Value for Money 60%
Lech and Zurs are about as posh as they come. They’re about as snowy as they come, too – much snowier, in fact than their neighbour St Anton, and hidden away above the five-star hotels and easy pistes is some stunning off-piste terrain.
Table of Contents
- 1 Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
- 2 Guide to the Mountain
- 3 Where to Learn
- 4 Where to Stay
- 4.1 Lech’s hotels and chalets
- 4.2 Gasthof Post
- 4.3 Almhof Schneider Almhof Schneider This is one of our favourite places to stay in the Alps: a really classy mix of painstaking hotel-keeping and intelligent interior design. Rooms have solid oak floors, limestone bathrooms, hand-made beds and open fireplaces. Four generations of the Schneider family have been hosting guests here since 1929. It’s very cool and very contemporary. Hotel Arlberg
- 4.4 Sporthotel Kristiania
- 4.5 Severin*s Alpine Retreat
- 4.6 Hotel Haldenhof
- 4.7 Romantik-Hotel Krone
- 4.8 Hotel Tannbergerhof
- 4.9 Chalet N
- 4.10 Hotel Aurelio
- 4.11 Hotel Theodul
- 4.12 Chalet Alpenland
- 4.13 Arula Chalets
- 4.14 Chalet Mimi
- 4.15 Hotel Stulzis
- 4.16 Pension Fortuna
- 4.17 Garni Stäfeli
- 4.18 Stay up the mountain in Oberlech – or in Warth-Schrocken or Zug
- 4.19 Hotel Sonnenburg
- 4.20 Rote Wand Gourmet Hotel
- 4.21 Boutique Hotel Lechtalerhof
- 4.22 Uber-luxury living in Zurs
- 4.23 Thurnher’s Alpenhof
- 4.24 Sporthotel Lorunser
- 4.25 Hotel Zurserhof
- 4.26 Hotel Arlberghaus
- 4.27 Hotel Edelweiss
- 5 Where to Eat
- 6 Where to Party
- 7 Very grown-up. You’ll either love it, or hate it
Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
They don’t come much smarter than Lech and Zurs. Set beneath the Flexen pass in eastern Austria, they’re about as cute and traditional-looking as modern ski resorts get, and have over the years been colonised by a stellar clientele. Now the new Flexenbahn link with St Anton has given them a central role in the revitalised Arlberg ski area – one of the most exciting mega-resorts in the Alps.
Both enjoy what is, for the Alps, a super-snowy climate: Lech averages a little over seven metres a winter, while Zurs, which is higher, and lies closer to the 2810m Valluga, gets over 10 metres. That’s roughly double what they get in Val d’Isere, although not as much as the snowiest resorts of North America.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that were one of the birthplaces of modern skiing. Victor Sohm, a founding father of the original technique, gave the first lessons in Zurs on the open slopes of the Trittkopf and Hexenboden over 100 years ago. His international clients were mainly wealthy British, Swiss and Germans wanting to learn the new sport and relax in beautiful surroundings. In this respect, not much has changed.
Lech and Zurs have a large number of five-star hotels
Today, the two villages are the most exclusive resorts in Austria with six five-star hotels between them. Both attract a higher age group than nearby St Anton. “A lot of the skiers appear to be slightly older than in other resorts and consequently the slopes are very civilized,” commented a reporter. “Loads of posing and I’ve never seen so many children wearing super-expensive ski gear,” said another. “Quality, exclusivity and service are what counts,” added a third.
Tiny little Warth-Schröcken in the Vorarlberg region is now linked with Lech on piste, creating a total 305km of marked runs and about 200km of off-piste. The terrain on the whole is markedly easier than in St Anton, with plenty of benign cruising runs best suited to intermediates. As a result, large numbers of skiers and riders based in St Anton come here for the day. However, overcrowding is not an issue.
Zurs is no more than a huddle of smart hotels and precious little else. In Lech, hotels, restaurants, and the slopes are set on either side of the little river that meanders through the centre, past a magnificent onion-domed church.
A traffic-free resort and a tiny hamlet
Oberlech on the higher summer pastures, provides a traffic-free environment. “The resort was good, but not quite top of the pile,” says a reporter, “the plus points included convenience – not much walking/bussing around required”. Winter access is only by cable-car and luggage is cunningly transported to your hotel through a network of tunnels beneath the piste.
Zug, a tiny hamlet reached along a narrow lane through the woods from Lech, offers an alternative tranquil base that is linked into the lift system.
Guide to the Mountain
The ski area shared by Zurs and Lech has expanded into Little Warth-Schröcken, creating 190km of piste in the local area – and a total of 340km of marked runs when shared with St Anton. Lech itself used to be known as a pleasant, undemanding, and posh area – home to lots of easy-going pistes and some old-fashioned ski schools.
