Dec 2021 – Needless to say, at this point, the pseudo-repeat of last year’s winter in which Germany in cooperation with the Robert Koch Institute went berserk and started adding and removing countries to/from it’s risk area list like it was a weird sort of race. Leading up to Christmas, we already had to switch out our planned trip into Sölden for an underwhelming (but still valued) 3-day weekend onto the Zugspitze. Additionally, our trip for Christmas into Kirchberg, Austria with friends was destroyed for the same reasons as Sölden: classification of Austria as a high-risk area.
At this point, we were simply holding our breath and hoping that our visit into France didn’t also see the same fate. However, on Christmas day, something miraculous happened: Germany and RKI removed the alpine paradise of Austria from its high-risk list. We did what any family craving slope time did: booked the first available thing we could…this would lead us to a place I’ve always wanted to go but could never find affordable accommodation: St. Anton am Arlberg.
The slope map may look a little intimidating…but upon closer inspection you’ll be able to see that a lot of the towns are actually connected by lifts and slopes. One does not have to stay in actual St. Anton to enjoy everything about the area…so it’s totally possible to stay in Lech or St. Christoph, etc and still enjoy the entire region: just budget for several days so you can actually explore some
As well, for all of my Stuttgart pals, this place isn’t even 3.5 hours away. For a slope region with over 300km worth of pistes, this should be your go-to place for a weekend trip. I know Garmisch-Partenkirchen is your safe space…but venture out of it! You’ll be happy you did.
To preface the rest of this post a bit more…during the week that we took this trip, the Alps saw what was essentially a warm Spring-like week of weather. It definitely did not make for good snow conditions, but we made the best of it like we (and you should) always try to do.
Immediate first tip: during these times of the new normal such as COVID, don’t leave anything to chance: book lift tickets and ski schools ahead of time. It’s doubtful that in a place so enormous, there are limits on capacity…but just heed my warning on this one.
Another thing that probably feels obvious, if you do manage to begin planning a visit here, try your best to grab accommodation near a lift, especially if you’re bringing little ones. The region actually has a great ski bus network, so if you can’t find a place near a lift, it’s not the end of the world. I emphasize both of these decisions because, as Austria opens up more from COVID, the parking lots will fill up faster even earlier.
Sidenote on transit to-and-from St. Anton: it has a centrally located train station so, if you prefer that type of travel, it’s possible for you if you’re interested. I prefer train travel myself (enjoy a beer while traveling amirite?), but we feel the need to drive when we’ve got so much gear with us.
We ended up at Appartement Berge which, as you can see from the above map, was a 5-minute walk from the Nassereinbahn Gondola and was directly next to a bakery. When you’re dragging two kids to ski school at 8:30AM in the morning temperatures, this is a priceless convenience.
This is something I still don’t understand: after 3 years of skiing, both of them complain every morning about waking up to hit ski school…even though at the end of the day they’re all smiles. Children are confusing little beings which I don’t anticipate getting any better as they head into their teenage years. God help us.
ANYWAY, to the more important piece of all of these little ramblings that I write-up: SKI SCHOOLS! I usually search for schools that are listed on the official city or slope region websites. Then we narrow down our search by finding out whether or not a school offers a lunch option so that our kids can eat with their instructors and we can stay on the pistes. Finally, don’t forget this like I did: if you’re in the area on a Saturday or Sunday…make sure the schools teach on those days. In the Alps, it’s more common than not that the schools have a day off to allow their staff to enjoy a slope day…this means group lessons may not be offered (but private may still be an option).
We landed on Skischule Arlberg and chose a two-day course for both of our weirdos at €174 per weirdo. We paid extra for their lift tickets as well as making sure their lunchtime was booked with their instructors (hahaaaa they’re YOUR problem at lunch!!!)
