Yearly ticket that you can’t pass up
Austria’s traditional small-town ski resorts beckon the nostalgic skier
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