. Robert is a true jack-of-all-trades. He grooms the slopes and carries out repairs himself after the season. There is always something to do: repairing snow groomers, lifts and snow cannons. At the end of the day, the personal touch matters more than anything else when it comes to repeat business. Robert is happy to help when he can, for instance the time someone forgot their ski boots at home and needed to borrow a pair. “Guests don’t forget such things,” says Robert of the gesture.

The many children’s and youth races, which are mainly organized by local and German clubs, are another big part of the resort’s business. 30 to 35 races take place  per season. Clubs view the Finks as reliable organisation partners on site. The FIS World Ski Federation has even confirmed the high quality of the slopes: The course at the Grenzlift has received the FIS certificate and is therefore suitable for international slalom races. This led to a surprising turn of events: Shortly before the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, American Mikaela Shiffrin and her former coach Roland Pfeifer came to Riefensberg for training. It turned out that the route profile and temperature here were a close match to those in Russia. “This was a special day for everyone here. She was so down to earth and happy to sign autographs. We were even allowed to take photos with her,” says Karoline. The training at Hochlitten paid off for Shiffrin, who went on to claim gold in Sochi. In 2018, she was unbeatable in Pyeongchang in the Olympic giant slalom. So far, Shiffrin, who hails from Vail in Colorado, has won seven World Championship medals. Who knows, maybe a trip back to Riefensberg is just what she needs to return to top form before the next big championships?

Author: Thorsten Bayer
Issue: Winter 2019-20 Travel Magazine