Skiing in St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria…with probably the best après-ski in the world.
Vital resort statistics :
If the thought of a ski holiday piques your appetite and if your wallet seems to frown, considering this an overly decadent luxury, a four-night stay over a long weekend is a surprisingly affordable option (€550 including flight, accommodation, transfer, ski pass and ski hire). And all this in St. Anton, a little jewel in the Austrian alps which is regarded as the top ski resort in Austria and one of the best in Europe.
I was curious as to whether this Tyrolean village would live up to her ‘ski-hard, party harder’ reputation. A friend and I chose the alps as skiing is one holiday where you cannot afford to take the risk of a snow scarcity. St. Anton is also lift-linked to St. Christoph, which is snow-skiable until May.
Best to leave skiing on the cheaper low-altitude, icey terrain for those who really want to capitalise on their global health insurance policies.
Beginners beware though, St. Anton is best suited to the confident intermediate or advanced skier. An incorrigible optimist – I classed myself as the former. My gutsiness, however, deserted me on day one as raw fear left me immobilised at the edge of a very steep blue i.e. beginner slope. Was Austrian blue the new black? Was the ski slope grader colour blind? Had I really paid for this? It was, however, less a case of ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ and more a case of ‘phone a friend’. Gallantly two German gentlemen graciously came to the aid of the Frauleins in distress and guided us down what seemed an impassably steep route.
If the slopes presented their own unique challenges, so too did the night life. Not only did it require more stamina than the slopes … with the male/female ratio, Sinead and I wondered had we inadvertently landed on gay village (now that wasn’t in the brochure). Except for one thing… the fact that the buachaillí looked eh… distinctly heterosexually delighted whenever we walked into a bar. This uber-attention gave me a wonderful (and
I fear lamentably short-lived) insight into what must be an average night on the town for a leading member of the Irish rugby team.
On being surrounded on the dance floor by a group of extremely tall men, my friend whispered “this is kinda claustrophobic…” The official figure is a ratio of 10:1 men/ women, however whoever came up with that figure patently cannot count. Probably the same person who graded the slopes.
The après ski begins on the slopes, with the Moserwirt and Krazy Kangaru pubs being the most popular. The Moserwirt is predominantly Austro-German in its clientele and with the songs and the ton weight trays of beers – if one averted one’s eyes from the ski gear – one might easily believe that one had been dropped into the Munich beer festival. It advertises itself as ‘wahrscheinlich die schlechsste Kneipe der Welt‘… probably the worst pub in the world. However seeing as it was full by 3.45pm every day… it is probably doing something very right. The other bar, the ‘Krazy Kangaru’ is more English and Scandinavian is another busy starting point for ambitious revelers.
Ski school: this was decidedly underwhelming. There are two ski schools: blue and red, and seeing as they share the same owner, the only difference is the colour of the uniforms. The blue is a marginally better option as it offers more classes at different levels. Lessons can be bought in one, two, three etc. options, and if in doubt less is more, you can pay for one or two days and extend easily with no penalty. These schools can also give you information on private tuition and though considerably more expensive, a few hours of this may well offer you more than a few days at ski school.
Best suited to: The serious skier and the middling serious skier who loves the nightlife and can still-can-make-it-to-the-ski-slope-on-time types. Any Cailiní out there looking for an ego boost. Hunter/ gatherer type men who can confidently break up a scrum of over-tall Scandinavian men to get to a woman.
Not suited to: beginners, timid intermediates, or those who love a quiet life and gentle rolling slopes; men on the pull.
Family friendly? Though families do visit, this would not be a notably child-friendly resort. Although kids are miles (literally) ahead of the adults in the skiing department – it is not unusual to see a forty -something out-of-breath Stefan shout at his four year old Klaus and seven year old Christina to wait for him, as they gleefully hurl themselves down a sheer black with youthful abandon.
What’s hot: With breathtaking alpine scenery, challenging ski slopes, lively après ski, St. Anton presents an impressive mix. Good, inexpensive restaurants and pubs. Extensive range of accommodation – much of which can be booked online. Excellent off-piste skiing. English is widely spoken and the locals are friendly and helpful. Less snowboarders than other European resorts. Entschuldigung Snowboarders.
What’s not? Disappointing ski school, pricey hotels.
Yes, by the last day, I was flying down the reds; and the blues that had initially seemed scary now bored me. While braving my first black, an English lady sidled up behind me to inform me that “you seem to be in difficulty”. I was upright, and going downwards so was content with progress. My answer was short, terse and in German. Bless, she probably was a well-intentioned soul, so on reflection, I really, really hope she doesn’t
What else to bring? Energy: lots of.
Accommodation, airport transfers, ski passes, ski hire options and that all important
update on snowfall.
Maps, accommodation: Tripadvisor.com gives a great map of St. Anton and you can see exactly where your accommodation is located relative to lifts and village centre.
One of the most important variables about a ski holiday is minimising the time it takes to get to the snow – so the closest options direct options are Salzburg, Austria,; and Zurich, Switzerland. Both train and a shuttle bus service operate from these airports to St. Anton.
Best bets are the Crystal ski flight or the Ryanair to Salzburg.
*Shuttle buses run from all these airports (excluding Zurich) direct to St. Anton and cost approximately Eur60-75 per person return. There are also taxi and mini bus options (and particularly if you are lugging your own ski equipment) this could be a good option. Your hotel may also offer a transfer option.
Some apartments/ chalets offer the luxury of being ski-in, ski-out. Nearly all can be booked online: B & B’s are from €35 per person per night. To note that the ‘Pension’ option is just a bed, whereas the ‘Pension mit Fruhstuck’ includes breakfast. Hotels are from €75 per night half board per person, and can offer nice touches like afternoon cakes and tea.
Apartments are another good option: from Eur330 for four people (10 minutes away from the village). You can always try phoning the owners directly – most of them speak good English. The tourist office will also tell you who has registered with them as having vacancies (however not everyone tells them so don’t rely entirely on this). Generally the half board hotel option is relatively little extra, however the B&B and self-catering options
give you the freedom to check out the local eateries.
The main ski lift is in the centre of St. Anton, and the price tends to rise directly in proportion to proximity to the village. If you can ski you should be able to walk a little in your snow boots in a well-light St. Anton?
Ski hire and ski passes: Ski hire can be booked in advance online and given the quieter season, research online and ring up and ask for a discount.
While there are a few operators who offer packages, e.g. Crystal Ski (www.crystalski.ie) and www.gohop.ie (also offer flights from Cork) – it’s well worth shopping around by looking online. Not only can you save money but you can compare better in terms of closeness to lifts, the village and how good the food is. Again, Tripadvisor.com will give you an indication of how your hotel rates.
|This article was written by Nualan O Brien, an Irish freelance writer based in Zürich, Switzerland. She is a social media professional by day, at night she blogs on topics like travel, events, observations of life and more. More of her articles can be read at: http://www.thewordclinic.com/journalist.htm|