Yearly ticket that you can’t pass up

Aus­tria’s tra­di­tional small-town ski re­sorts beckon the nos­tal­gic skier

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JOHN­NIE KERR THE SPEC­TA­TOR

I HAVEspent a week of ev­ery win­ter of mylife with my fam­ily in Zurs, a small vil­lage in Arl­berg, Aus­tria. It isn’t at all the most fa­mous re­sort in the re­gion — with fewer slopes than Lech and a qui­eter nightlife than St An­ton — nev­er­the­less, it pos­sesses a qual­ity that sees most who go there re­turn sea­son af­ter sea­son.

Part of the place’s at­trac­tion must be that it couldn’t ex­ist at all with­out ski­ing, from which it de­rives prac­ti­cally its en­tire econ­omy, and con­se­quently great pride. Ex­cept for a few cat­tle, it is en­tirely un­in­hab­ited dur­ing the non-sea­son (rather like the ho­tel in The Shin­ing), which ef­fec­tively makes it one of the most whole­some ski re­sorts imag­in­able.

There’s noth­ing there that doesn’t re­volve around the sport, from the faded photographs on ev­ery ho­tel wall of the town’s first rick­ety but­ton-lifts, to the count­less inns and shops, their doors closed right up un­til first snow­fall, at which point the whole place is sud­denly trans­mo­gri­fied from an eerie ghost town into a per­co­lat­ing hive of ac­tiv­ity, pick­ing up ex­actly where it left off at the last cheer­less ar­rival of sum­mer.

It’s a per­sonal pref­er­ence, of course, but when choos­ing a place to ski in Europe, I plump for Aus­tria ev­ery time. It is no stretch to claim that if you have never tried Tiroler Grostl (ba­si­cally a fry up, of­ten served in the pan, of pork, po­tato and onion topped off with a fried egg, still siz­zling) you haven’t truly lived.

Another ad­mirable thing about the Aus­tri­ans is that they haven’t yet out­lawed in­door smok­ing, mak­ing it one of the last civilised na­tions on earth — a place where old men­can still smoke over their beers in Ty­rolean kneipen and gasthaus bars from pipes the size and shape of tubas. It is the am­bi­ence, as much as the ski­ing it­self, that cre­ates this home­sick­ness we have for the moun­tains.

Apres ski? All those par­ties in chalets and moun­tain­top bars, ev­ery­one be­ing roasted in equal mea­sure by fire­places and booze, with noth­ing what­ever to do but make merry and gaze com­pla­cently at the bliz­zard rag­ing out­side. It is the most bliss­ful hol­i­day imag­in­able and it’s hardly sur­pris­ing Aus­trian ski lodge-themed night­clubs have be­come so oddly pop­u­lar in cities such as Lon­don. Places that sell a form of ski nos­tal­gia — the log cabin sur­round­ings, ac­cor­dion mu­sic and the heady aroma of pine — of­fer the il­lu­sion of apres ski, invit­ing the snow-de­prived in for a mem­ory of the drug they re­ally crave.


The slopes of Zurs at­tract re­peat visi­tors

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