The Tyrolean mountains are a skier’s paradise
Nowadays there are much easier ways to travel around its slopes, thanks to the modern network of ski lifts. And the Hospiz Alm in the hamlet of St Christoph is a bit less monastic these days – a fantastic log cabin restaurant attached to a luxury hotel, it’s worth a visit whatever the weather just to try the polished wooden slide down to the loos! In fact, as the snow bucketed down on our third day, we never made it out of our base in the nearby resort of St Anton, settling for a bit of light shopping, followed by a pot of tea and a delicious, warm apfelstrudel in Café Schneider. Anyway, we’d already found our ski legs – our early TUI flight on the Saturday and quick transfer from Innsbruck Airport meant we were unpacked, skis hired, lift pass bought and out on the slopes for an unexpected full afternoon.
Sunday was spent exploring the long, wide red runs of the Rendl mountain, then heading to the top of Kapall on the opposite side of the valley. From there you can ski black slopes all the way down to the Nasserein lift at the far end of St Anton village, following in the tracks of the Women’sWorld Cup downhill racers.
St Anton is the cradle of Alpine skiing.
Its Ski Club Arlberg, now with more than 8,000 members worldwide, was founded in 1901 and the Arlberg Kandahar Race, started by local ski instructor Hannes Schneider and British Alpine enthusiast Sir Arnold Lunn in 1929, marked the birth of international downhill and slalom ski racing.
Check out the weekly ski show at the Karl Schranz stadium for a history lesson with lasers and stunt skiing displays.
The village’s long main street, partially pedestrianised, is lined with smart hotels and shops, with dozens of bars and restaurants from traditional Austrian to Chinese and Mexican, but the place still retains its Alpine charm. Despite all the development, it’s fairly compact and our hotel, the modern and immaculately appointed Banyan, was only 10 minutes walk from the ski lifts.
The hotel has a deal with the sports shop next to the ski lifts, where we hired skis and boots (newish and excellently prepared), for free equipment storage so at the end of your day you can leave boots and skis there and walk home in your comfy shoes.
The Banyan Hotel is a short walk from the ski lifts
St Anton hasn’t rested on its laurels since its pioneering days, with regular improvements. The new Flexenbahn lift takes you to the neighbouring resort of Zurs and from there a free bus on to Lech opens up a whole new world of slopes.
You don’t have to take your skis off to reach Lech though. Arlberg has created the Run of Fame, a ski route taking you from St Anton, through Zurs, Zug, Lech, Oberlech right out to Schrocken and Warth. It’s 85km long but is doable in a day if you don’t sleep in, take too long for lunch or have too many hot chocolate/gluhwein stops. It’s not for beginners as part of it will take you down itinerary routes. These are marked by red diamond signs along the way and are usually unpisted. The Arlberg area has 220km of them, not far short of the 300km of pisted skiing.
We set out on a spring-like morning to warm sunshine and perfectly prepared slopes after fresh snow earlier in the week.
You can track your progress on the Ski Arlberg app, which clocks you in at the top of Rendl and off at the finish line inWarth.After Rendl you head up the Galzig lift then up the Schindlergrat lift below the Valluga peak.
The red no. 85 run has one of the most beautiful views. Then it’s on to the Flexen lift, followed by a lift to the top of Trittkopf, overlooking Zurs.
At the peak is a fabulous new restaurant built in a converted cable car.The barbecue ribs were of Flintstones proportions, so I played safe with a delicious burger.
Just as well, as the short itinerary route down from the summit was the steepest part of the run. Next up was the Seekopf lift in Zurs. We’d stopped at the big restaurant there a couple of days before with the sun blazing in a cloudless blue sky and the outside tables packed. But Austrian efficiency meant that after 10 minutes we had our gulaschsuppe (goulash soup) and beer. No time for that on the run though – it was off to next lift to the Madloch peak.
From there it’s a long itinerary route, easily manageable for confident red run skiers, to the hamlet of Zug, where a lift takes you high enough for the ski down into Lech. Lech is a feast of wide reds and blues with a chic village at the base. From there, it’s on to Schrocken then Warth.
By the time we’d made it to the end of the run, there was no chance of making the last lifts back over to St Anton, so we got the bus in Lech (€5) – far easier on the legs.
The Run of Fame is a great way to see just how enormous this linked ski area now is – the biggest in Austria. There is so much skiing, on and off piste, you won’t get near covering it all in a week, and it’s so varied, challenging and magnificently picturesque you’ll want to come back.
It’s not just the snow that attracts people to St Anton though – even by Austrian standards the après ski is legendary. Party lovers will veer off the last leg of the blue run to the village towards either the slopeside Krazy Kanguruh or MooserWirt.
There are lively bars and nightclubs in the village too, but the authorities have managed to keep a lid on late-night rowdiness with the “shush police”, who politely advise noisy revellers to “Shh”.
One of the hotel’s bedrooms
The one ski area that can’t be accessed via the lift system is Sonnenkopf, and we signed up for Crystal’s short coach trip (€25) for a day on its crowd-free slopes. Once up the main gondola, you can warm up on a few gentle blues. There, you will also find the Muttjochle restaurant – you may have to wait for a table on the sun terrace but once you sit and take in the panorama you won’t want to move.
On the other side of the resort there are three lifts serving some glorious red runs and one steepish black.
After a week in the Arlberg, we felt we’d barely scratched the surface of its many delights. You can see why ski enthusiasts make the pilgrimage back there year after year.
Crystal Ski Holidays (crystalski.co.uk) offer seven nights’ B&B at the four-star Banyan Hotel from £882pp (two sharing) including Gatwick flights departing January 4 to Memmingen and transfers. Flights also available from other UK airports. Ski hire for six days from £119, ski boot hire from £60 and a six-day area lift pass costs £270. Tourist info: visittirol.co.uk, stantonamarlberg.com