With a song in your heart

Hum along as you ski at Lech in the Aus­trian Alps

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - BRIAN JOHN­STON

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

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