The Austrian ski resort filming locations that star in Will Ferrell's new film, Downhill

Lucy Aspden
will ferrell ischgl - jaap buitendikj/searchlight pictures

Alcatraz (Escape from Alcatraz), King’s Cross Station (Harry Potter), Notting Hill Bookshop (Notting Hill) or the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Rocky) – these are among some of the most iconic filming locations on the planet.

This month the Austrian resort of Ischgl is set for its big-screen debut as it stars in Will Ferrell’s new black comedy, Downhill, which hits British cinemas on February 28.

The film follows the story of a married couple, played by Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, on a ski holiday in the Alps. The couple is left questioning their life together after Ferrell’s character, Pete, abandons his family in the path of an incoming avalanche. The entire family survive the avalanche, which was controlled and planned by the resort, but Pete’s reaction worries his wife and kids.

The film is a remake of the critically acclaimed Swedish film Force Majeure, directed by Ruben Östlund, which won the Un Certain Regard jury prize at Cannes on its release in 2014.

Despite its A-list cast Ferrell’s latest blockbuster has led critics to question why a remake of a film with such prestige was necessary in the first place. But despite lacklustre reviews there’s no doubt that seeing the mountains on screen will leave many yearning for their own snowy escape.

ischgl

Following several visits from location scouts from both Searchlight Pictures and Walt Disney Studios the Tirolean town of Ischgl beat competition from another Austrian and a Swiss resort to secure its spot on the big screen. 

Last winter saw 160 actors, crew and production staff descend on Ischgl – resulting in 6,000 extra overnight stays in local hotels and chalets – and this season visiting skiers and snowboarders can retrace the tracks of the crew at some of the top filming locations.

The gondola

Silvrettabahn gondola

The logistics of filming in a ski resort are by no means straight forward; to assist the crew and so not disturb the general public on the pistes, one cabin (number 64s) of the resort’s Silvrettabahn gondola was reserved for the film crew only. A plaque has been installed to mark the occasion.

The chairlift

The film includes a number of scenes shot on a chairlift, including the moment Julia Louis-Dreyfus' character, Billie, tells a friend about her husband’s reaction to the avalanche. The resort’s Nachtweidebahn chairlift was used in all these scenes, from which viewers can see the resort's Idalp mountain.

The lift station

The top station of a ski lift is a honeypot for people planning, gathering and generally faffing around before they spend the day sliding. It’s no different in Hollywood – the Fimbabahn cable car top station takes a starring role in the background when Ferrell's fictional Stanton family prepare for a day on the mountain, clipping into their skis and studying the piste map. In real life the gondola plays a key role in transporting visitors from the resort up to the Idalp area at 2,320m.

ischgl unnel

‘The Beast’

Despite the name given to it by Ferrell’s character in the film, the scenes on the formidable ‘Beast’ piste were in fact filmed on a gentle blue run, 2B – accessed by the Nachtweidebahn chairlift in the Silvretta Arena sector of the piste map.

alpenhaus

The ski hire shop

Sport Zangerl, in the centre of Ischgl, was charged with kitting out the fictional family in the film. While the staff weren’t used for official roles, throughout filming local people were drafted in as extras, including cable car staff and fellow chairlift users.

The village tunnel

Ischgl’s 130metre underground tunnel is decorated with the names and photographs of all the stars who have performed at the resort’s opening and closing Top of the Mountain concerts over the years. It runs from the pedestrianised centre of the resort to the Fimbabahn gondola and makes an appearance in the film

The ski patrol office

schilthorn

Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus come face to face with the resort’s head of ski patrol, played by Kristofer Hivju of Game of Thrones fame, to ask about the safety of purposefully triggering avalanches, at the Ischgl’s medical office and heliport. Eagle-eyed viewers will see two of the resort's eight-seater chair lifts running in the background, Flimjochbahn (B2) and Idjochbahn (B3).

The restaurant

The Alpenhaus restaurant at the top of the Silvrettabahn gondola is where the crucial avalanche scene was filmed. In real life the restaurant's head chef Christian Törf is one of the resort’s most acclaimed, with one Gault-Millau toque and a roster of celebrities dining in his restaurant – safe from avalanches and film crews.

Other film locations in the mountains

Ischgl is not the first ski resort to have its Hollywood moment. With it being impossible to recreate the natural beauty of the mountains in a film studio or with CGI many resorts around the world have had their own time to shine.

Sölden, Austria

The last Bond instalment, SPECTRE (2015), includes scenes shot in the Austrian resort of Sölden. Most recognisable is the state-of-the-art Ice Q restaurant, which sits at 3,084m and was used as the setting for the glass-walled Hoffler Klinik. The resort is so proud of its Hollywood connections that it has now built a museum dedicated to Bond, 007 Elements, below the restaurant, showcasing memorabilia and props used during filming.

Lech, Austria

The scenes when Bridget Jones hits the slopes in the second instalment of the hit movie franchise, The Edge of Reason, were shot in the exclusive Austrian resort of Lech. The resort’s main street, picture-perfect hotels and chalets and the popular Strolz equipment hire shop all made the cut and cemented the Austrian village’s reputation as one of the most A-list resorts in the Alps.

Fortress Mountain, Alberta, Canada

Christopher Nolan’s 2010 mind-bending hit Inception, which starred Leonardo Dicaprio, featured a number of extreme locations, including a number of scenes in the snow, which were shot at the Canadian resort of Fortress Mountain. The resort, which is two hours’ drive from Calgary, was closed down in 2004 but in recent years, following a private investment of $5million, has gained a new lease of life. Fortress Mountain, which sees huge annual snowfalls of up to 9metres and has the highest base altitude of any resort in Canada, has also starred in The Revenant and the Bourne Legacy.

Mürren, Switzerland

In 1969 George Lazenby’s Bond headed to the Swiss Alps. The iconic Schilthorn mountain, in Mürren, was used to film scenes, include one where Lazenby is chased on just one ski, for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

The 2016 biopic about British ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards starred an A-list cast, including Hugh Jackman and Taron Egerton. The scenes in Germany, where Edwards attempts (and fails) his first few jumps and is taken care of by an onlooking waitress were shot at the Grosse Olympiaschanze in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. In real life Edwards learnt to ski jump in Lake Placid, America, but competed on the ski jump at the stadium in Garmisch in 1989, a year after his famous appearance at the Winter Olympic Games in Calgary.

St Anton, Austria

The 2011 witty rom-com Chalet Girl is arguably one of the most iconic ski films of recent times. Starring Felicity Jones as an unlikely chalet girl the film was set in St Anton, one of the most popular European resorts for British skiers and snowboarders. The resort's traditional chalets and dramatic mountains made for a picture-perfect film set and aspiring seasonaires are left filled with hope for a winter spent cruising the slopes and doing the occasional bit of work – however unrealistic that may be.