It’s been a busy summer in the Arlberg region of Austria, with new lifts connecting Lech, Zürs and St Anton to create a 305km ski area
The powers told me that as money was cheap, they spent €45 million in the Arlberg region this year. Mainly on the reported 13,000 helicopter flying hours it seems to me, but a fair amount on manpower and steel too. Not only did they create a network of 305km of runs served by 87 lifts, they also built four new restaurants in Lech. All this was years in the planning , but perhaps it was a good idea to get on with it given the current instability of European politics and finance.
Not that cash has ever seemed in short supply in Lech, dubbed by some: the St Moritz of Austria. Anyone who’s been to St Anton in neighbouring Tirol, will have been tempted to bus over to Lech via nearer neighbour Zürs. The skiing and less crowded pistes appeal to many, even if the packed buses and lack of queuing etiquette diminish the experience slightly.
The new Flexenbahn gondola
But no more: the key improvement this winter is the ability to ski between Lech, Zürs, Stuben, Schröcken and Warth in Vorarlberg and St. Anton and St. Christoph in Tirol, all thanks to the Flexenbahn and four other lifts, a formidable feat of engineering by Austrian company Doppelmayr.
St Anton is epic on a fresh snow day but if you’ve run the gauntlet of ‘happy valley’, the opportunity to ski different terrain all day is something to be celebrated. Except today, in mid-December, it’s not quite possible thanks to pitiful snow conditions. So it’s a bus from Lech to Zürs, up the Trittkopfbahn, then over the top into Tirol on the Flexenbahn.
I took the opportunity (I had no choice) to brush up on high-speed carving skills between Zürs and the furthest reaches of the St Anton ski area on empty snow-cannoned pistes, but it was impossible to report accurately on the relative timings of buses versus lifts. Locals say it saves about half an hour of waiting and bussing; I believe them, besides, the new lift network means there are 120 fewer bus journeys a day and you get to ski more – all of which is good.
Lech: A carver’s paradise
The St Moritz tag is a little unfair to the charms of Lech. It still has an Austrian village feel, even if that’s carefully controlled to remain so. There are also people in fitted fur-trimmed ski outfits and, horror: helmets with sunglasses; but the terrain beyond the groomers is excellent. What’s more, it can be accessed by helicopter, thanks to some nifty rules about providing rescue pilots with enough mountain-flying hours; or you can earn your turns honestly as Lech’s ski school is beset with qualified mountain-guides itching to take you into the backcountry.
Booking into Lech could actually be the smart option, especially now the likes of VIP Ski have arrived. They’ve taken over the traditional hotel Theodul in the village centre, to tempt Brits with the area’s sophisticated set up and interesting terrain, while retaining the ability to barrel over and shred St Anton when you feel the need. Cunning.
Eating in Lech
Among the new restaurants opening this season in the Lech Zürs am Arlberg ski area there are two new attractions for serious foodies: Renamed Restaurant Schlegelkopf, the former Frozen Icebar has been revamped, featuring a large interior space and decks on three levels. It pays tribute to the towns twinned with Lech Zürs am Arlberg: Kampen in Germany, Beaver Creek in the US; and Hakuba-Happo in Japan, with typical dishes from these places on the new menu.
The other, more simple fare but achingly cool in design and atmosphere is ski lodge Der Wolf. Located between the mountain terminals of the Petersboden and Weibermahd lifts, it takes 50 inside and another 50 outside, Queues at peak times will be inevitable.
Will was a guest of VIP Ski and its new ski chalet hotel Theodul
Theodul: VIP Ski’s base in Lech
A seven-night stay is priced from £929 and includes return flights from Gatwick to Friedrichshafen, coach transfers, accommodation, catered chalet board of cooked breakfast, afternoon tea, three course evening meal on seven nights followed by cheese board and coffee and mints, house wine, ski and snowboard hosting and complimentary toiletries.
For more information on VIP SKI please visit: www.vip-chalets.com or call 0208 875 1957
Lift passes: a 1-day adult lift pass for Lech-Zürs am Arlberg is priced from €49.50/£41.50; a 6-day adult lift pass is priced from €227/£190.