Loveskiing’s St. Anton Review
Known for its picturesque charm and thrilling world cup race, St. Anton attracts snow lovers from across the world. We skied St. Anton over Easter 2012 and although it excelled in certain regards, such as après-ski, we feel it didn’t quite live up to its hype in others. In this review we’re going to scrutinise these important aspects of the resort, such as its ski area, average snow conditions, village charm and so on. We also try, wherever possible, to take a look at how it compares with other big ski resorts in the Alps in order to provide you with all the information you need to decide whether or not to ski St. Anton this year!
|13 chair lifts|
|24 drag lifts|
|5 cable cars/gondolas|
|Piste marking (not accurate at all…vies with Val d’Isere in terms of dodgy piste marking)|
|Size of the ski area||280km|
|Nearest airport||Innsbruck (Austria) or Friedrichshafen (Germany)|
|Nearest train||St. Anton itself (great train links across mainland Europe)|
St. Anton is arguably the most famous resort in the Arlberg ski area, boasting traditional Austrian buildings, renowned après ski and not to forget the prestigious World Cup race every year. It is at the western extremity of the Tirol, offering access to the entire Arlberg area, although it must be mentioned that this is not without the hassle of taking a ski bus to get across to Lech/Zurs and Sonnenkopf.
• The on-piste après-ski
• The off-piste après-ski
• Beautiful tree-lined runs
• Lots of options for intermediates and experts (especially if you include the bus ride to Lech/Zurs and Sonnenkopf)
• Some lovely quiet runs IF you’re willing to travel that little bit further (either by ski or bus)
• Tough for beginners and nervous intermediates
• Town doesn’t live up to the ‘Austrian charm’ you’d come to expect: characterless in fact
• Links around the resort and Arlberg area aren’t easy; lots of taking your skis off!
• Pistes struggle in sunny conditions (especially at Easter); not enough north-facing slopes
• Surprisingly little to keep non-skiers/boarders happy
• Oligopolistic approach to ski rental: extremely expensive (150 odd Euros for 6 days) and nowhere cheaper – therefore essential to book online beforehand to get cheaper prices
Summary of the St. Anton ski area
Easter was a funny time to ski in 2012: in the first half of the season, the Alps had been blessed with a huge dump of snow not seen in decades, however in the second half it seemed hard to come across even a mere flake of snow. This led to intriguing conditions: huge bases but old, crusty and crystallized snow. Therefore we were unable to test out St. Anton’s extensive range of off-piste skiing and the on-piste skiing we had was very much dictated by the time of day and the direction the slope was facing.
First things first, if a good intermediate or advanced skier wanted to cover the whole Arlberg area accessible by ski from St. Anton in a day, they could do it with fairly consummate ease. We started off in the Rendl area behind the resort, to which there was great access via the comfortable, speedy and absolutely silent new cable car. We managed to ski this area within an hour and a bit at a leisurely pace, gliding down a couple of blues and a surprisingly wide black, while bumping our way down the frankly horrific un-pisted reds. Our advice here is avoid them unless the snow conditions are good; otherwise you end up hacking your way through giant ice cubes and killing your legs before the day has started! All the pistes the bashers had got at were very well groomed however, considering the difficulties with the snow quality. We then took the winding red through the trees back down into St. Anton, a run we both agreed would have been lovely had the conditions been better.
We had to take our skis off here and trudge about a hundred sweaty metres across the village to the incredible Galzigbahn lift (the first-ever ‘ferris-wheel’ lift – you board at the bottom then it whisks you up and onto the high-speed cable). This took us to the main Galzig slopes, as well as providing access to the Schindler and Valluga peaks. From here, we decided to ski down towards the neighbouring St. Christoph; a small, traditional village nestled in a snowy bowl. Once again the four or five runs leading down to this area were pleasant, but not really long enough to get your legs going. It’s worth mentioning at this point that the two of us are enamoured with “Les Trois Vallées” in the French Alps and so the description of St. Anton’s runs as short is only due to a comparison with any piste in the vast “Trois Vallées” area. After covering the runs in this area we stopped for lunch in the famous “Hospiz Alm”, frequented by the likes of Prince Charles and Vladimir Putin, and had a delicious meal. It’s not just the food that’s so good here though; a bustling atmosphere, charming log fires, a novelty slide down the stairs to access the toilets and one of the largest wine-cellars in Europe all play their part!
Fuelled up and ready to go again, we took the lift back up to Galzig and then the big Valluga gondola to the resort’s highest point. There’s only one option from here: a satisfying little red which had the best snow of the week (due to its height and north-facing aspect) and then an obligatory button lift to link back to the pistes. From here you can choose to go left or right: left being an un-pisted red which curls round the Schindler peak (a run we imagined being extremely nice after a fresh dump of pow) and right taking you to the right of the same peak, but also giving you access to the Stuben (village at 1407m) ski area. This red turned out to be one of our favourite runs: a real thigh burner that winds down a wide valley before turning into a blue which keeps on going until you eventually arrive at the Stuben lift. Although this 3-person chair is the only lift up to the Stuben area, thus a potential bottleneck, the seemingly large queues we experienced actually moved very quickly. And it was well worth the small wait. Finding the elusive north-facing runs had been rather difficult all week, however this area proved to be a gold mine: two beautiful, curvaceous reds with wonderful untouched pistes. We skied the two of them at least five or six times, trusting the pristine pistes beneath our skis and enjoying the lack of fellow skiers.
