Lech am Arlberg
St Anton (subject of my previous post) is one of several ski areas in the large Ski Arlberg region; lift tickets there include access to the nearby resorts of Stuben, Sonnenkopf, Zürs, and, most notably, Lech, which we visited for a day.
Lech is a decidedly upscale place that caters to wealthy folks from across Europe. Accommodations and food are relatively expensive, but for those prices you get access to a top-quality network of ski lifts: all are modern, high-speed, and high-capacity to prevent queues. Like in the rest of the Arlberg, most of Lech’s lifts feature wind shields and heated seats for comfort.
One such lift, the Steinmähderbahn, is one of only a handful of 8-person chairlifts in the world (all are in Europe). The heated seats and ubiquitous windshield “bubble” certainly are comfortable, but they do seem a bit posh compared to lifts in the States. Most American attempts to install “bubbles” have been abandoned due to vandalism (you know… drawings of things you wouldn’t really want your kids to see).
Because of those perks and the type of skiers they attract, there’s a bit of what American skiers call a “Deer Valley effect” going on in Lech. Deer Valley is a similarly upscale resort in Utah, and although Lech is much larger, the two draw a similar clientele. The Deer Valley effect (maybe it should be called the “Lech effect”) goes like this: wealthy visitors come to stay in fancy hotels, eat gourmet food, take treatments at the spa, go shopping, and then spend a few hours per day plying well-manicured easy & intermediate runs.
What this means is that the off-piste spaces between those runs seldom gets skied…which is a gold mine for people like Anya and I, who prefer our snow to be unadulterated by grooming machines. Lech doesn’t have a lot of seriously steep, high-adrenaline skiing (at least not that we found in one day), but it does have wide fields of untracked powder off-piste, and some moderately-tracked, avalanche-safe Ski Routes similar to what I described at St. Anton.
The end result was some of the best powder skiing we’ve had all year. There wasn’t any of the powder-day competition we’re used to, either: the only other skiers around us stuck stridently to the groomed runs. I don’t mean it to sound like I look down on those those people; skiing is purely a recreational activity, so everyone should ski the runs they enjoy. In fact, I wish we had a lot more of them in the States.
For groups that primarily include beginner or intermediate skiers, Lech is a better ski holiday choice than St. Anton… if you can afford it. It’s connected to the low-key, uncrowded resort of Zürs, and together they provide plenty of skiing. A free, 30-minute bus ride gets you to the St. Anton ski area (if not the town itself), which is nice for variety’s sake.
The village of Lech is cute and full of appropriate-looking buildings of traditional Tyrolean design. The scenery is great. In fact, the town’s one downside (except for the prices, of course) is that, unlike St. Anton, the main road through town isn’t buried in a tunnel. It’s not an autobahn, but it’s a fairly well-traveled 2-lane highway and all the traffic gets funneled straight through the center of the village. That makes for a more clogged, noisy village than St. Anton, and although it still was still pedestrian-friendly it wasn’t quite as charming because of it.
I wouldn’t let that discourage me too much, though. If I was in the region again, I wouldn’t think twice about spending another day or two skiing at Lech- especially if they’ve gotten recent snow.