8 reasons to love Lech

I have skied in Lech since I was a child, and it is the resort that I keep returning to. Lech fuses tradition and modernity perfectly. In the 25 years or so that I have been going, its charming character has remained reassuringly constant; strict planning laws means that expansion and development is virtually non-existent (in the 1980s the local council decreed that only locals could own land in the village), but at the same time, the resort has embraced modernity unflinchingly: the world’s first heated chairlift was installed in Lech in 2004. Here are the eight reasons why I keep coming back:

 1. Snow certainty

The village of Lech has an elevation of 1450m, and the majority of the skiing is between 1500 and 2000m, which means that lack of snow is highly unlikely to be an issue in the winter months. In January 2014, Lech was one of the few Austrian resorts with adequate snow (even St Anton, usually a dead cert for snow in January, was relying heavily on snow cannons). Whilst the virtual guarantee of abundant snow is in virtually all respects a blessing, the sheer volume can cause logistical problems. One year, whilst travelling from Zurich airport by car with my family, the Arlberg and Flexen passes were closed, and we were forced to stay in Feldkirch for a night. In 2012, whilst we were staying in St Christoph, two metres of snow fell in 24 hours. Our friends (visiting from Lech for dinner) were stranded for two days as the road was closed during the meal on Friday night and not reopened until Sunday afternoon. Such road closures are rare, however – typically only occurring a handful of times in a decade.

Snow certainty

2. Off-piste

A happy by product of the snow volume is the extensiveness of the accessible off-piste in Lech. In the nearly three decades that I have come here, I have constantly been discovering by new and unexplored territory. Hiring a guide is to be highly recommended, as most of them are local, and know the area intimately. What is more, the type of guest that Lech tends to attract is not, typically, interested in waking up at the crack of dawn to queue for the first lift, so fresh tracks in the powder are easy to come by if you’re keen.

Austrian Alps

3. Expanse of ski area

Lech is just one of the villages within the collective Arlberg region (the others are Oberlech, Zuers, St Christoph, St Anton, Zug, Stubenbach, and, since the 2013 addition of the eight seater chairlift from the Weibermahd, Warth). Purchasing an ‘Arlberg Pass’, therefore, provides access to over 260 acres of skiable terrain, which means that a week is barely enough to cover all the ground. Zuers and Warth are both accessible by lift; St Christoph and St Anton by (free) buses. The journey takes approximately 20 minutes, and if you are a strong skier, it is possible to ski all the way back from St Anton to Lech via the Valluga II lift (note that even the best skiers must be accompanied by a guide to access the rickety Valluga II cable car, and the terrain is avalanche prone and occasionally sketchy. Often there is insufficient snow at the summit, in which case the Valluga will be closed).

Ski slope

4. Ski school

Lech ski school is one of the best in the world. I started in the Kinderskischule, which meets at 9.30am in the Lech Kinderland. From age 12, kids can attend the adult version, which is graded, according to ability and confidence, from 6 (beginner) to 1a (practically pro). I spent most of my teenage trips in Group 3a, mainly because I adored the teacher, Gerhard Gradauer, and my classmates (a couple of whom I am still ski with). Gerhard still teaches (mainly private groups nowadays), and whenever I am in Lech I arrange to go for a drink with him.

Ski school

 5. Celebrity spotting

Admittedly, even the most devoted fan would struggle to identity their idol beneath swathes of ski togs, but for those who care, Lech attracts a wide range of notable guests. Fans include royalty (Lech was Princess Diana’s favourite ski resort), filmstars (Arnold Schwarzenegger is a regular visitor), and Pippa Middleton visited last year with her boyfriend. The ski segment in the second Bridget Jones film, in which Darcy whisks Bridget off on a romantic Valentines day break, was shot in picturesque Lech.

 6. Luxury

Lech is without doubt Austria’s must luxurious ski resort, but at the same time, is wonderfully understated. There is very little of the glitz of St Moritz or the showiness of Gstaad. There are a number of excellent five star hotels, all of which are still family run. A big plus is that, in many cases, you can ski straight to the door (a rarity in most Swiss and French resorts). The Gasthof Post is a landmark hotel; impeccably run by the same family for generations. The spa and pool areas were recently revamped to a stellar standard, and a swim in the outdoor panorama pool overlooking the Omeshorn is an unmissable treat after a hard day on the slopes. The Kristiana is also execellent, and though a short trek up a hill is involved, the fabulous food and warm atmosphere are big enough draws to justify it. The newest, and flashiest hotel is the Aurelio (owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska), which has a sensational spa and a highly rated Gault Millau restaurant. My personal favourite, however, is the Arlberg Hotel – it offers unparalleled views over the River Lech on one side and the slopes on the other, and the Schneider family remember every returning guest’s name.

Lech

7. Après-ski

Lech is not the place to go if you want an extreme après-ski experience. The Mooservirt in St Anton has plenty to offer in that department. Lech’s approach to partying is more refined. That is not to say it’s staid; there is always table dancing and a lively atmosphere at the hip piste-side hangout, the Skihütte Schneggarei, for instance, but Lech is not, at heart, a hardcore party town. For nightlife, neighbouring Zuers is a much better bet (Venissage and the Zuersl are the best clubs, and particularly popular with German footballers).

Apres ski

8. Food

Whilst Lech can’t claim to equal Zermatt (a true ski gourmand’s heaven) in terms of food, there are nevertheless some excellent mountain and village restaurants serving a mixture of international cuisine alongside traditional Austrian fare. Rud-Alpe is the best mountain restaurant in Lech, whilst Mohnenfluh, in Oberlech, makes a mean Kaiserschmarr’n, which you can enjoy outside on the sunny terrace. Hüs Nr 8 down in the village is a sound choice if you decide to leave the mountain for lunch. No trip to Lech is complete without a gastronomical pilgrimage to St Christoph where the Hospiz Alm has some of the best food (and the best stocked wine cellar) in the Alps. The fact that there is a slide alongside the stairs down to the loos to assist inebriated and overfed patrons says it all.

Comments (4)

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  1. Lech is one of the most exclusive ski resorts in the world (once claiming kings were guests and guests were kings) with a determination to give its customers the best at all times.

  2. Miriam says:

    Lech looks exclusive. I’ve always heard amazing things about St. Anton, but this sounds just a good! Thanks for a great post.

  3. Gebhard says:

    Thanks for the great review of my hometown – but may i say 2 things which you could maybe “correct”?

    The Arlberg region has one more village to offer: Stuben which really is a village of its own. Oberlech, Zug and Stubenbach are disctricts of Lech *smart-ass mode off*

    And the pictures in the luxury section acutally not shows Lech – but maybe that was intended by you.

    Anyway – thanks again – great review and true to the point.

    Gebhard

  4. Elisabeth says:

    Miriam and Gebhard, many thanks for your feedback and kind comments.

    To address your points, Gebhard – thank you for the geographical correction. I don’t think I have ever skied in Stuben, but we have friends who have stayed there (it’s certainly a more cost-effective way to ski in the Arlberg region as the prices are substantially lower than Lech/Zuers, and the ‘commute’ is only around 30 minutes).

    I didn’t choose the pictures, but well-spotted!

    Alles Gruesse

    Elisabeth

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