With a song in your heart
Hum along as you ski at Lech in the Austrian Alps
MUCH as I try to resist, there always comes a time in Austria when I find myself humming a tune from The Sound of Music. On this visit, I’m only a day in and sitting on a chairlift when My Favourite Things starts up in my head. The Alps are a serrated white against a snowy sky, the jaunty red jackets of ski instructors bob down the slope below, icicles glint and glow.
And snowflakes really are resting on my nose and eyelashes. Or on my ski goggles, at least. There’s a kitschy side to Austria, at least to outsiders — all those musicalbox chalets, Frisbee-sized schnitzels and waitresses flouncing around in dirndls leave you feeling rather Von Trappish. But behind the saccharine landscapes and crisp apple strudel, I’m finding my ski holiday in Lech reveals another side to Austria, one that is efficient, innovative and chic. Don’t be fooled by the stereotypes. Austria has top skiing in some of the most technologically advanced resorts in the world.
Lech is one of these. The town is a sedate kind of place, quite the contrast with youthful, more famous St Anton down the road. It’s glamorous rather than glitzy, quietly comfortable rather than exuberant, for romancing rather than all-night dancing. Bavarian industrialists and minor royals nestle here in lodges, and mingle with schmikimiki (fancy), sun-wrinkled folk in rabbit-fur hats and pink ski jackets. The apres-ski shopping runs to custommade ski boots and gloves at eye-watering prices. The dining scene is sophisticated, claiming numerous Gault Millau chef’s hats, and is more goose-liver terrine than schnitzel with noodles.
But never mind all that. My ski gear is from Aldi and I have little patience for mealtime foams and fuss. There’s room for everyone in Lech because, above all, it’s for people serious about their skiing. The resort sits plop in the middle of the Arlberg ski region, where about 80 lifts link entire mountainsides of snow, 280km of pistes and other resort centres such as St Anton, family-oriented Stuben and quiet, romantic little Zurs.
The snow generally has a 1.5m base and a consistent topping of decent powder. Runs are best suited to intermediate and advanced skiers, and this is the only place in Austria that allows (limited) heli-skiing. You can ski all day and never retrace your trail. If you get lost, all you have to do is consult a wandering Info Team guide in a bright red anorak.
Alhough I’ve been to the Arlberg three times, I have always found investing in a couple of days with a ski guide pays off with non-stop skiing that reacquaints me with the region’s labyrinthine snow options without having to fumble with pockets and piste maps.
The skiing is too good not to hit the slopes early, and the sun is barely up before I’m at the top of a gondola with ski guide Christl Graf. “Be careful here,” she says. “The top of this run is a bit cheeky. It was rather exciting the last time I went on it.”
Christl flicks her skis and shimmers effortlessly downhill, orange hair streaming. I wallow behind, dizzy with concentration and the joy of jagged mountain peaks. Lech lies far below.
“You can’t get lost on these slopes,” says Christl as we
Heading downhill towards Lech, top; Balmalp, a good lunch stopover for skiers with an appetite, above