St Anton Austria - February 9, 2024.

Sbooker

Active member
I was going to send this last night but I decided to sleep on it as my fresh memories may have clouded my judgement so this is a slightly edited report.

@Tony Crocker i acknowledge your previous advice to stay at Lech/Zurs. Sometimes I take your advice (for which I’m thankful) and sometimes I don’t. We wanted to check out multiple ski areas for research purposes for future trips so we picked the unglamorous but central and totally comfortable base of Landeck. The half board deal we’re on is probably one third of the price of the same deal at Lech. I get that my sensitivity with spending is contradictory considering the amount of world wide ski travel we do. :)

We took the 22 minute train ride to St Anton and purchased our 80 euro day tickets. I didn’t take too many photos sadly. The light was flat (for most of the day) so we didn’t get any wow experience from what I’m sure would usually be fantastic vistas. I was mindful of the southerly orientation of St Anton so we skied over the back toward St Christoff and Stuben. From opening chair it was clear the ski area was extremely crowded. Definitely the most crowded I’ve ever experienced.
I spotted the relatively quiet ski routes under the St Christoff chair so did a lap while Kylie took a groomer. There were no crowds on the ski route. I quickly found out why. Once committed I descended and almost immediately experience sticky gluggy (that’s a word in Oz) snow. It was a long way down and it tired my legs badly. (I thought more than once about Tony’s comments on Jackson’s orientation).
Soon after we had our best runs of the day off the Albona 2 gondola above Stuben. It hadn’t been as sun affected and there were far less crowds. I wanted to see more of the area so took the dubious decision of moving back over the other side of Stuben. The crazy skiers on crowded pistes rattled Kylie badly so we decided for a lunch stop. We went to a sit down joint and had an eye wateringly expensive average lunch. We had far better at Serre Chevalier for less than half the price. I have since discovered the vast majority of the restaurants are owned by the lift company.

After lunch Kylie was knocked over by some dickhead skiing uncontrollably on a super crowded piste. You can see where this is going…… Kylie took a breather while I kept skiing despite not enjoying it. I’ve never felt unsafe on a ski hill before…..Does this resort attract out of control yobbos? For the first time this trip I heard plenty of English being spoken and yelled.

The intention was to check out the famed apres at the Mooserwirt or Krazy Kangaroo but when I skied past on perhaps the worst snow I have ever skied on I could hear doof doof music and yahooing from clearly already drunk patrons so given my mood I ditched that idea. I decided to meet Kylie so she could check out the retail shops for a souvenir. (You know of our lame logo sticker on the ski helmet thing. She is still doing that but has run out of room so is doing pinned badges. She has quite the collection). Down in the town we were rained on by a passing shower.
I had the rare want for an ice cream or gelato. I discovered there are no gelato shops. What a business opportunity! Can you imagine how many gelatos one could offload in a monopoly situation? I guess the resort is catering to the drinking crowd - not the family crowd.

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^^
Aforementioned badges.

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Looking down toward St Christoff (I think).

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The clouds briefly parted to a degree.

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^^
I can’t even remember where this was taken.

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This was just before Kylie was knocked over I think.

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I think I posted this photo of the skier numbers in the other thread.


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The Krazy Kangaroo on our way down to the town before catching the required lift up to our chosen lunch spot.


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^^ These very recent posts on Snowheads from people that spend multiple months per season in the Arlberg confirmed to me that we just got unlucky. Obviously Europe’s best snow record couldn’t overcome the recent warmth. It doesn’t excuse the crazy skiing and crowding though.
I can’t help but feel that one of North America’s ‘jewel in the crown’ ski resorts like Aspen or Whistler could deliver a bad experience for a 50 something year old relatively experienced if not terribly skillful skier and his timid skier wife.
We’ll have to give it another go at some time and try the other side of the domain I guess.
Flame suit on! :)
 
This trip is worth analyzing for educational purposes and future reference. Hopefully sbooker will view my comments as constructive.
we picked the unglamorous but central and totally comfortable base of Landeck. The half board deal we’re on is probably one third of the price of the same deal at Lech. I get that my sensitivity with spending is contradictory considering the amount of world wide ski travel we do.
My attitude is not that different. Recall Liz and I spent the first 3 days of our trip based in Sierre and commuting to ski every day. It is not unreasonable at all to base in Landeck or even Innsbruck to check out various Austrian ski areas.