Recently, however, attitudes have begun to change, as skiers and boarders have woken up to the fact that this is the snowiest A-list resort in the Alps. Zurs gets 10 metres, on average every season – double the average in Val d’Isere, and Lech manages a still-impressive seven metres. Of course, a high snowfall average doesn’t guarantee top-notch powder. Just make sure you hire a guide if you plan to venture off-piste (we’ve had some great days with AlpinCenter Lech). Bear in mind also that the even though some off-piste routes may be marked on the map (with orange or black broken lines), and waymarked on the slopes, they’re not patrolled or avalanche-protected.
One final point for powder hounds: off-piste skiing through the woods is forbidden for environmental reasons and anyone caught doing so is liable to forfeit their lift pass.
Another change to the reputation of the area came with the establishment of one of Austria’s best terrain parks on the slopes above Lech – rated 4.5/5 by Snow-parks.com. It’s a bit of an anomaly in such a high-falutin’ resort, and we can’t imagine it gets much use – but it’s great to see it there.
Flattering pistes, deep powder
Meanwhile, the pistes haven’t changed over the years – easy-going as ever and blessed with frequent top-ups of snow. The more challenging runs are at the Zurs end of the area, and on the Kriegerhorn and Zuger Hochlicht. The easiest runs are to be found on the sunny meadows surrounding Oberlech. Most intermediates will be much happier here than in neighbouring St Anton, where the pistes are much more crowded and the snow quality rarely as good.
The 2km-long Auenfeldjet cable-car starts at the top of the Weibermahd chair in Lech, crosses the Auenfeld pass to the Geissbühel Alpe, and creates a link between Lech, Zurs and the resorts of Warth-Schröcken – adding another 64km of piste to the Lech-Zurs ski area.
One of the best-known features of the resort is the Der Weisser Ring, a circuit of pistes (and one off-piste run) which has been skied for well over 50 years by legions of visitors. Beware: one of the runs is an unpatrolled ‘ski route’ down to Zug. You should check the small print of your insurance policy to ensure that you are covered before you ski it.
Beginners have good nursery slopes up the mountain at Oberlech, as well as a dedicated area behind the church in Lech.
Lech and Zurs are a bit posh for the average snowboarder, but…
In a good season for snow, snowboarders will have a ball here. Hire a guide from AlpinCenter Lech and go for it. Bizarrely, there’s also an excellent terrain park here, and a regular stop on the pro tour. So really – who cares if the nightlife is a bit stiff?
Where to Learn
The Lech and Zurs ski schools have long been considered rather old-fashioned. If you come away with the impression that jobs are passed from father to son in the ski schools at Lech, Oberlech, and Zurs you may not be far wrong. Fortunately, there are two relatively new schools which have shaken up the status quo – AlpinCenter Lech and Exklusiv.
The wealthy visitors opt for private lessons
It’s a reflection of their financial status that some 80% of visitors to Zurs and 50% to Lech choose to take private rather than group lessons. What they get for their money is year-to-year continuity, but this is by no means the home of the kind of cutting-edge technique that wins medals for Austria. Guiding can also be arranged through the ski schools or the Alpin Center, and heli-skiing with Wucher Heli-skiing.
Kinderclub Lech, Zurs and Oberlech provides a programme of play and skiing for children from three years of age. Many of the smart hotels have in-house childcare, including Hotel Sonnenburg at Oberlech, which has a miniclub with a children’s cinema, activities organised for ages two years and upwards, and special children’s suppers. The hotel also has an indoor swimming-pool and is conveniently set on the piste. Sporthotel Lorunser, in Zurs, has a children’s playroom with an indoor climbing wall among the many facilities. the Rote Wand, in Zug, has useful family apartments, a swimming-pool, and kids club.
Where to Stay
Lech and Zurs are home to some of the best hostelleries in the Alps, and precious little in the way of catered chalets or cheap apartments. The good news for those on a tighter budget is that the smaller pensions here are often immaculately-kept. But you wouldn’t want to book them with a group of mates for a wigged-out ski stag: the atmosphere is usually quite formal.
Lech’s hotels and chalets
The renowned five-star in Lech is Hotel Gasthof Post, which is a small but sumptuous Relais & Chateau property. It attracts an older clientele and, as the barman says, “We’re trained to remember guests’ names from one visit to the next. It is just part of the Post service and it means a lot to both our present and former guests.” The bedrooms and suites are large and wood-panelled, with and enormous bathrooms; there are also separate chalets in the grounds.