This region in western Austria is called the cradle of alpine skiing: a local priest brought the craze to the country in 1895 and within a decade the first ski club had been formed and the first Alpine ski race hosted. The world’s first ski school followed in 1921 – in the hands of pioneering local, Hannes Schneider, who developed the Alpine skiing technique as we know it. It’s now Austria’s largest linked ski area and has an awful lot to offer one and all.
A far cry from the purpose-built resorts that shot up in the seventies, Tyrolean twee is the theme of Arlberg’s towns and villages with gable-roofed buildings and onion-domed churches.
The biggest two bases are St Anton and Lech-Zurs. St Anton’s après ski reputation may precede it (the two bars on the home piste are world-renowned for their boisterousness), but the town is big enough to cater for those of us seeking a more sophisticated experience too – with fine restaurants, snug tea rooms, lounge bars and a lovely museum.
Lech (grouped with the hamlets of Oberlech, Zurs and Zug) gained international renown when Princess Diana skied here in the nineties and is by far one of Austria’s poshest places to schuss. It specialises in fine wining and dining and has some very high-end hotels and luxurious chalets.
As for the smaller Arlberg resorts, the tiny villages of Warth, Schrocken and Stuben are quaint and quiet and St Christoph is a huddle of hotels and chalets with almost instant access to the slopes.
The resorts belong to one of three ski areas, St Anton-St Christoph-Stuben (122km), Lech-Oberlech-Zurs (121km) and Warth-Schrocken (63km), and each has its own lift pass. Linked together, they form the wider Arlberg region, covered by the Ski Arlberg pass. This is Austria’s biggest linked ski area and the fifth biggest ski area in the world. In numbers, 88 lifts, 305km of pistes, 200km of powder runs and an average of 9 metres of annual snowfall.
All that snow makes the area a magnet for adrenaline junkies, and anyone who likes to venture off-piste simply must hire a guide and experience the backcountry for themselves. The offerings for experts don’t end there, with St Anton’s snow park and Kandahar race piste and the White Ring circuit near Lech. But let’s not forget those of us who prefer a gentler pace on good old-fashioned groomers! Each resort has its fair share of blue and red runs – St Anton’s Galzig area is the place for easy breezy skiing and Lech boasts some wonderfully wide and forgiving terrain. Whether to teach your grandkids, steady your own ski legs or save you from skiing solo, the Skischules and guides here are some of the very best.
Arlberg’s take on ski food includes the hearty and delicious dishes of Kässpätzle (noodles and Vorarlberg cheese), Tiroler Gröstl (bacon, onion and spuds with a fried egg on top) and Kaiserschmarrn (shredded pancake, spices and jam). There are dozens of restaurants in the region, with firm fine-dining favourites including the Tannenhof in St Anton, Arlberg Hospiz Stube in St Christoph, Gasthof Post in Lech and Fuxbau in Stuben. Lech was crowned ‘World Gourmet Village’ by the Falstaff guide, and maintains its reputation with regular restaurant awards and events such as gondola wine tasting.
Where to stay
St Anton’s where you’ll find the Arlberg’s biggest range of accommodation – 3 to 5-star rated hotels, catered chalets of varying size and style and self-catered apartments. Lodgings are spread around various areas: Nasserein gives you quick access to the slopes while the town centre is handy if you’re with non-skiers who might appreciate being able to walk to the cafes, shops and museum.
Lech and Zurs tend to demand a bigger budget but you get what you pay for, in the form of excellent service, plush facilities and fine food from 4 and 5-star hotels and exquisite chalets (plus, as we’ve pointed out before, SKI does stand for Spending your Kids Inheritance!). Stay in Lech for easy access to the shops, bars and restaurants or one of the higher villages for a quieter base with quick access to the slopes.
Warth, Schrocken and Stuben have a handful of 4-star hotels, inns and pensions between them.
Small St Christoph may well be, but its Arlberg Hospiz Hotel (recently rebranded to arlberg1800 RESORT) is an enormous name in local history. Dating back to 1386, this is where the Brotherhood of St Christoph and later the first ski club were founded and it happens to have one of the greatest wine collections in the skiing world.
Fly to Innsbruck, Friedrichschafen or Zurich (flying to Innsbruck with British Airways is a popular option, costing around £35 each way).
Drive with this helpful guide to the road laws from the Austrian Tourism Office. Le Shuttle ticket for your car from £60 return.
Packages with flights and transfers included are best sourced from ski-specialist travel agents. Good value all-inclusive chalets on SNO with food, wine, lift pass and equipment hire cost from £1,000 a head for 7 nights.
Photo sources: LechZurs/Christoph Schoech & Sepp Mallaun, St. Anton am Arlberg/Patrick Säly, arlberg1800 Resort