But in the context of the past few weeks conditions, I think sbooker made a couple of questionable decisions. He had observed first hand the conditions with the warm weather and minimal new snow, corroborated with the comments James and I were making at the same time. I recall commenting that off piste was no good below 2,400 meters and that even on-piste you could expect melt/freeze conditions below 2,100 meters.

In that context relocating to Austria in the first place is puzzling. Aside from the resorts with glaciers, Ischgl and Obergurgl are the only Austrian areas with a majority of terrain over 2,000 meters. From Aosta sbooker and Kylie could have relocated only an hour or two through the St. Bernard tunnel to the (French speaking!) Upper Rhone valley. That gives you one marquee area Verbier plus the lesser known but sizable areas (St. Luc, Grimentz, Zinal) in Val d'Anniviers, all with abundant terrain above 2,000 meters. And not lesser known on FTO as James has been touting them for years, luring us to ski St. Luc in 2022 and Grimentz on this trip.

The worst call IMHO was to give up the car during a period with challenging conditions where flexibility was even more important than usual. If they had been in Landeck WITH the car, they could have driven to Zurs if they really wanted to see the Arlberg. They also could have driven to some higher areas: Obergurgl, Solden, Pitztal, maybe Stubai.

If asked in advance I would have said, "Don't even think about taking Kylie to St. Anton." I knew before my first trip in 2013 with my terminal intermediate friend Richard that I needed to base in Lech/Zurs. But giving up the car forced them to use St. Anton because that's where the train goes.

The only part of this that is a surprise to me is the overcrowding. I rechecked the school calendar, and all hell breaks out starting this weekend, but last week almost no schools were on vacation. Val d'Isere was quite busy also, though skier density was only an issue on a handful of runs funneling into base areas.

Once committed I descended and almost immediately experience sticky gluggy (that’s a word in Oz) snow. It was a long way down and it tired my legs badly.
St. Christophe is south facing, so in current weather that's no surprise. However at the first day in a new area sometimes you can't tell the exposures if it's cloudy.

Soon after we had our best runs of the day off the Albona 2 gondola above Stuben. It hadn’t been as sun affected and there were far less crowds. I wanted to see more of the area so took the dubious decision of moving back over the other side of Stuben. The crazy skiers on crowded pistes ........
Albona 2 terrain is north facing. Backside of Stuben Albonagrat lift faces east, should still be good this early in the winter. Albonagrat is a remote corner of the Arlberg; I'm amazed that it would be crowded.
For the first time this trip I heard plenty of English being spoken
We heard a lot at Val d'Isere.
 
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The only part of this that is a surprise to me is the overcrowding. I rechecked the school calendar, and all hell breaks out starting this weekend, but last week almost no schools were on vacation. Val d'Isere was quite busy also
I recall when we were in the gondola first thing in the morning with a French ski guide who mentioned that the offpeak late-January period had become far busier with guests who were originally booked at lower-elevation resorts (he specifically cited a significant number of Turks and Brits -- as we saw at our hotel). Maybe something similar happened at St. Anton.
 
Maybe something similar happened at St. Anton.
I recall that conversation too. St. Anton is not a high altitude resort in overall Alps context, but it's higher than a long list of Austrian resorts east of Innsbruck. Given what were were observing at Val d'Isere, the Arlberg was not nearly high enough for the prevailing conditions.
 
All good points. Thanks. I’ve made mistakes before and will make some in the future. I wasn’t prepared for how badly warm conditions could affect the mountain given the good skiing we had (up until the day before) at other locations in Europe that have also had a few weeks of abnormally warm weather. Exposure is everything I guess.

