Austria is having a resurgence in popularity as a premier ski destination. Not that it ever lost its aura or appeal; it is just that the highly successful linked resorts of France and others, became more enticing to the fickle ski market place. Austria has now re-emerged as a very real player in this competitive field, and is doing so with aplomb. Costs are competitive if not better than its rivals, the après scene is thriving, and the need to re-attract customers has meant that service and hospitality is at an all time high. Austria had never lost its mojo, but just had to do a little tweaking, and it is paying dividends.
The abundance of resorts in Austria is amazing and selecting the best is highly subjective to say the least. In this technological age however, with a dearth of information at our fingertips and word of mouth still a viable tool, these are our choices in no particular order.
St Anton am Arlberg
Renowned as an excellent resort for skiing, St Anton is equally well known for its après scene and is a serious contender on this competitive stage. Skiing is a lot more than just the physical aspects of boarding and skiing, it also the ambience that is exuded by the resort and St Anton is a player.
The village of St Anton itself is typically Tyrolean and exudes charm and character. It is easily accessed from Innsbruck (100km), Zurich (200km) or Munich (250km) with regular train services going to the little railway station. Of course you can drive there.
St Anton actually offers accessibility to the popular resorts of Lech and Zurs. St Antons is a massive area with over 84 lifts and runs to suit all abilities. In particular, black run skiers will be in their element as there are many off-piste opportunities to challenge even the most extreme sportspersons. For mere mortals like myself, the intermediate runs are plentiful as are the green runs for beginners. There is Austrian efficiency to be seen in the state of the art ferris gondola and various chair lifts.
St Anton is nothing if not cool and yet it is a resort that will cater for all budgets. On the luxury side of the coin, St Anton will not disappoint, but rather offer some incredibly decadent wining, dining and accommodation options. St Anton is a full on experience in every sense.
Charm capital. Full stop.
Kitzbuhel is a medieval town that was once a mining village. And we are talking silver mining here which bought the village its immense wealth. In 1893 Franz Reisch became the first man to ski down from the Kitzbuhel Horn, no mean feat in itself, and according to historical records the first ski race was held in Kitzbuhel in 1894.
Today the annual Hahnenkamm, the mother of all downhill races, is held to massive international crowds as competitors plunge down a course that at one point is at an angle of 85 degrees. Well worth watching. In summer, Kitzbuhel is renowned for its golf tournaments, as well as being home to a world triathlon event dubbed as the most grueling on the circuit.
This lovely little village is a lot of things and the skiing is unsurpassed with some 170 kms of runs, 50 gondolas and chairlifts as well as 120 kms of cross country ski trails in the region and170 kms of winter hiking trails also.
Located in the Alps, Kitzbuhel is not far from Innsbruck (95 km), Salzburg (80 km) and Munich (120 km).
Kitzbuhel offers a lot off the snow fields with beautiful streets showcasing luxury hotels, boutiques and cafes. Kitzbuhel is undoubtedly a sports capital in an unparralled beautiful locale, and hence there is fierce rivalry with some very chic hotels and restaurants vying for your business. If you want to be pampered to the extreme, then Kitzbuhel will certainly address your needs, and more.
Ischgl is a slightly more mature version of St Antons, with all of the skiing opportunities and après scene, just a little less overt.
Ischgl offers opulent choices in everything and knows its market well. Those who are a little past the full on exuberance, but still ready willing and able to get into it, do. In a big way. This resort also has a name for its friendliness, where everyone seems to mix well both on and off the slopes to make for an awesome and ambient holiday. Again the skiing is geared to all levels and offers some stunning runs.
The closest airports to Ischgl are Innsbruck (96kms), Munich (233kms) and Zurich (242 kms) and then you catch a bus to the resort, or a taxi.
A celeb haunt, yes. An elegant village that exudes charm and a picture postcard snapshot of Austria, well yes. Lech is elegant. Lech is hedonism. Lech is the apprentice to Zurs, so get your self match fit.
Lech offers some excellent runs, and it is well worth dressing for the occasion and tackling some of the challenging yet highly pleasant blue and red runs down the picturesque valley. Probably you should stop occasionally for a rum laced hot chocolate. Then swoosh to one of the mountain side restaurants, as you will have deserved the break.
This is a beautiful village, the skiing is lovely and the lifestyle is opulent. There are quite a number of Gault Millau restaurants to be found here in accordance with the 2013 guide. Again the range of hotels and other accommodation options will enhance your experiences.
Zürs am Arlberg
Exclusivity. Zurs, is a small yet intimate village, offering tradition with progressive approaches. In other words they know how to cater for their exclusive clients. With a strong history of skiing and set in beautiful surrounds, Zurs will not disappoint.
In the main this is a ski in ski out village, with some lovely runs for all levels as well as access to other resorts, should you choose. The resort is interlinked via piste and a high quality lift system with the ski districts of Lech, Oberlech, Stubenbach and Zug. The White Ring is a 22km ski route that goes around these villages. The Austrians ski hard but also know how to do it with style, and so there are many options for pit stops along the way to refuel and admire the splendor of this area.
If you are looking for fresh tracks you will definitely get this, as people dont tend to get up too early. In the afternoon you may well have the runs to yourself if you havent partaken of a big lunch, which is actually quite customary in Austria. There are limited queues and many off piste opportunities, so Zurs can be a bonus find for a serious skier who also enjoys the good things in life, after the work out. There is also the opportunity to try heli-skiing at Zurs, which is a total adrenalin rush.
The area does cater to your every desire with two Gault Millau rated restaurants. Regardless, the quality of food anywhere reigns supreme in Zurs. Accommodation options are as to be expected catering for your whims and needs. This is a competitive marketplace. Spa treatments and all associated wellness facilities are at your fingertips.
The closest airports are Zurich (200km away), Innsbruck (120km away) and Munich (235km).
In essence, Austria is back on the scene in a big way. It had never lost its charm and pizazz, but a little reinvention has yielded magnificent and well deserved results.