Carving up the Arlberg
The Ski Club’s Online Content Editor Chris Taine visits St Anton am Arlberg, and finds out that’s there’s more to Austria’s ‘freeride mecca’ than just freeriding…
I could say, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. But that might be oversimplifying somewhat. “When a lingering high pressure system overstays its welcome and results in patchy off-piste conditions even at high elevations, sharpen up your edges and carve up the groomers”. It’s not exactly a catchy turn of phrase, but it’s what plenty of skiers and snowboarders have been doing the past few weeks, while waiting for winter to return.
Heading out to the Alps pre-Christmas can mean cracking deals with tour ops and potentially deep early season powder. However, it’s far from a sure thing. But that should be no excuse to sack off skiing completely and head straight to apres. St Anton might be as famous for its apres as for the challenging off piste terrain, but a recent visit proved that even when the natural snow cover is thin, there’s still plenty of thrills on the piste.
So sharpen up those edges and make sure you’re out on the slopes early, because corduroy trousers may go in and out of fashion, but corduroy pistes are always a winning style!
Something to get the legs warmed-up…
Whether you upload from the main village of St Anton or from St Jakob (Nassereinbahn) head straight to Kapall. The slopes from the restaurant at 2330m catch the early morning sun, so it’s the perfect spot for a warm-up run. The blue run (piste 36) is good for a few lazy turns, or the black run (piste 35) for something more sporty. If you head straight to Kapall you may get a few runs on sun-drenched corduroy before anyone else gets there.
Steep – but not deep
Below the gentle beginner terrain at Gampen, black piste 25 drops away steeply, covering roughly the same path as the World Cup downhill course. The Arlberg region is steeped in ski racing history, with the first Arlberg-Kandahar race taking place in St Anton in 1928. Unlike the world’s best downhill racers, you’d be well advised to put in a few turns as you make your way down piste 25. The steeper pitches are a real test of technique (and the sharpness of your edges!)
One for going fast(ish)
It’s well worth getting an early start so that you can ski blue piste 17 before the crowds arrive. Covering the entire length of the Valfagehr chairlift, the wide piste alternates steeper and gentler sections, so it’s perfect for letting your skis run and laying down a few GS turns. Piste 17 is the only piste connecting St Anton with the satellite Stuben sector however, so don’t plan on carving your way to glory in the afternoon – you’ll be dodging skiers and rapidly growing moguls!
Getting away from it all
Even when the rest of the resort starts to get busy, head up the Albonagrat, rising above the sleepy and shady hamlet of Stuben, and you’ll likely have the slopes all to yourself. You won’t find heated chairlift seats and a sprawl of sun loungers in this more rustic part of St Anton, but the views across the Austrian Tirol as you fly down red piste S4 are hard to beat.
The one that’ll get you to lunch
There’s nothing too spectacular about piste 1, except that it’ll get you to the Sennhütte. It’s my personal pick for eating on the mountain, with a terrace that gets midday sun even in mid-winter, tasty food (including homemade Hirschwurst – venison sausage ) and friendly staff. Just look for the enormous pair of Lederhosen erected on the right-hand side of piste 1 – it’s hard to miss.
Across the valley from the main area is the Rendl sector, another area often overlooked that has some fantastic pistes. For a real leg-burner (or post-lunch should that be calorie-burner?) take red piste R2 from the top of the Gampberg chairlift, continuing on R1 and ski all the way back to St Anton village.
Avoid it if you can
St Anton, as I was pleasantly surprised to discover, has some superb piste skiing. Piste 4, sadly, does not rank amongst the top picks. Every resort has some kind of topographical quirk that gets in the way of ideal trail design, and in St Anton it’s the deep gully that separates the intermediate slopes around the Galzig and the freeride playground of the Schindlergrat. The run funnels skiers and boarders back towards the village, so avoid this piste late in the day if you’re not a fan of crowded slopes.
Home run… without the crowds
St Anton’s famed apres-ski destinations (Krazy Kanguruh, Mooserwirt et al.) are clustered around blue piste 1, above the main village. If you prefer to avoid the crowds, and the hangover-inspiring parties, set a course for Adler’s Rodelalm on the left-hand side of piste 24. The charming alpine hut catches afternoon sun and allow you to decompress at a slightly more sedate pace… leaving you plenty of energy to seek out fresh corduroy the next day.
St Anton am Arlberg is part of Ski Arlberg, which also covers the connected areas of Lech-Zürs and Warth Schröcken. A six-day lift pass costs €235.00 and a single day tickets €48.00, which covers 340km of pistes.