After a month of bouncing around between family and friends in Philly, NYC, Michigan, LA and SF, we were off to the Austrian Alps to finally “Ski the Alps.” Long on my list of things to do, we’ve heard the rumors about Austria from friends and were curious if they were true. Are Austrians really born with skis on? Is the apres ski in Austria really the best in the world? And finally, do the mountains really make everything in North America seem tiny? There was only one way to find out and to do just that we flew into Zurich and took a 2.5 hour train ride east to a well-known village, St. Anton.
The valley is cut deep and the mountains are high, with chairs and gondolas going up each side, behind and around the mountains. Nestled two towns east of St. Anton’s ritzy, glam-and-gush center, lies little Schnann, our home for the next 9 days. Haus Schoepf, our lovely guest house is predominantly run by Fiona, the guest-house mom extraordinaire. Even with five kids, all girls, she somehow found the time to check us in and have breakfast ready to go by 7:30 sharp every morning. Built around the Stube, a traditional Austrian/Bavarian-style room for eating and relaxing, the house is rather large and the rooms cozy. And, at just a free, 15-minute bus ride away from all the slope-side fun you could possibly handle, at 1/10th the cost, this little gem was a no-brainer.
Calling this area a “resort” region is way too loose of a word. There are essentially 5 villages – Lech, Zurs, St. Anton, St. Christoph, and Stuben, each a “resort” in their own right, but this doesn’t even include all of the terrain, with Rendl across the valley being world-class, and Zug to the far-north, an untouched powder paradise six days after a dump. I can’t find the specifics online but I’d have to guess if you were to compare apples to apples, the Arlberg region is about the size of 4 Vails or 5 Squaw Valleys. It’s massive, simply put.
Since it snowed so much here this year already, the Arlberg (Gnarlberg!) region has one of the largest bases in the world. And, to make things even better, we arrived just before a massive storm that didn’t stop dumping snow on us for the next 6 days, creating what we’ve dubbed “eight for eight.” Powder days, that is, and none being less than a foot deep. “Dreams really do come true,” we constantly yelled, hopping off another cornice into fresh, untracked powder (h/t DDF.)
“Oooooh, you might say that I’m addicted.
You might say I’m really hooked.
But at least I’m not addicted to the powder that you sniff into your nose.
That would really suck.”
– Damien Filiatrault
Due to the storm(s), we spent our first few days lapping the Galzigbahn gondola in St. Anton, enjoying fresh tracks all-day, every day, and anxiously waiting for the upper mountain to come off wind-hold. Our friend Mark arrived, somehow in the eye of the storm, and we spent one day on the slopes with him, rebel yelling on each and every run. Amazed that most, if not all, other skiers remained on-piste and directly between the trail lines, we laughed hysterically that getting fresh powder tracks on every run was actually happening. Just like at home, at the end of any epic powder day we were ready for some celebratory drinks. We were eager to enjoy an apres ski, French for heavy drinking post skiing, at Mooserwirt, consistently voted the best apres ski in the world. Bellying up to the bar, we began with half-liter pints of dunkels and hefeweizens before getting heavy into the jagermeister, plum schnapps, and even worse, the hot widow (heisse witwe) aka the cougar shot due to its unabashed use of whipped cream and the ensuing mess. Beer swilling continued and the lights got low, the DJ started spinning, and before long it was an absolute fist-pumping, dancing-in-your-ski-boots kind of party, which for us, ended before 6:30. The only unfortunate thing was we had to ski down afterward and catch our bus home! Luckily, we were taught how to snow plow. 🙂
We bid Mark farewell and enjoyed more incredible snow, finding more and more areas to get the good stuff. Damien arrived the following night, eager to hit the slopes and enjoy what we’d been enjoying. We hit Rendl and got 3-feet deep, face-shots-on-every-turn kind of snow. We hit Kappal, and went Mach-18 down a snow-filled valley for 10 minutes straight, all untouched. We traversed around a 10,000 foot peak for a field of snow, just waiting for us to dive in. We jumped off cliffs, over cornice lips, into couloirs and down chutes. Avalanche danger being of concern, we took all necessary precautions and as the week carried on, and the danger became less, we just kept getting more. And more. It was an endless bowl of snow, with free refills and we ate it all up. On the final day, we split up accidentally, and Erin and I found what may have been the last untouched mecca of snow on the backside of Zurs. After fifteen minutes of pure enjoyment, at the bottom of the slope, we looked back at our tracks and the two helicopters swooping between the peaks, smiled at each other, knowing that we had just poached heli-skiing terrain.
Together, we bid farewell to Fiona and Haus Schoepf and caught the train to Zurich for a night of fondue and resting up before our early flight. It was the trip of a lifetime and getting such enormous amounts of snow was certainly the icing on top. Plus, with lift tickets and rentals for the week costing $45/day and our room at $30/day, we felt like we had gotten one heck of a deal compared to the $95/day lift-tickets-alone prices in N. America.
See more on how to “go budge” and get the sweetest deals by visiting Erin’s article at SF Examiner.
And finally, a preview of Gnarlberg: A Love Story