Lech and Zürs, Austria Ski Resort Review
Skiing and Snowboarding in Lech and Zürs, Austria
Are you ready to go on a winter holiday to Lech-Zürs, Austria? Here’s a handy travel guide to help you enjoy your ski vacation in that region.
Lech is a huge village in the woodland background of a sunny valley, and in spite of the fact that it's been overwhelmed by top-end tourism, it still bears the atmosphere of a traditional farming community. During winter, the only through road comes to an end in a pile of snow, forging a wealthy enclave ring-fenced by natural barriers. The Lech river runs parallel to the main street, with chalet-style hotels running along both sides, and a wooden shed near the main bridge provides shelter for horse-drawn sleighs: there is such a buoyant market that the animals are always reined in readiness for their next task.
Lech's patrons are predominantly German, but there's also a contingent of loyal Brits. Just like the late Princess Diana, they feel safe on and off the slopes - a cocoon of luxury will do that for you. Oberlech, set on its own sun-soaked plateau, is billed as a blueprint for the future because it is totally car-free. Guests park in the multi-storey car park and go up in the cable-car (which stays open until 1am) while their luggage is transported in an access tunnel constructed as a supply line for the satellite resort. This is not especially convenient, but the end result is surely peaceful. Families with young kids and anyone else who wants a truly ski-in, ski-out accommodation need not look further. The other alternative is Zug, a few kilometers up its own valley but connected into the lift system. It is small and charming, clustered round a traditional church and inhabited with a scattering of old-world residents.
Zürs is comprised of 22 hotels, three of them five-star, which is far above the usual ratio. It stands over the treeline, bisected by the lone road into the valley. This moonscape location isn't quite sympathetic, particularly when the snow is whipping through the funnel made by the Flexen Pass. However, it does imply it has some of the most snowsure slopes in Austria and its ski-in, ski-out credentials are impeccable.
Although all the Arlberg ski resorts are serviced by the same lift pass, they separate into two zones - Lech-Zürs, and St Anton, St Christoph and Stuben. The slopes in Lech and Zürs are connected in one direction, but not the other. Starting in downtown Lech, the clockwise circuit begins with the twin Rufikopf cable-cars, which open up a blue run to Zürs. Alternatively, there are broad red pistes served by the Hexenboden and Trittkopf lifts. This terrain is typical of Zürs, curt swooping descents that invite fast cruising in good weather; when it closes in you'll be fortunate to see across the road.
The slopes on the other side, served by the Seekopf and Zursersee high-speed chairs, are more evenly pitched and again primarily red, but the Madloch chair above them takes you to the beginning of a long, gentle cruise back to base. This circuit is trailed by flats, but its great plus is that it can be tackled by any ambitious first-week skier, a maiden mini adventure that will whet the appetite for more. Given the quantity of poling required, L-plate boarders must ride elsewhere.
The slopes in Lech are made to flatter people who pay a lot of money for private guiding on flat pistes. Oberlech furnishes a perfect learning curve for complete skiing beginners, starting on the nursery slopes and progressing seamlessly to the user-friendly blue runs above them. Sensibly Lech has its own devoted beginners' area, separated from the rest of the pistes, but the next step is more nerve-racking as the run back to the resort has a steep and icy finale. Nervous intermediates will not run out of rolling terrain on the Kriegerhorn, accessed by new chairlifts using all-weather covers, but surefooted piste-bashers will feel short-changed by the lack of black challenges: just the short Sonnenberg descent in Zürs in the entire area. Like in St Anton, this is partly because a lot of the original black pistes have been reclassified as ski routes, freeing the resorts of the demand to prepare or patrol them. As is often the case in places having a high posing factor, the untracked powder potential is greater than you may expect; where the majority steer clear, the minority get stuck in, but this definitely calls for a guide.
For one of the smartest ski resorts in Austria, the mountain huts are quite disappointing, a shortfall that can partially be blamed on the glorious spreads, either buffets or a la carte, put on by the leading hotels to lure the lunchtime trade. As the slopes are exceptionally accessible, this ruse is often successful, bringing down the market potential for independent operators. The Rud-Alpe, built on two levels applying timber from the original drover's hut, opened in 2004 in an attempt to remedy the balance. The interior is split up into welcoming nooks and crannies, with an open fireplace and a broad alpine menu, available for lunch and dinner. During good weather, the Panorama Restaurant, at the Rufikopf top station, is a tempting alternative for its large sun terrace and hearty Austrian cuisine, facilities that are replicated at the Berghaus Trittalm at the Hexenboden top station in Zürs. Many opt for the convenience of having lunch at Oberlech, taking their pick from the row of mainly four-star hotels. If you choose the Burg, with its famed outdoor umbrella bar, or the Montana owned by former Olympic gold medallist Patrick Ortlieb, an afternoon off is virtually guaranteed.