At this point it was nearing three o’clock and so we headed back over towards St. Anton to ski the final area left to ski (apart from Pettney at the far end of St. Anton village – however this would involve taking a bus from the Galzigbahn and it wasn’t worth it for the amount of runs there, especially with the quality of the Easter snow). So, to the top of Kapall we went (2330m) to do a couple of reds, the easiest black you’ll have skied (number 35) and the World Cup piste down towards Nasserein. It’s a nice little area, however do be aware of the Gampen area at 1850m, as it has the potential to attract some adventurous beginners who tend to clog up the slopes (the same applies for the Galzig area – we found the snow quality quickly deteriorated here due to the large quantity of beginners and ski schools playing around).
Après-ski (for all ages!)
Finally, we get to St. Anton’s main selling point: the quality of its après-ski. Coming down the blue No. 1 from Galzig or the red 21 from Gampen you come across the famous chain of bars that will keep you occupied for hours every afternoon. Below is a list of them and what to expect, as well as a rather dodgy map we made which we hope will help you find your way on the first day to that well-earned first beverage:
Founded by ex-Swedish ski racer Gunnar Munthe in 1974, the Krazy Kanguruh is a legendary full-on apres ski bar with sun terrace pumping beer and party atmosphere from 3pm until after dark. We were lucky enough to be there for its final night of the season; it’s fair to say it was absolutely rammed and that the alcohol/tunes were continuing as usual. Little tip: walk there from your chalet/hotel instead of stopping straight after skiing (if you plan on having a couple), otherwise the small, should-be easy, mogul field next to it becomes a death trap! There’s a ski bus that frequently goes from the centre up to near Mooser and KK; just a short 10-minute walk!
Joined to the Krazy Kangaruh: slightly quieter and a lot smaller. However it’s a decent place to start out as their happy hour prices are extremely reasonable (almost half price pints if we remember correctly…too much beer faded our memories).
This is a traditional bar across the piste from Mooserwirt and below Krazy Kanguruh. There is live music most days from an eclectic mix of bands. Although it gets busy, it’s considered the calmer option in comparison to its rowdier neighbours.
Rumoured to sell more beer than any other bar in Austria, the Mooserwirt is St Anton’s best attended on-mountain après-ski venue and boasts an inside-and-out sun terrace (or an Igloo) for maximum enjoyment. Whether you’re jumping up and down in your ski boots on a table inside or outside, the atmosphere is one to be savoured: the aging DJ Gerhart playing countless tunes, ranging from Skrillex to Queen to the famous (perhaps infamous) Tim Toupet. Be warned however that after a couple of days of après-ski here you will have learnt all the actions for Tim Toupet’s So Ein Schöner Tag. Oh, and you will have every single word stuck in your head too. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Here’s a video to show you a taste of the “action”:
Decent après ski with a predominantly German-speaking clientele and popular Didi Diesel DJ serving up music and abundant humour even if you cannot understand German. Sennhutte’s is a traditional mountain hut with a big sun terrace and busy at lunch times. Worth a pint or two (glass or two of Glühwein if that’s more up your street).
The first bar you come across on the blue from Galzig and it will not let you down, especially if you go on a day when they have a live band playing on their outdoor stage (3 days a week, most of the season). The band plays countless cheesy classics, which at first you think are ridiculous (especially sung with a slight Austrian accent), but as the Glühwein and beers start flowing, your feet will start tapping and you may even join in with the locals and their enthusiastic dancing to the likes of Abba, Status Quo and Nena.
To keep this clear and concise we’re going to answer a couple of simple questions:
Was it as we expected? No: the town had no character. However après-ski was better than expected and pistes weren’t as busy as we’d expected.
Who does it suit? Ideally you want to have skied a couple of times before, and be in a group who will be willing to make the most of the après-ski after a great day’s skiing.
Therefore not ideal for:
• Younger families
• Boring people
• Groups of friends
• Outgoing/older families (children at an age where they’ll appreciate live music and beverages)
How does it compare to the rest of the Alps? It’s undeniably a great resort, with a huge area to explore if you’re willing to take a bus one or two days, however we can’t help but compare it to huge ski areas with amazing links like “Les Trois Vallées”: in comparison the ski area is tame. Also, it doesn’t reach the same heights (literally); maximum altitude of 2800m and an average skiing altitude of probably 1800 to 2000m. Therefore although snow is guaranteed; the quality of it may suffer (as we experienced at Easter).
Were there queues? How was the lift system? On the whole, the lifts were very efficient, as well as modern. This is exemplified by the new lifts in St. Anton village itself: it’s hard to think of better ones in the Alps. This helps to cut queues and speed them up too. So in this regard, we were very impressed by St. Anton.