Skiing in Austria: St Anton hits peak condition

St Anton in Austria has 300 miles of sweeping pistes

 

RENOWNED as the cradle of downhill skiing where local hero Johann “Hannes” Schneider pioneered the sport in the 1930s, St Anton has maintained the momentum.

Today it is a pocket dynamo, transforming with the times but in close touch with its traditional Tyrolean roots.

Set on the pinnacle-packed Arlberg massif, peaks tower to over 9,000ft and more than 300 miles of sweeping pistes and fierce powder fields are a 70-minute drive or scenic train ride away from Innsbruck.

Here the super-modern, in the shape of classy hotels and cable cars – their futuristic structures beautiful enough to earn a Grand Designs slot – carves an elegant counterpoint to candlelit restaurants, stylish boutiques, galleries and skating and curling rinks.

St Anton is a heady brew like nowhere else, a local told me as she boarded her toboggan one morning for her commute to work, reflecting, “Sometimes when you are a small place and when you get bigger you surrender your soul, but we’ve not done that.”

You can almost touch the slopes from the chalet-style Hotel Post.

Just six minutes from the ski lifts in the heart of the village, the Post’s beguiling mix of old-style elegance and up-to-date comforts has been drawing travellers since 1896.

Bedrooms, with wi-fi, music hub and TV, have ample space for bulky kit and the bath’s generous dimensions seem made for wallowing to soothe aching limbs.

Pillows are specially stuffed; the stone pine shavings and spelt will certainly give your sinuses something to remember.

A surprisingly big and pretty pool, complete with neck massager, is the centrepiece of a wellness spa with Finnish and bio saunas, steam baths and water beds.

The Krazy Kanguruh ski hut is a popular stop off point

An hour relaxing there makes a fine prelude to a Post dinner. Our Gala Night menu included courses of cognac-infused courgettes and slices of smoked salmon terrine, truffle ravioli and a jolly session mingling with other guests while listening to the Post’s resident pianist in its snug lounge bar.

For a gentle warm-up catch the sun and head up Rendl gondola on St Anton’s quieter southern side, enjoy a sunny blue run before heading down the long, tougher red slope to the village centre.

Then take a moment to admire the huge Ferris wheel technology of the Galzig gondola before setting your sights on the Valluga, at 9,222ft the highest accessible peak in the area.

From its stunning sightseeing platform you can take in a 360-degree view of some of the eastern Alps’ highest mountains.

Take the cable car back to the first station and ski the powdery red runs down to the bottom.

Alternatively jump on the Gampen chairlift and then the Kapall right to the top and sweep down some leisurely blues dropping off at the infamous MooserWirt bar.

Stay too long and you risk joining the ranks of the over-refreshed taking a rest on the slopes before completing the short run back to the village.

The new Flexenbahn lift system, which opened last winter, links St Anton and its neighbouring villages of Stuben, Lech and Zurs into a giant network that makes the Arlberg the biggest connected ski area in Austria, saving 120-odd bus journeys as well as being the fifth biggest in the world.

Bravehearts chasing bragging points will relish its 40-mile downhill stamina fest, the Run of Fame, that takes skiers on an enormous circuit with rises and falls the equivalent of 59,000ft.

Don’t miss skiers whirling and leaping down a floodlit slope to the town in a blizzard of acrobatics.

Some pirouette on vintage wooden planks while others blast a course in fancy dress, trailed by glowing balloons or fountains of fireworks.

This free night-time spectacular, a joyous snapshot of Alpine winter games past and present, has become a regular hot date.

Dubbed “the mother of all après ski bars” the MooserWirt and its neighbour the Krazy Kanguruh (KK) high on the hill overlooking the village are still top stop-offs where foaming rounds of weiss (malted wheat) beer and cheesy pop get the customers (Euro dentists and doctors) at Mooser or ski bums at KK, dancing – more often than not on the tables.

Down in the village make some noise – everyone else does – at Basecamp, a partly alfresco bar just steps away from the main lift station.

Burn the candle a bit more and dance to funky DJ sets at the sleek St Anton bar, or for contrast settle down with a glühwein and an acoustic set in cosy chalet-style Underground.

If loud sounds are your thing (and much Scandi head-banging) then the Hotel Post’s Piccadilly live music bar is the place, or groove to club classics next door at its Postkeller bar.

A few bracing runs and you are in the upmarket hamlet of St Christoph, where hearty mountain fare reaches gourmet heights at the Hospiz Alm.

Famed for the slide that saves you clomping down the stairs to the loo, its wine cellar also boasts a world-class Bordeaux collection, with 2,900 large- format bottles.

Classy hotels and cable cars carves an elegant counterpoint to candlelit restaurants and galleries

The menu features filling perennials such as Tyroler Grostl, a bacon, onion and potato fry up, wiener schnitzel (crispy veal cutlets) and kaiserschmarrn, chopped pancakes with cream and plum sauce.

A great way of avoiding the chill but still catching St Anton’s wonderful The Snow Must Go On ski show is to bag a £26 ticket for a warm, ringside sofa seat in the Karl Schranz stadium, where you can help yourself from a chicken casserole and apple strudel buffet and watch from picture windows as the action unfolds.

If you are missing some culture, you could attend a performance at St Christoph’s new Arlberg1800, now Europe’s highest concert hall and picture gallery.

Be sure to find time, too, for a visit to St Anton’s Museum, the splendidly ornate art nouveau Villa Trier, surrounded by its own small park, whose exterior featured in the  lm Chalet Girl.

Admire the sweeping staircase and panelled ceilings, enjoy fine dining in the restaurant and revel in the wintry romance of it all.

Then, for a new perspective on your stay, visit its terrific exhibition.

This charts the village’s history and transformation from hard-pressed rural community – whose youngsters (Schwabenkinder or Swabian children), some as young as six, were dispatched as seasonal workers to avoid starvation in winter and provide cheap labour – to its glory days now as a centre of sporting excellence and leisure providing pleasure for thousands.

Ultimately it’s a story of hope – and there’s a lot of that to go around in St Anton.

Source :

express

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