Unlike France and Switzerland, Austria got off to a slow snow start this winter – but, boy, have they caught up now. A 24-hour Boxing Day blizzard has dumped up to 40cm of powder across the Tirol.
Here in St Anton the storm brought welcome relief from the icy pistes that dominated in the run-up to Christmas. Cover was already more than adequate, but warm weather brought a little rain as an unwelcome top dressing – not much, but enough to turn some of the notoriously tough runs at this end of the Arlberg into skating rinks. The narrow black Kandahar run was no fun at all, nor was the busy Happy Valley home run.
But now it seems impossible that, earlier this month, St Anton had to delay its opening by a week because of lack of snow. With the best part of a metre in the village and nearly twice that on top, conditions are just about perfect in time for New Year.
The only fly in the ointment is the avalanche risk, which has risen to at least 3/5 across the Tirol and to a maximum 5/5 in and around Solden and Obergurgl close to the Italian frontier. St Anton’s the kind of place where a high proportion of its winter visitors routinely strap on a bleeper each morning as they get dressed, and always carry a probe and shovel in their backpack.
Your bleeper may save your life – but only if it’s switched on and your rescuer knows how to use his one. There’s a story doing the rounds here about a couple who was gave each other £330 Mammut Pulses for Christmas. The girl chucked hers into a snowdrift to practice a grid search. The boy clicked his into ‘search’ mode but got no signal…she’d failed to turn hers on. They’re still looking for it.
The video below was taken in St Anton today.
Meanwhile in St Anton we’re staying in VIP’s brand new accommodation, Hotel Montjola, set above the village centre. It’s very comfortable, with large bedrooms, some with balconies and sofas. The food is excellent and there’s a bar and Stubli, too. The only drawback is its position, a 15-minute walk up from the town centre. However a continuous minibus shuttle service operates from 8am to 8pm.
If want to go out and enjoy St Anton’s famous nightlife you need to take a taxi. So we’ve come to a compromise: apres-ski drinks (with live music) almost until dinner in the charming Undergound bar at the foot of the slopes – then drinks back at our very nice hotel bar after dinner. We’re giving late nights a miss this Christmas.