Now that it’s been properly linked to Zurs and Lech, St Anton is without doubt one of the world’s best resorts.
It’s not so much the extent of the skiing that matters (with 305km of waymarked pistes it’s still no match for the Three Valleys in France): it’s the mind-boggling, knee-mashing variety of terrain. Easy pistes, vertiginous blacks, entry-level off-piste, white-knuckle couloirs – with an Arlberg lift pass in your pocket they’re all on the menu, served up with an ever-changing backdrop of stupendous scenery. The round trip from St Anton to Warth and back again has quickly become one of the must-ski tours in the Alps.
But that doesn’t mean St Anton’s nature has fundamentally changed. This is still primarily a resort for athletic skiers, who like their pistes steep and aspire to blasting through powder too (if they’re not skiing it already). Yes, the new Flexenbahn link has speeded up access to Lech’s easier slopes. And yes, the cruisy pistes in St Anton’s own Rendl sector are more accessible too, thanks to the repositioning of the lift station. But if you want lots of broad, confidence-boosting pistes on the doorstep you need to target somewhere like Obergurgl or Tignes or Val Thorens instead: or stay on the other side of the Arlberg, in Lech. Save St Anton for the moment when you start loving bumps.
Here’s a promotional video recently filmed in the resort. It gives a good sense of the place – with the exception of the apres-ski. It’s a lot more turbo-charged than this footage suggests…
We don’t recommend it for beginners
If you’re looking for quiet, unstressful nursery slopes, or miles and miles of intermediate cruising then – of course – there are slopes for you here too. But you’ll be happier elsewhere. In fact, the only reason beginners and intermediates should target St Anton is if they’re part of a mixed-ability group and the social dynamic demands it.
Lech, on the other side of the Valluga and with its ski area now linked into the village of Warth-Schröcken, would be a better option. Or one of the smaller/cuter/cheaper resorts elsewhere in Austria. But if you are going to St Anton, then there’s one simple rule: book a ski school that teaches you on the slopes at Nasserein, and stay there. For a neophyte, the pitch of most of St Anton’s terrain is confidence-shattering. If you do want to see some of the rest of the resort, go to the easy blues at Rendl at the end of the week.
Plenty of resorts will suit the intermediate better
There is some fine on-piste skiing here, although you’d do best to save St Anton for the moment when you’re ready to leave the groomed snow for powder. But if you are fixed on St A, then follow these simple rules: At the start of the week, avoid the slopes from Gampen down to the bottom of the Galzig/Gampen lifts unless absolutely necessary. They’re almost always crowded. The only time you want to ski them (slowly, watching out for the occasional nutter) is on the way down to the Mooserwirt, at the end of the day. Warm up first on the uncrowded slopes around, and en route, to the village of Stuben, or over in the separate Rendl sector. Always stick to the blues. A red in St Anton could well be a black in the last resort you visited.
Once you’ve got the measure of those, you can ski over to neighbouring Lech and Zurs where you’ll a greater proportion of confidence-boosting pistes. Only later on in the holiday, when you’re beginning to feel really salty, do you want to try out the runs down from Gampen and Kappall, immediately above the main resort. And when you’re really on form, set yourself against the reds off the Schindler Spitze. Over 1000m of vertical. Great, if you can handle it. If you can’t, it’s a mighty long and exhausting schlepp down.
Advanced skiers and snowboarders will love this place
Oh boy – this is where it starts getting interesting. First of all, if you’ve come to experiment with off-piste skiing, then you’ll have a ball: especially if you sign up with New Generation or Piste to Powder: both schools are dab hands at guiding skiers through their first powder turns.
And if all you want to do is ski fast and hard on bumps and piste, then you’ll find some scorchers here too: notably the reds off the Schindler Spitze, the World Cup Fang race course from Kappall into St Anton, and the run off the top of the Kappall chair down into the Mattun valley – it is almost always home to monstrous bumps.
Don’t write off neighbouring Lech and Zurs. Yes, they have an intermediate-friendly reputation, but they almost always get more snow than St Anton, not that it seems to matter in these current bountiful winters at this end of the Alps. But, over this side of the Flexen Pass, far fewer people are skiing powder. If conditions are right, a day with the off-piste guides from the Alpin Center could well be a highlight of the trip.
The north face of the Valluga is a must-ski mountain for experts
If you’re a mountain man or woman you need to ski this at least once in a lifetime. It’s one of the classic notches but – don’t tell anyone – it’s really not technically very difficult. On the scary scale it’s just a blast compared with Verbier’s bad bits off Mont Fort or Chamonix’s Couloir Rectiligne. First you have to take the final cable-car to the top of the 2811m Valluga. What gets the butterflies hatching is that you’re only allowed to board the cabin carrying skis if you are with a qualified guide. Sightseeers look at you with wonder. This changes to awe when you kick off from the viewing platform.
However, assuming you make the first turn – it’s pretty important to make the first left-hander unless you are a base jumper – the rest is technically easy. You need the guide largely because of the considerable avalanche risk. If this run is on your wish list, there are plenty of guides available and we strongly recommend Piste to Powder. Or try the Arlberg Guides.