As I stated in my Alpine 101 post…I really should make an entire post on nothing but ski schools. The check-in process was extremely confusing since we booked everything online. We knew the general area that we needed to be in, but the times in which our bookings indicated we should meet were a little off. If you think you need to get to the area early…get there even earlier to avoid first-day confusion. First session meet-up can oftentimes be really unclear. Read the website, booking confirmation, call or email the office…do whatever you need to to confirm all the details and make the most of your booked time.
I made mention of it in one of my Ehrwald posts, but I think Austrian ski schools push the kids a little harder than their Swiss counterparts. If you or your kid in ski school may fall in between beginner and intermediate, it’s best to go ahead and make sure they have a lift pass in their jackets. This saves everyone time. I felt that St. Anton’s instructors were much like their peers in Ehrwald Alm: they immediately started both my kids on either the big gondola or the teller/button lift (buy those tickets ahead of time) and their comfort on their skis certainly demonstrated the instruction’s quality.
Skischule Arlberg’s instruction is top-notch as it should be. St. Anton is the birthplace of widely accepted Alpine techniques invented by Hannes Schneider, and I was impressed at how quickly my 6-yr-old was taught how to use the Teller/Button lift for the first time. It was yet another proud father first. If you visit, take my advice and book lunch for your little ones. Due to the mountain’s size, it takes a while to get to-and-from your runs as well as back down to the school’s main area.
Their instructors speak absolutely everything: German, English, Danish, Spanish, Italian, etc. You name it and they’ve got you covered. They teach small ramps for balance, weaving in-and-out of obstacles for edge familiarization, and even have a race day. Except for the one instance in which my son angrily just took a straight line down his slope because they didn’t “high five the monster slope”…we really felt the lessons were a great value for the instruction and for what we paid.
Onto other topics…beginners take note please: the St. Anton slopes are not the friendliest for those who are not comfortable on their skis or boards. What you may think of as a normal Blue slope will likely feel like a Red slope and so forth. My wife actually started crying because we ended up at the top of a Black with no other way down (to be fair, we found out that run was a FIS World Cup Ski Slope after the fact…). There are several magic carpets and Teller/Button lifts for you to use if you need them…just don’t forget that lift ticket even for the smaller trainer lifts.
One of the cooler things about lift tickets at St. Anton…you can purchase a variety of tickets; not just a single or multiple day ticket. You can buy a half-day ticket…trainer tellerlift ticket…single journey ticket, etc. So if the conditions completely suck or you’re just not feeling a full day…you can adjust as needed!
As well, on the slopes, when the mood strikes you, there are perfectly placed huts and restaurants scattered everywhere to sample perfectly made Alpine fare. Whether you want to sit on the upper lift areas or literally in the trees overlooking the lower slopes, you’ll find a spot. Down in the town of St. Anton, it’s another story…
The actual town is really cool and quaint. There are a lot of great places to go both for dinner and (when times permit) Après-Ski…but pay attention to one word here: reservations. Unless you’re doing dinner early, don’t bother walking into a restaurant looking for a table. Call at least a day ahead minimum. However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, a lot of the town is open even on German/Austrian holidays like New Year’s/Sylvester.
Regarding cost…expect moderate to expensive costs for nearly everything.
I’ll start to close post up…but there’s one thing I discovered late considering how long I’ve been in Europe: Ski Depots. This is basically a business that runs on-site/slope storage for backpacks, shoes, boots, skis, snowboards, etc. It’s pretty much a changing station right next to a lift so that, as was in our case, you don’t have to drag everyone through the streets with tons of gear. You can simply pick it up, strap in, and be on the move! Ask your accommodation about them.
St. Anton is a great place and, for us, it’s MUCH more preferred to the classic American destination of Garmisch…but I think the higher cost prevents us from making it a repeatable trip. There is plenty to see and hundreds of kilometers of pistes to check out. Highly recommend checking it out even if it’s just one time. Good luck out there!
If you want to know more, think I missed something, or if there’s anything unclear, drop me a message or comment below! I’ll get back to you!
Bis zum näschtes mal!-the snowboard dad in europe