Stepping out of the train station and onto dry land was both exciting and disconcerting. Since my previous ski trips in the French Alps were marked by icy roads and snow crunching beneath my feet, the easy journey from Zurich to the centre of St. Anton and being greeted by sunshine felt wrong. The village of St. Anton lies at 1,304 m above sea level; by mid-March, snowflakes disappear into the asphalt almost as quickly as they fall. I would learn later that up here in the Arlberg there is little correlation between the snow in the village and the snow on the slopes.
A jaunt along the pedestrianized Dorfstraße, the town’s main street, takes you from the main gondolas past locally-owned shops, hotels, restaurants, and bars. Despite the substantial number of visitors from around the world, this cozy little town of 2,470 retains much of its local character. Several of the hotels and shops are still housed in original timber and stone farmhouses, while Baroque frescoes represent St. Anton’s regional heritage.
Heritage and tradition loom large in St. Anton, particularly when it comes to winter sports. In the winter of 1895, the parish priest of Lech made his first attempt at skiing; by 1901, a group of friends formed the Arlberg Ski Club, among the first in the Alps. Today, this resort boasts 305 kilometres of groomed slopes and 88 lifts, including the revolutionary Ferris wheel-style Galzigbahn. A visit to the St. Anton Museum (Rudi-Matt-Weg 10) allows you to explore the evolution of skiing in the region, but all you need do is open your eyes. From old wooden skis hung in hotel lobbies and vintage two-seaters in Stuben, to the high-speed chairlifts with heated seats, the proof is in the place.
With 200 kilometres of fierce off-piste terrain and exhilarating descents, St. Anton is aimed at the advanced skier or a strong intermediate who is ready to move from pistes to powder. Cable cars ascend to Valluga (2,811 m), the trophy off-piste area that offers incredible views from the peak all the way down to Lech Zürs am Arlberg.
However, with only four days of ski experience under my belt, my first afternoon on the slopes was a blow to my confidence. There are nursery slopes at Nasserein, but I went straight up to Rendl (2,030 m) on the recommendation of a seasonnaire at a ski hire shop. The pitch of the slopes makes St. Anton a challenging place to learn, especially for nervous or tentative skiers. Beginners need some fearlessness to progress quickly and make the most of their visit. There are no green runs and even the so-called ‘gentle blues’ can be steeper and bumpier than blues at other resorts. Once you get the hang of it, there are plenty of blue runs from St. Anton, St. Christoph, Stuben, Lech, and back.