News from the snow
St Anton am Arlberg Austria
St Anton is unique amongst ski resorts in holding three legendary reputations simultaneously. First there is its world class skiing, second there is the resort's reputation for the most hedonistic nightlife in any ski resort in the world, and third there is St Anton's status as a key pioneering resort in Alpine skiing. Marketed as "the cradle of Alpine skiing", one of the first ski clubs in the Alps was established here in 1901. Appropriately St Anton hosted the World Alpine Skiing Championships a century later in 2001. This is a resort of contrasts, the timeless, peaceful village centre contrasts with the buzzing nightlife (although at the same time, the two seem to complement one another); the prepared trails which cover in excess of 280km (177 miles) of marked runs in the Arlberg and then the incredible 180 km (115 miles) more of 'unpisted routes' for experienced skiers to explore. All this together, but particularly the on-slope opportunities, makes St Anton a magnet for serious winter sports enthusiasts of all ages the world over, in the same unique way as Chamonix in France, Crested Butte in Colorado or Jackson Hole in Wyoming. When the snow is good, nothing much else matters. St Anton, as far as its marketing is concerned, encompasses the high altitude hamlet of St Christoph (1800 m / 5900 feet) and half a dozen small villages nearby. St Christoph, right next to the historic Arlberg Pass, is particularly noteworthy as there was a monastic settlement here for 500 years. Travellers could shelter here when caught out by the weather front changes at this point: Arlberg is geographically significant as the dividing point between the watersheds of great rivers like the Danube and the Inn to the east, and the Rhine to the west. Today the Hospiz Hotel on the site is one of St Anton's two five star hotels and claims to have Austria's best wine cellar: it was also the spot where on January 3rd 1901 the Arlberg Ski club was founded.
St Anton is unique amongst ski resorts in holding three legendary reputations simultaneously. First there is its world class skiing, second there is the resort's reputation for the most hedonistic nightlife in any ski resort in the world, and third there is St Anton's status as a key pioneering resort in Alpine skiing. Marketed as "the cradle of Alpine skiing", one of the first ski clubs in the Alps, the Arlberg Ski Club, was established here in 1901. Suitably St Anton hosted the World Alpine Skiing Championships a century later in 2001. Especially popular with expert and advanced skiers (It quotes 180km of additional 'off piste' terrain).
The soaring mountain panorama above St Anton is dominated by the Valluga, the highest point at 2811m (9222 feet) and accessed by the Galzig and Valluga cable cars from the edge of the village. The biggest vertical served by a single cable car system is 1500 metres (almost 5000 feet). The Arlberg Ski Pass today gives the holder the use of over 80 ski lifts in the Region which together access the runs of St Anton and its neighbours of St Christoph, Stuben, Klösterle and the exclusive resorts of Lech and Zürs (not quite lift-linked to St Anton, a bus trip is required). The area is indeed vast and truly the 'skiers paradise' that many resorts claim but few actually deliver!
There is skiing to suit absolutely everybody, and beginners, who have nursery slopes right next to the village and some gentler blues on the Gampen above (reached by a chair lift, so no falling off T bars), should not be put off. On the other hand most ski centres have something to offer beginners, but few can offer advanced and expert skiers the limitless opportunities of the Arlberg. Intermediates are totally spoilt for choice. The sunny Rendl ski area reached by a gondola from the outskirts of the village accesses this area of almost exclusively red grade trails ("medium difficult trails which do not exceed a lateral or vertical steepness of 40%").
For those for whom 40% is not enough take a look at the trail map and look at all the white space between the marked runs, these are the unmarked trails you may access with a guide. There is even a hair raising descent (not on the map and not to be undertaken without a guide) from the Valluga peak itself. Below that fast reds and tricky blacks fan out in all directions. For experts on piste highlights include the Mattun and Schindlergrat (both famed for their bumps/moguls) and Stuben trails; off-piste the highlights are unlimited. If you want to know just how fast you are going, check out the speed skiing timer on the Rendl.
The season is divided up in to various themed months and weeks. The annual Kandahar World Cup race, which was probably the earliest ski race to be established, in 1928, at the instigation of Hannes Schneider and British ski tourism pioneer Sir Arnold Lunn, takes place in Jan/Feb. January also sees powder snow weeks, February Arlberg Ski Club Weeks and March and April have "sun and snow" weeks. A regular free ski bus runs between St Anton and St Jakob. Buses to other villages on the Arlberg pass do operate but have to be paid for in addition to your lift ticket. Over 50 snow making machines cover about 30 km (18 miles) of the key trails.
The Ski school proper takes children from age five years at its base up on the Gampen. However children from birth are supposed to pay 10 Euros (up to age eight) for the 'Snowman Ticket' which is valid all season (not that you're likely to be there all season...) It's a low price, but charging at all seems strange and rather mean for this age group, undermining 'positive vibes' being put out by the other initiatives mentioned above.
St Anton's pedestrianised centre is a basically safe environment. If you stay centrally you may find it noisy in to the small hours; further out and you have to get the ski bus or walk.
Anyone wishing to try Tyrolean specialities will be spoilt for choice, the Jagdstube has cosy Tyrolean rooms in which to get the full experience, whilst the Kaminstube at Moos serves Arlberg Rösti and Kaiserschmarren (raisin pancakes). Fondue lovers will be in ecstasy at the area's oldest fondue restaurant, the Montjola and, for a child friendly atmosphere, with Tyrolean dumplings and sometimes local game on the menu, try the Fuhrmannstube. Gourmet food, including flambées, is offered by the Grischuna.
Of course it is possible to have a quieter evening in a sophisticated cocktail bar such as Platz'l Après or the St Antoner Hof's bar.