Mention St Anton am Arlberg in the Austrian Tirol and many skiers and snowboarders adopt a far-away look and the now familiar ‘Ahhh, St Anton’.
So, what is it about this popular high Alpine Austrian village that makes folks return time and time again, and those who haven’t visited feel they’re missing out?
I was one of the latter. I’d long heard about the area’s popularity with the royals and pop elite, and knew it to be the home of Alpine skiing.
But I hadn’t realised that it was also home to ski pioneer Hannes Schneider and that it has a super long ski season – from November to April. Yup, this place has some super-charged snow cred!
Our group travelled with Inghams, which meant the headache of flights, transfers, where to stay, lift passes and kit hire was all taken care of.
It was a swift one and a half hour transfer from Innsbruck, and everything in the village – shops, bars and restaurants – was easy to access from our central base, Hotel Post.
We didn’t have to carry our skis far either, as the Galzig lift was a five-minute walk from the hotel’s boot room.
Hotel Post is in the heart of the pedestrianised centre, but has enough in-house bars, restaurants and nightlife to ensure you didn’t actually need to leave the premises.
We did, of course, but on the nights we stayed ‘home’ it was great to sink into the spa, dress for dinner, and know we didn’t have to snow battle our way back later.
First time around
So, why hadn’t I been to St Anton before? Coming to skiing late I’d heard it was a challenging place to take to the slopes.
I’d been daunted, but shouldn’t have been, as there is a great beginners ski area right by the town, easy slopes to get those turns going on, and plenty of opportunity to try a new challenge.
The 305km resort is covered by the Arlberg lift pass, which also includes the exclusive resorts of Lech, Oberlech, St Christoph, Stuben/Rau, Zürs and Warth Schröcken.
St Anton is also now part of the largest interconnected ski area in Austria. This winter saw the opening of the 45 million Flexenbahn cable car, which links Zürs to Stuben/Rauz. So, no more need for buses!
To celebrate the link a new skiing loop, the ‘Run of Fame’ has been established, which covers 65 downhill skiing kilometres and an altitude difference of 1800 metres.
But talking of buses. There are times when one really does come in handy – especially for those that don’t want to drink and then do the last run down.
St Anton is famed for its après ski, with two of the main mountain bars – the Mooserwirt and the Krazy Kanguruh, accessible on skis, or by public transport.
Since 2009 the Krazy Kanguruh has been owned by double world champion slalom racer Mario Matt – and it’s poppin’ with young punters. We opted for the Mooserwirt, which is also party central, but for a slightly more mature crowd.
It’s hard not to get carried away in these buzzing places, but probably a good thing to be wise and opt for the good-old bus back if you’re only just finding your feet on the slopes.
My friends will tell you I’m all about the party, but in St Anton’s case my interest lay in the panoramic views (honest!). The resort boasts dramatic steep valleys, sweeping descents from the Valluga and pretty valley runs.
Advanced ski and boarder buddies also tell me it’s a top place for off-piste, and ‘champagne power’; I’m still finding it challenging enough on piste, so was happy to toast them – and take their word for it.
Whatever your skiing level St Anton gives you a natural high, where it’s easy to ski harder than you might imagine, backed by a range of good restaurants that you can flop into and feast.
Our first lunch was at the Sporthotel – ideal for steak lovers; for the next we ‘went native’ at St Christoph’s Hospiz Alm.
Picture grilled sausage with pickled sour cabbage, cheese Spätzle, hirtern-maccorini and beef goulash. Yum!
Hospiz Alm also claims to have the world’s largest collection of Bordeaux wines, but we didn’t try too many as there was still some serious skiing to be done.
We also found St Anton isn’t all about the white stuff. In St Christoph we visited the Contemporary Art and Concert Hall, which has visiting art exhibitions and a regular classical music programme.
And we had dinner at the St Anton Museum, which offers a great insight into valley life during harder times, and highlights the incredible contribution local people have made to skiing.
This doesn’t get better showcased than at the weekly Wednesday ski show, The Snow Must Go On, which can be watched at the Karl Schranz Finish Area.
In 45 minutes 150 actors/skiers showcase the development of skiing with 3D effects, impressive time-lapse performances and, like all good parties, fireworks.
Admission is free, but you can also get VIP show lounge tickets from the tourist board. I think this is well worth it, as for 30 euros you’re inside, cosy, treated to hearty food and drink, with a great view of the show.
St Anton am Arlberg is a thriving resort, rich in sports history and keeping a pace with current trends, but it has also retained its old world charm… and long may that continue.
St Anton am Arlberg is in Austria’s Tirol region – for more information go to www.visittirol.co.uk
Inghams offers seven nights at the 4* Hotel Post, St Anton on a half-board basis from £869pp, including return flights from Gatwick to Innsbruck and transfers.
Six-day Arlberg Area Lift Passes can be pre-booked from £221 per adult (born 1953 – 1996).
Intermediate level adult ski/snowboard and boot hire (for six days) can be pre-booked from £191 per person.
Tuition is available to pre-book for three or six half-days (four hours per day) from £144 per person.
See www.inghams.co.uk or call 01483 791 114.