St. Anton, Austria
Sep 01, 2009
Trace a line formed by Maine's State Routes 16, 27, 4, and 142 and you will encircle some of the state's highest mountains. In the southern part of the circle you'll find the long, impressive mass of Saddleback Mountain, from whose summit drop the twisty, wooded trails of Saddleback the ski resort.
Sugarloaf boasts 138 trails, 15 lifts, and a bustling village at the base.
Even on the biggest dump days the place is peaceful: Lift lines barely push four minutes, and locals take leisurely dips into untracked shots all day.
The craggy expanse of St. Anton is pure Sound of Music high country, with Vail-wide acreage and Jackson-size vert. By Alps standards, of course, said comparisons are a drop in the big-mountain bucket. But here, inbounds descents down powderfields up to five miles long dump you in the middle of the Tyrolean frescoes and church steeples of a too-cute ski village. The town has a car-free main drag lined with ski shops, noisy bars, and quaint hotels with huge patios that are as happening as the hills are alive.
Powder Day: The upper reaches of the Valluga lifts are often closed during big storms. Don't wait for them to open; take the two-minute bus ride to Rendl, a base area across the valley. Ride the Rendl gondola to the Riffel I and II chairs. From the top of Riffel II, take laps on the wide-open, terraced steeps of Rifflescharte. Then hit the Gampberg area off the mountain's shoulder.
Three Days Later: If the lifts have been closed for avalanche control, take the Valluga I cable car to Valluga Peak; you'll find plenty of stashes in the chutes.
Must Hit: From the Valluga I top station, head right and take any trail leading through the rock chutes and around the pronounced Schindler ridge to the face of the Valluga Schindler Kar, a close-to-sheer, nearly 2,000-foot drop.
The Stash: Valluga Nord falls off the back side of the Valluga summit and leads through a broad valley to the village of Zürs. You need a guide for this—without one, you can't board the Valluga II tram.
Backcountry Access: Unless you're comfortable skinning all day onto an Alpine glacier (read: crevasses), you're best off hiring a guide through the Skischule (43-5446-3411).
Local's Take: "It can be hard to get enough rest, with all the parties. You need earplugs if you want to fall asleep before morning, advises Walter Wasle, a 35-year St. Anton resident whose house is on the town's main drag.
Weather: Like most of the Alps, St. Anton's weather is variable—lots of wet snow and lots of sun. February and March get the most schnee.
Don't Miss: 2004 Arlberg-Kandahar Men's World Cup race (February 14—15) is a famous event and an infamous party.
Après: All runs lead to skihuttes, on-slope bars that crank from two o'clock till who-knows-when. Try the Sennhütte for a nice sundeck and an easy ski to the base.
Fuel: Most restaurants specialize in schnitzel and wurst. The Museum Restaurant (43-5446-2475) serves an upscale version of the traditional dishes in a pre—World War I mansion.
Up all night: You will be. Try the Postkeller and Piccadilly in the Post Hotel; by ten you'll barely be able to squeeze onto the dance floor.
Digs: The Sporthotel on the main drag has downsized, Euro-spare rooms and free Internet access (43-5446-3111, 111— 186 euros including dinner). For other options, check out stantonamarlberg.com.
Elevation: 9,222 feet Vertical Drop: 4,944 feet Acres: 5,436 Getting There: St. Anton is less than three hours from Zurich or Munich by train. Both cities have direct flights from the U.S. The train station is a five-minute walk from the lifts and most hotels, so you don't need a car. Info: 43-5446-2269; stantonamarlberg.com