I took the 6pm-8am Philadelphia flight to Zurich, but arrival was delayed by de-icing and then a long luggage wait. I rushed to the train platform and my 10:30am train to St. Anton pulled up. The 2.5 hrs passed quickly, in the comfortable train packed with skiers, mostly Brits. After we left Zurich, there was non-stop alpine mountain scenery to take in. I jumped in a taxi in St. Anton to take me 6 miles up the road to my hotel in St. Christoph and I first felt the sting of the Euro. Thirty dollars for a fifteen minute taxi ride. After checking in and changing I walked across the street and hopped on my first lift by 1:45pm. I skied to closing at 4:15pm and was satisfied with what felt like a full half day of skiing. But it turned out to be a longer day than expected, I made a newbies mistake and just missed the only lift that would have taken me to a slope back to my hotel, so I ended up having to ski down into St. Anton and then wait 45 minutes for a public bus to take me back to St. Christoph.
St. Anton is composed of two main areas, St. Anton and the Lech/Zurs area. They are similar in size and each has about 40 ski lifts. Last year I skied Zermatt and was disappointed by the lack of moguls and expert terrain available. There was no such shortage in St. Anton. There are expert runs off just about every single lift with numerous bowls and couliers(euro for chute) on the top half of the mountain.
The groomed trails, or pistes, were well covered but hard and icy in many places. I would not recommend St. Anton as a intermediates destination because there were so many steep and icy groomers connecting the different areas. I don't fancy myself as a cruiser, but I thoroughly enjoyed cruising the miles and miles of pistes while exploring the resort. Hard not to just enjoy being immersed in the incredible 360 scenery. I think I rode about 60 of the 84 lifs druing my stay. The St. Anton area has two side areas, Stuben and Rendl. These areas connect to St. Anton and comprise about skiable 1,000 acres each with 3 or 4 lifts. From end to end St. Anton is probably about 10 miles wide with a vertical of 4,000 ft. Then add in the same for Lech-Zurs, a short 20 minute bus ride away, although the vertical might be a little bit shorter.
The 2nd day I spent going from one end of Sst. Anton to another. The 3rd day I took a short bus ride up the road to Lech-Zurs. I had read that this area was more for intermediates, but somehow I read wrong. Just about every lift had all varieties of terrain with many bowls, mogul fields, chutes and lightly skied out powder fields. I took the challenge of skiing what is known as the White Ring, which is a circular route around the towns of Lech and Zurs. There are lifts on both sides of the road connecting the resorts, and you take a ski bridge across one end and then a short walk across the town of Lech at the other end to connect the sides.
On my last day I was first one up the mountain at 8:45 so I could maximize my skiing time and catch the 3:00pm train back to my airport hotel in Zurich. It was interesting to see the lift operator prepare the ski lift. It was a quad with about 100 chairs and they were all stored underground for the evening. They popped up one at a time from underground as he loaded the naked cable with the chairs. There were doubles, triples, quads and sixers on the mountain. From the triples on up they had a moving carpet to load them, some were heated, and from the triples on up they had a retractable hood for storm days.
A few observations. On my last run at Snowbird a few weeks ago I saw two separate ski accidents where the patrollers were preparing to haul a victim in the meat wagon. During my entire stay in St. Anton I never saw any accidents, nor did I even see a ski patroller. Also, it was extremely rare to see someone who had fallen down. In the USA, your lift ticket covers ski patroller services, but in Europe, a rescue ride down the mountain will cost you, how much I have no idea. There is insurance available but I didn't have it, nor would I know where to get it. In a skiers guide to St. Anton it mentions that ski insurance might not even cover off-piste (off the groomed trail) skiing, even when marked as a route. The "no free rescue" was in the back of my mind as I explored the mountain, alone.
I didn't meet or hear another American during my stay, the language spoken was 90% German, with a few Brits and other Europeans around. Lift tickets are the only bargain in Austria at about $60/day. Hotels are expensive and hard to find when staying less than a week. Food is also expensive, expect to pay at least 50-75% more for each meal. An orange 10oz Fanta on the mountain was $5! The only bargain is the free breakfast spread provided by your hotel. This was the third European ski hotel I've stayed in and breakfast in the US doesn't remotely compare to theirs. Europeans who travel to the US must think we are Neanderthals when comparing breakfasts. Many different types of cheese, fresh pastries, meats, fish, granolas, and the list goes on.
There is a lot of travel and expense involved with skiing Europe. Probably a much better deal is going for a week with a travel agency, but I had a free freq flyer ticket and can't leave work for a weeks time to travel. Another thing to consider, is hauling skis and boots around, not for the weak - and if you have any sign of backache or tendonitis, forget it! At times I felt like a pack mule, and thought with just a few degrees less of fitness I could never do it. Renting is the way to go, except for the cost, time and lack of familiarity with your own equipment.
Speaking of equip., I only ski about twice per year on destination trips, and I'm slow to spend my ski budget upgrading my skis. But this year I broke down and bought Rossi Phantoms 97's. I had buyers remorse when I compared them in the garage to my Rossi Bandit's, thinking how I am going to manage skiing bumps with these wide skis. My new skis have been to Snowbird and now St. Anton and they have been completely tested on all mountain conditions, and I'm thrilled and surprised they ski better than my old thin sticks in any condition. They are quick in the bumps, I think I'm now skiing bumps better than ever and they work just fine cruising down the piste, no hesitation in getting them on edge. I even got caught in a moderately steep south facing morning crud field that had frozen overnight. It was hairy until I traversed out, and the Aussies in the lift overhead had a good chuckle at my predicament. But my skis held the edge while I clawed to the slope until out of harms way.
Patience is necessary with this kind of trip. There is lots of traveling and waiting for time to pass. I didn't have any real trouble with jet lag. I slept enough on the plane and then the train ride to get me through my first day. Luckily the plane was more than half empty both ways, and I made sure to reserve myself a seat online in an empty triple row so I could stretch out on the long flight. The stewardess said the flights are empty all winter and the airlines makes their money on cargo. My USAIR frequent flyer ticket only cost me 35,000 miles + $65.
In closing, I used to think that considering everything, Snowbird was likely the best ski resort in the world. Ignorance is bliss, because now I have to rank St. Anton over Bird/Alta. At least 4 times as big, with a similar mix of terrain except bigger. And although I don't think the snowfall quite measures up, from what I read, St Anton has a reputation of being in the highest rankings of European snowfall.
If you are considering a trip to St. Anton, I suggest the Mad Dog St. Anton ski guide, which has a list of budget hotels, B&B suggestions and other info. But I see it is not available right now on Amazon, try Amazon UK or another used book source. I think the end of January is likely the best time to go. There are long school holidays in Feb which crowd the resort and March is busy. By the end of Jan, hopefully the sometimes unreliable European snowfall will have accumulated enough to open all of the mountain. When skiing in Europe if you arrive in Geneva, Switzerland you can ski the western Swiss resorts like Verbier and Zermatt or the French resorts of Chamonix and the Three Vallleys. To ski in St. Anton you fly into either Zurich, Innsbruck or Munich to ski the Austrian, German or western Swiss resorts. St. Anton is the no-brainer considering the terrain, snowfall and ease of access which allows a half day of skiing on the way in.
Last year I skied Zermatt, and posted a report titled "Zermatt Not My Kind of Skiing". I can emphatically state that St. Anton is My Kind of Skiing!!
If you made it this far, here is a 2 star youtube video compilation I took from my handheld camera.
Here is my complete online photo album.
Above is the village of St. Christoph, headquarters for my trip.
Edited by SnowbirdDevotee - 2/4/11 at 4:00pm