The terrain park on the Schlegelkopf immediately above the base area in Lech is tiny but perfectly formed, having a half-pipe, boardercross course and jumps.
First stop, skating or curling on the new ice rink in the Hotel Monzabon: the area might be small, but the snug bar overlooking it more than compensates for any shortage of ice. Alternatively, rent a toboggan in the Bergbahn at Oberlech for the 1.2km hurtle back to town - open 9am-10pm and floodlit during the evening. The Tennis Centre in Lech has indoor courts, plus squash, a climbing wall and a golf driving range. In Zürs, the Hotel Enzian features squash courts.
Fux is Lech's first nod to the 21st century, a modern building that stands out from its neighbours. Like with several Lech institutions, it is owned and run by a member of the Strolz family, in this case Peter, better known as Fux (Fox). The downstairs area has an American bar and steakhouse with an open kitchen: by steak, Strolz means ostrich, crocodile (farmed), alligator (wild from Thailand) and shark, as well as T-bone. The upper floor is split up into a Euro-Asian fusion restaurant, serving sushi, tandoori and wok dishes, and a jazz bar furnished like 'my living room', providing tasty cocktails, 60 single malts and a top cigar selection.
Dining and Bars
The rest of Lech's gastronomic delights pale beside this sleek tribute to globalisation, but there's a lot of fantastic food to be had, particularly in the nation's favourite fondue mode. Hus Nr.8, a restored 300-year-old barn, puts up the atmosphere as well as the cooking, with roast duckling (by request) as a tempting alternative to old Walser recipes. More difficult is looking for anything at a modest price: Ambrosius Stube, an upstairs bar-restaurant next to the Rufikopf station, while the Italian Restaurant next door offers pizza and pasta, and Charley's Cantina bestows a Mexican element.
Lech might not have St Anton's legendary stamina into the wee small hours, but there is no shortage of energy in the early evening when the crowds gather in the ice bars on the main street. The most popular apres-ski venue is the s'Pfefferkorndl, preferred by locals and young people who like its relaxed approach. The alternative is the Tannbergerhof, farther down the main street and much crazier: it comes as no surprise to know that this is the top Brit choice. It stays open late, kicking off with a cheap shots happy hour in the disco downstairs, followed by live music or good DJs. In Zürs, the bar of the Hirlanda Hotel, on the main street, is the most popular meeting place for locals. Zurserl, in the Hotel Edelweiss, is a lounge where local musicians share the action with imported DJs, while Vernissage, in the Robinson Club Alpenrose, is the liveliest disco in the area.
Painted peasants frolic on the outside of the Gasthof Post, but they would have problems getting into one of the grandest hotels in the Alps: a chef from Vienna has created a contemporary menu, but the mood continues to be formal, with jackets and ties mandatory for dinner. The alternative five-star hotels, the Almhof Schneider and the Arlberg, have their patrons, as do their equals in Lech, the Thurnhers Alpenhof, the Sporthotel Lorunser and the Zurserhof.
Four-star recommendations in Lech include the Hotel Pension Haldenhof, which is owned and immaculately operated by the Schwarzler family, and the Auriga, with a state-of-the-art spa facility. The Goldener Berg is inconveniently situated on top of the Oberlech cable-car station, but worth the journey for its sophisticated cooking and its handsome spa. The Rote Wand in Zug is a must stay for those who can tear themselves away from the bright lights.
Ski Total provides a selection of quality catered chalets and hotels in the world famous Austrian ski resorts of St Anton and Lech. Fly from London or travel independently. Switzerland, France, Canada, and USA. Ski Total offers either part or whole catered chalets for 1 to 30 persons. Hot breakfast, tea, and a high quality 3 course dinner with unlimited free wine and coffee are supplied by their trained staff. Ski hosting is also provided. A selection of top hotels is also available as well as accommodation in the renowned resorts of Lech.
Lech claims the most efficient internet booking service in Austria: www.lech-zuers.com. Key in your requirements and results are ensured within 30 minutes.
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