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Club Holiday To St Anton, 3-10 March

By Nigel Koenen

Twelve ski club members arrived at Manchester airport at 6.20am for a 7.35am flight to Innsbruck; normally we would arrive 2 hours before departure but, being terminal 2 and with the demise of duty free, it still gave us plenty of time to book in, collect currency and proceed through passport controls. However, considering this is a new terminal, the booking-in system seemed inefficient and over complicated compared to other airports.

The flight was slightly delayed, but we arrived in Innsbruck at approx 11.30am and divided up to join our two respective ski company coaches - i.e. six with First Choice and six with Crystal. The reason for the two groups was we had been told that the Hotel Valluga would not accept large group bookings. When we arrived, the reasons became apparent.

Whilst the hotel itself was quite pleasant, it was run by a lady who was at best indifferent/unhelpful and at worst downright rude. She greeted us with no warmth or encouragement, merely a bland statement "no skis or ski boots in hotel". Anyway, the rooms were fine with cable TV, the sauna/solarium (no extra charge) in the basement was a welcome diversion after a days ski-ing and the food for the most part was interesting and tasty.

St Anton itself is an old  town, one of the first European ski resorts. To improve the town's attraction, the railway tracks have been moved from the centre to the far side, away from the ski areas, and an underground station has been built, so this has helped from the point of noise and accessibility. A new gondola system has also been installed from Nasserein to the focal point of Gampen. However, the main access lifts to the mountains i.e. the Galzig cable car, Gampen chair lift and new gondola are still a fair walk through town, from most of the accommodation. Our hotel was a 10-15 min walk to the Galzig cable car. The other alternative was taking the ski bus [running every 15-20 minutes at peak times] from a stop on the by-pass to a buspark/turnaround which is 4-5 min walk from the hub lifts.

There are 2 main ski areas on the main part of the mountain: The Gampen leading up to the top at Kapall [2330mts] and the Galzig and on up to the Valluga Grat [2660mts] via a very long cable ride with two long over valley spans [quite daunting]. From here there is an alternative of either a good off-piste ski route [Shindler Kar] back to the Galzig area (St Anton is noted for its ski routes, basically un-groomed pistes with intermittent markers) or a long red run down to the Ulmerhutte [2279mts] and on down to Alpe Rauz where there are 2 alternatives; either one can carry on to the pretty village of Stuben [1407mts] where there is a very nice restaurant for lunch and allows an early afternoons ski-ing via the albona chair onto the Albona Grat mountain [2400mts] with a return run to Stuben or to Alpe Rauz [Valfagehr chair]

From Alpe Rauz there is the possibility of catching the free ski bus to LECH and ZURS [the jewels in the crown of the ALBERG ski area] with lovely runs, top restaurants and the European elite.

There is a great circular touring route starting in Zurs, over the top of Seekopf and Madloch-joch [2438mts] via a good off-piste trail down to ZUG and up into the Kriegerhorn area of Lech, down thro Oberlech into Lech village up the Rufikopf cable car and back down into Shuttboden area of Zurs. This is a pleasant days tour. We only found one really difficult ski route all week [the number 49 black] which had new snow on chopped icy moguls. This run witnessed a scenic ballet of upended cartwheeling skiers taking an exhausting hour to reach its end. If you are going to Lech or Zurs for the day, try and catch an early bus back to ALPERAUZ as there seems to be far more skiers than buses, especially from Zurs. There are some very good mountain restaurants - Ian Cartwright and self found the Goulashsuppe was a meal in itself.

There are 2 other ski areas of note; 1] Sonnenkopf-a 7km bus ride from Stuben and 2] The Rendl-1km from St Anton in Oberdorf, a pleasant sunny area of red runs with no crowds.

Back in ST ANTON after a day's skiing there are many cosy apres-ski bars with good atmosphere i.e. No37 or Jacky"s bar where the members' favourite was the WEISS beer [a hoppy cloudy brew] and the apricot schnapps.

The weather was mixed throughout the week with plenty cloud, rain, mist and snow caused by the warm Fern wind but there was a lot of snow depth, although it did become mushed and mounded up in the afternoons making the return  run through the main valley and onto the no1 run (this was really the only way back from most areas) a real test of skiing to avoid the heaped up moguls and skiers everywhere. If one could negotiate this there was a well-deserved drink awaiting at the MOOSEVERT or THE KRAZY KANGAROO 500 mts above the village - these basically being 2 football size crowds in a drunken, singing sprawl with 1,000 watts of music thrown in!!!

Our highlight of the week was the night out at one of the small dimly-lit acoustic guitar music bars; glancing over our shoulders through the window after yet another Weiss beer, we spotted, at 11pm, our intrepid leader Sharpy [Paul Sharpe] and 6 of his "cohorts" striding through town looking for some action - who said "Sharpy is like the Olympic flame, he never goes out" ?!!

All in all, although Austria cannot compare with France in general for large well-connected door-to-door skiing areas, it was good to return to St Anton.

Here are some of Ian's pictures from the holiday (click on an image for the full size picture):