Skiing in Austria: finding Europes Vail

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of April 30-May 6, 1998
Skiing in Austria: finding Europe’s Vail
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Skiing in Austria: finding Europe’s Vail
Question: I have always wanted to go skiing in Europe and went one time in Innsbruck. Having skied at Vail, Mammoth, Park City, and Killington, I found the atmosphere, beauty, and ambiance great, but the five places to ski around Innsbruck were not worth a second day. My wife speaks fluent German, skis very well on groomed expert slopes and would like to ski someplace in Europe that generally speaks German. Is there a place in Switzerland or Austria where a person could find the Vail of Europe? How would I find information to plan a trip there?

Raymond Hayes
Allentown, Pennsylvania

Adventure Adviser: Don’t give up on Austria yet! I skied there last February and found the terrain to be immense, spectacular, and challenging. The one disadvantage is that if you happen to book your trip between snowfalls, you’ll find that there is less skiable terrain because Austrian ski resorts don’t groom nearly as many runs as their American counterparts. They tend to leave most of the mountain up to Mother Nature which, on a bad snow day, makes for very difficult “off-piste” skiing. During a good snow day, however, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better area than the Arlberg Region a few hours west of Innsbruck. I recommend that you stay in the farthest west resort town of Lech, the ski area that Princess Di preferred above all others. Lech is approximately the size of Vail without the obnoxious freeway corridor cutting through the heart of town. It’s generally considered the “ritziest” resort in Austria, but since the schilling isn’t as strong as the dollar, you can get a lift ticket for about $24 per day. There are a number of great family-owned hotels that offer either breakfast or breakfast and dinner as part of the package. I stayed at the Hotel Elisabeth (Phone number: 011-43-5583-2330) and was very pleased with my cozy room, the underground swimming pool, the HOT sauna, the delicious breakfasts, and the warm hospitality.

Though you could spend a week skiing in Lech, chances are, you’ll want to check out the nearby villages of Zürs, Stuben, and St. Anton. You can ski from Lech to Zürs pretty easily, but to ski from Lech to St. Anton, you’ll have to navigate a particularly nasty couloir that, if you don’t make flawless turns, could put you in a stretcher. I suggest you hire a guide your first day out and he can give you a good feel for the lay of the land. Chances are, the guide you hire will be part of the ubiquitous Strolz family—founders of the famous form-fit Strolz boots. For more information on Lech and the Arlberg region, call the Austrian National Tourist Office in either Los Angeles (310-477-2038) or New York (212-575-7723).

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