Smugglers on Skis

Ischgl's Illicit Past

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Ischgl is known for its raucous après-ski nightlife, but few tourists know about its off-piste smuggling history.

  • Facts


    • Starting this season, tourists can explore the Austrian ski town of Ischgl’s contraband history on three new routes.
    • The trails feature pictures of 83-year-old former smuggler Emil Zangerl.
    • He and others transported coveted items such as coffee, cigarettes and sweeteners over the  mountain pass to Switzerland in the aftermath of World War II.
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Austria, Tyrol, Ischgl, Mid adult man skiing
Things have changed in Ischgl since its smuggling days. Source: Picture Alliance / Westend61

All is quiet in the Tyrolean village of Ischgl when Emil Zangerl starts his shift at the Silvretta cableway parking lot before dawn. The bars and boutiques along the narrow streets are dark and deserted. The hard-drinking après-ski partiers and go-go dancers in short dirndls have called it a night at Schatzi’s bar, leaving just a single cocktail to freeze on the curb.

Mr. Zangerl slowly gets out of his car, pulling on a pair of thick gloves and grabbing his signaling disk. The 83-year-old has been on time for his shift for the last 17 years. Except on Mondays.

He’ll be directing thousands of tourists to parking spots once again this ski season, which began earlier this month.

“Always in five or six rows or chaos breaks out,” he says.

The thousands of tourists he meets on his job at the Austrian ski resort likely have no idea that they’re encountering a walking museum, though.

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