The Austrian Way: downhill in sybaritic splendor

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Women Outside, Fall 1998

Adeventure Classics: Skiing
Ich Bin Ein Schusser
The Austrian Way: downhill in sybaritic splendor
By Stephanie Gregory


TRAVEL: Fly-Fishing | Rafting | SKIING | Trekking | Diving

In Austria, schoolkids take mandatory weeklong ski vacations, ski instructors are elevated to a status on par with doctors, and nearly every village has its own lift. Such is to be expected of a country tectonically engineered for downhill.

Austria's Aspen

To rub elbows with royalty, head to Lech, the Aspen of the Alps, in western Austria. Part of the Arlberg region (Diana was often sighted here, rubbing elbows with that other unhappy princess, Caroline of Monaco), Lech is a massive resort, with 171 miles of groomed runs. Its size is magnified by four other ski villages that can be reached by a chain of runs, chairlifts, and cable cars. (An Arlberg ski pass gives you six days of access to Lech, St. Anton, St. Christoph, Stuben, and ZÆrs for $183. Call Lech's tourist board at 011-43-55-8321610.)

As Austrian tradition dies hard, snowboarding hasn't exactly caught on like wildfire, but it is allowed. Skiing and snowboarding lessons cost approximately $45 per day. If you're an advanced skier and the snow is fresh, you'll spend the morning in search of abundant off-piste powder, probably in the vicinity of the RÆfikopf-Bahn gondola. If you're a beginner or intermediate skier, there are plenty of gently sloping, wide-open groomers near the base of the mountain. Take the last leisurely turns of the day down the Madloch, a cruiser that delivers you back to the hotels. Most Austrian inns are proud family affairs, and the four-star Gasthof Elisabeth is no exception, with cozy rooms, a sauna, and swimming pool (doubles, including breakfast and dinner, $190-$380; 011-43-55-832330). Take a horse-drawn sleigh ride up to the Gasthof Rote Wand (011-43-55-833435), a restaurant in the tiny village of Zug, where they make a wonderful artery-clogging fondue.

Beyond Lech: St. Anton

East of Lech is St. Anton, home to the Arlberg Ski School, founded in 1921 by Hannes Schneider, "The Father of Alpine Skiing." The school is still considered the best in the world. During full-day group lessons (about $45 per person), instructors illustrate the Austrian Way by drawing a wall clock with a hanging pendulum in the snow, showing that your upper body should stay completely still while your legs below the knees do all the work, a difficult concept for hip-swinging Americans.

Moving on to Innsbruck

For a taste of Olympic history, base yourself in Innsbruck, the only city in the world to host the Winter Games twice in 12 years (1964 and 1976). Stay at the Hotel Goldener Adler ($60-$88 per person per night, including breakfast; 011-43-512-571111).

Axamer Lizum, a refreshingly small resort 30 minutes from town, was home to the 1976 women's Olympic downhill course. To get a feel for skiing on shifting ice and snow, head to the Stubai Glacier, where on a sunny day the allure of the deck chair is powerful. Ski all six of the area's mountains using the Innsbruck Super Ski Pass ($195 for five days). Spend extra for an Innsbruck Card ($17-$30) and you'll have free transportation around town and to the ski areas, as well as free admission to most museums. For more information call Innsbruck's tourist board at 011-43-512-535636.


Package deals are by far the most cost-effective way to ski in Austria. Adventures on Skis (800-628-9655) offers a variety of Austria trips; eight days in St. Anton, including airfare from New York, ground transportation, accommodations, and breakfasts and dinners at the four-star Hotel Tyrol, costs $1,237. AustriaSki's seven-night Innsbruck package ($1,295 per person; 800-333-5533) includes airfare from New York, ground transportation, seven nights at the Hotel Alpinpark and breakfast. (The six-day Innsbruck Glacier Ski Pass is $140.) As for Lech, call the very helpful tourist board.

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