On the crowding. The Arlberg regulars on the Snowheads forum suggest it definitely is abnormally busy. They don’t offer any thoughts on why though. I wouldn’t want to be there this week.
 
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Looking down toward St Christoff (I think).

This is the piste between St. Anton and Alpe Rauz - the staging point for either Stuben or Zurs/Lech. It's a notorious traffic nightmare because everyone in St. Anton needs to use it to connect with the Arlberg. :oops:


You skied and stayed in all the super high traffic zones of St. Anton - and they face mostly south. Given current conditions - that is a recipe for a VERY unpleasant day.

If skiing in the St. Anton area, you should have spent more time in north-facing Stuben and high altitude east/north-east facing Rendl. Both are way out of the traffic zones of St. Anton proper and possess better exposures. Or kept going to Zurs with East and West exposures.

Looking around the web, you should have come across the Where to Ski site. St. Anton Summary - Cons: Some pistes in St. Anton are dangerously crowded. Slopes can be tough for near-beginners and cautious intermediates.

Given all the questions you asked on SnowHeads, I'm surprised this truth did not come up.

The big issue is that St Anton is the largest bed base of the Arlberg - however, it has very few blue/red runs, so they get overcrowded.

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What you did is the equivalent of just skiing the lower part (1000 ft of vertical) of Whistler all day in sloppy snow. Or hang out in Spar Gulch of Aspen in the afternoon with all of the kamikazes coming down.

The Arlberg has an excellent bus system, so it's easy to ski to Zurs from St. Anton and ride a bus back at the end of the day.

Overall, St. Anton is an excellent mountain but heavily weighted to expert skiers. You can use it as a base, but intermediates will commute to Rendl, Stuben, Zurs, or Lech daily.
 
I would reconsider every single area on your remaining itinerary.

Look at the web cams to get a visual.
Personally, I would switch to the higher resorts.

Kitzbuhel, Zell am See and Saalbach might be questionable.

I drove by Megeve and it was a disaster. South facing slopes green with spring grass. North side not great coverage.

Saw this Reel regarding Salbaach today.

 
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Given all the questions you asked on SnowHeads, I'm surprised this truth did not come up.
Mistakingly I didn’t ask any questions regarding where to ski in St Anton on Snowheads. I asked one question about a lunch spot. I didn’t think a ski day out would be that hard.
I stumbled across the posts from the ‘locals’ about the crowding and snow conditions after I had visited sadly.
 
I just spoke with a California couple who have just had a week in St Anton. They have skied that week the past 3 years (since Covid). They confirmed the past week is definitely a lot busier than previous years but further confirmed the crowding while significant wasn’t as bad in Zurs and Lech.

Another conversation with 3 Swedish fellows informed me that Montafon was no busier than normal but snow conditions “are more like late March than early February”.

Hopefully Europe in general gets a cool down soon.
 
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giving up the car forced them to use St. Anton because that's where the train goes.
As a train geek -- yesterday, I was admiring the late lamented Los Angeles Pacific Electric Railway (1912 map below) and reading up on the conspiracy theory about its demise -- I would LOVE to do ski trips this way for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, it's not realistic given how I generally structure my Alps trips, which are usually weighted toward obscure ski areas.


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More on the decision making about going to Austria. Firstly we simply wanted to check out some more Austrian mountains. I thought early February would be as safe a bet as there is. Secondly we had a want to go to Salzburg.
France was always going to be part of the trip so we decided to fly into a major airport that could service the north and south of France via car easily. So we decided to fly into Milan as it was near to Aosta valley that we wanted to go to also.
As extreme long haul flights from Australia are much more expensive the later they are booked (generally) we had to choose somewhere to fly out of to. Flexibility isn’t really possible if you’re tight with a dollar. In hindsight I should have made that departure airport Zurich for better flexibility instead of Munich.
Lessons learned. The major one being not to entertain this late in February. (Due to a new job Kylie couldn’t leave earlier in January and March wasn’t possible for a number of reasons). The second one is not to take conditions for granted regardless of how ‘middle of winter’ it is.
 
