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Is this now the world’s best ski resort?

By Mark Hodson

Ski journalists get asked a lot of questions. Probably the most popular (after “How are your knees?”) is: “What’s your favourite resort?”

This invariably results in a lot of chin-scratching, and humming and hawing, but in my experience there is one answer that comes up a lot, and that’s St Anton.

Why? Well, firstly, St Anton has a great snow record and some of the best skiing in the world – both on and off piste. No question. But also, it’s a pretty village in the Austrian Tirol with a genuine winter sports heritage, not to mention the legendary après-ski (which involves drinking your body weight in lager and shots at 4pm then dancing in your ski boots to trashy Europop and Germanic oompah).

But there’s a caveat: St Anton itself may be wonderful but getting to the neighbouring ski areas of Zürs and upmarket Lech (famously, Princess Diana’s favourite resort) has always been a bit of a ‘mare. There’s a bus service, but the queues were legendary and it could take an hour to make the short journey. No fun.

That’s all changed with the opening last month of a new €45 million lift system that connects the resorts, whisking skiers from St Anton to Zürs in a few minutes with the added bonus of spectacular views across the Arlberg. At a stroke, the whole ski area has been expanded to more than 300km of pistes, making it one of the biggest in Europe.

The centre piece of the new system is the high-speed Flexenbahn lift, which connects St Anton and Zürs. It’s a slick piece of engineering with shiny black gondolas, heated seats and futuristic buildings. I was there on a cloudy day in January and the slopes in St Anton were relatively quiet, but when we zipped over to Zürs, we were met with vast acres of empty pistes. Perhaps word hasn’t yet got out about the new lifts.

Several new challenges have appeared for intermediate and advanced skiers. One is Der Weisse Ring (The White Ring), a marked ski route that takes you in a circuit from Zürs via Zug to Lech. And the macho brigade can take on the so-called Run of Fame, a full day that takes you from Warth to Rendl and back again, involving 65km of downhill and a total altitude descent of 18,000m – twice the height of Mount Everest.

But St Anton has other, more gentle charms. One of my favourite spots was The Museum, a lovingly-preserved house from 1912, a favourite meeting place of Hannes Schneider who is credited with founding the world’s first ski school before fleeing the Nazis to New Hampshire. He devised the Arlberg Technique – including the stem turn – allowing St Anton to claim to be the birthplace of modern skiing.

Today the Museum is an upmarket restaurant – I can heartily recommend the steak – and as well as admiring the carved wood ceilings and doors, you can wander upstairs to view several rooms filled with exhibits tracing the history of winter sports in the region.

Another place you should visit is the Hospizalm, a restaurant on the piste in St. Christoph which is known for a wooden slide that guests can take down to the bathrooms, but also serves classic Austrian dishes including Spätzle (€15.60) and Kaiserschmarren (€13.20).

My favourite resort in the world? I hate to sound like a copycat, but it’s hard to argue with the experts.

How to do it

I stayed at the central four-star Hotel Post in St Anton where seven nights half-board costs from £869 pp with Inghams. Find out more about St Anton am Arlberg and the Austrian Tirol.

* Photos by Mark Hodson and St Anton tourist office.

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