Sorry that you have to respond to second-guessing of your decisions on what's supposed to be an enjoyable leisure trip but I guess that's part of the landscape on a forum with a small group of people who are passionate about a pastime! As the famous philosopher Mike Tyson said, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."
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Flexibility isn’t really possible if you’re tight with a dollar.
You've probably gathered from context clues that, for better or worse, being tight with a dollar is my SOP. Not having a deep well of discretionary funds takes a lot of options (both in terms of flexibility and potential experiences) off the table. My #1 tool over the years to level the playing field a bit has been FF awards. If the changes that we're seeing right now become permanent, I may need to figure out new tactics.
 
Flexibility isn’t really possible if you’re tight with a dollar. In hindsight I should have made that departure airport Zurich for better flexibility instead of Munich.
Given sbooker's willingness to drive long distances, I don't see this as an issue at all. For a 3+ week trip a round trip into any of the gateway airports is OK. Recall in January 2018 we flew to Geneva and were in the Dolomites two days later. Sbooker could have done his skiing in the Upper Rhone, then with a full day off driven to anywhere in Austria. From Innsbruck (likely worth some tourism too) they could hit up Ischgl and a couple of the glacier ski areas.
The major one being not to entertain this late in February.
This weekend Feb. 10-11 is when the big school holidays start. If you're headed home now, you were not in the Alps not too late. And if you still have a few days left, maybe that's when you do the non-ski attractions like Salzburg.
Mistakingly I didn’t ask any questions regarding where to ski in St Anton on Snowheads
You didn't ask any questions here either. If you had mentioned you were headed to Austria for the better part of a week, and by train, I would have made most of the comments that I'm now making in retrospect.

As for trains the Swiss are the masters of that department. There's a train station under the parking lot we used at Verbier. The Jungfrau areas, Davos/Klosters and Andermatt/Sedrun/Disentis, Aletsch Arena and St. Moritz are comprehensively served by train of the areas I've noticed.
 
Good points. Of course it’s worth reminding myself that you often get what you pay for so staying flexible might be a bit more expensive but better value in the long run.
And I don’t mind the helpful pointing out of mistakes. I’m a flawed individual and this is a learning process. I do think it’s worth mentioning that compared to the gurus on here I am more a ski tourist - particularly with my wife in tow. I would love to ski powder and challenging terrain every ski day but I’m ok just cruising around in the mountains too.

I’ve come to realise that if in Europe me doing a morning in an off piste group while Kylie cruises about on the groomers before we ski together in the arvo might be best a lot of the time.
 
After reading all of the above, Sbooker , did you have FUN and did you enjoy your time with your wife? If you answered yes..then this trip was 100% successful...
 
I think Zell Am See would still be good.

It looks like a beautiful lake town, with decent snow on top and snow-making routes to the village. Also, you likely can take a bus to Kitzsteinhorn/Kaprun - one of the high almost year round glaciated areas.

I was always interested in this area.

Weird winter - weather/conditions more similar to mid/late March at the lower resorts.
 
Good points. Of course it’s worth reminding myself that you often get what you pay for so staying flexible might be a bit more expensive but better value in the long run.

I'm likely too harsh. I really can suck the joy out of skiing sometimes.

These days, I don't really want to go unless conditions are going to be nearly perfect - which is not reality. Growing up in the NorthEast, I partially moved West to ski in better conditions. However, that's not even guaranteed. What's the term for some SLC - Alta/Bird skiers...."Powder Princess"?

I used to be happy with a few snowmaking trails open and a sunny day.
 
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After reading all of the above, Sbooker , did you have FUN and did you enjoy your time with your wife? If you answered yes..then this trip was 100% successful...
We definitely had a great time. The only off day was the one I’ve spoken of. I think Serre Chevalier and surrounds suits us perfectly. We will definitely be back there at some time pretty soon I think. I reckon my young adult kids would love it too.
 
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