This is just the beginning
Give it a try if… Rather than one-sided excellence, what you look for in a ski resort is the perfect balance of several factors – snow, slopes, infrastructure, landscapes, services, vibe and so on.
Steer clear if… You just do not see why a traveler should pay special care and respect to special destinations.
In publishing the specific reviews of the resorts I have visited this season during my ski trip to Austria, I will start from the one I have visited last, Lech-Zürs, which in the course of an unforgettable week has turned into my favourite ever (I would rank it second after 3 Vallées, but only for the sheer amount and variety of slopes). This jewel in the Vorarlberg region crown is not a destination for everyone – luckily, I would say – but do not miss it if skiing is high on the list of your priorities in life.
Demand, and You Will Get
I had read a lot about Lech and Zürs: apart from the tragic accident that had just occurred there, they were meant to have good pistes and be the poshest resort in Austria, mostly picked by affluent older citizens and devoted to absolute quiet and inviolable rest. Not my ideal plan perhaps, but I was curious to try it anyway. I had the fortune of spending a week there at affordable prices, being a grateful recipient of the legendary Cornelia spell (see below), and I discovered a reality that trumped all stereotypes: an ideal resort for any demanding intermediate or amateur off-piste skier, with well-designed slopes and every small detail in just the right place.
Even the mountains look stylish around here
Do’s and Don’ts
To get a glimpse of this resort’s wonderful landscapes, check out tipsology’s Lech-Zürs 2012 photo gallery on Flickr.
LECH OR ZÜRS? – It is a bit like asking whether Ryan Gosling looks more handsome in “Drive” or “The Ides of March”. Both villages are beautiful, although Lech looks a bit more sophisticated and Zürs more informal. Skiwise, they are equally convenient – besides, a free SkiBus (a bit busy during peak hours) and a paying PostBus connect them in just a few minutes. I would suggest to go for the one where you find the best place to stay – but if you choose Zürs, do visit Lech one late afternoon or evening to enjoy its flair and wave to the paparazzi.
LODGING – I stayed in Haus Gumor (Lech), and would advise it to anyone. It may not be so luxurious as some other chalets in the area, but it is reasonably cheap, very clean, quiet, well-furnished, and in a great location, just a few minutes’ walk from the center of Lech. The diligent landlady, Christine Tschabrun, never refuses to offer a smile despite the hard work of running such a big house alone. The short road that leads to it might be a bit inconvenient in boots, but simply storing them in a rental shop downtown together with your skis will allow you to tap-dance your way up and down like Björk would.
A kind of magic...
sSSHtip (do not tell anyone!) – If Haus Gumor is fully booked and you are not totally risk-averse, contact the venerable Cornelia fairy a few days before travelling. If she says she can help, trust her without reserve: do not book anywhere, but go to her lair – AKA the tourist office – upon arrival. That is where the industrious enchanter, cheerfully aided by another, petite Cornelia (seriously!), will administer her magic spell, handing you the keys to the kingdom without upsetting your bank account. A cult following is definitely in the cards.
SKI RENTAL – Ski rental prices are higher than any other Austrian resort I have visited, but you can get a better deal by renting in advance through Snowell (try discount code stkd111211, hoping it has not expired in the meantime). My skis for this week: Völkl Racetiger Speedwall SL (really amazing).
Why would I want to go anywhere else?
SKIPASS – There is only one option, the reasonably priced Arlberg card, which will give you access to over 280 kilometres of slopes and many more off-piste, including St. Anton (one of the most popular Austrian resorts), Stuben, St. Christoph, Klösterle/Sonnenkopf and Pettneu. All of these cannot actually be reached on your skis from Lech-Zürs – unless you hire a guide and get ready for some fun – but a half-hour PostBus ride will do the job. Honestly I was so in love with Lech-Zürs that I did not even think of skiing in St. Anton for this time, but I am planning to go there next season.
SLOPES – Intermediate is the word, with very few black slopes and a lot of red, long, not especially challenging ones, plus many ski-routes providing a moderately wilder time. Piste design, albeit slightly artificial, is surprisingly good: in principle I should not have liked the place too much, since several areas have those intersecting/overlapping slopes I usually find boring, but in this case I was thrilled to ski down the same pistes over and over. For instance, do not miss all the highest slopes on top of Lech, including pistes 35a, 45, 46; the area which goes down to Zürs from the top of the Rüfikopf, with breathtaking landscapes I will not forget; most pistes around the Seekopf, Zürsersee and Muggengrat chairlifts, especially 10, 11, 14, 18; piste 7 on the opposite side; and beautiful ski-route 33, down from Zürs to the charming village of Zug.
A privileged resting spot
INFRASTRUCTURE – Apart from the odd old lift here and there, the state-of-the-art infrastructure makes it clear that when you pay more, you get more. Most lifts are quite new, fast, comfortable and often equipped with the cleanest toilets you can imagine. So many details surprise compared to other resorts: a praiseworthy example of Austrian perfectionism in service of a seamless skiing experience, to be enjoyed without forgetting to pay due respect.
PEOPLE – The limited number of skiers allowed in the area, both on a daily and weekly basis, makes for very few queues and lots of free room on-piste. I was surprised by the general skiing level of visitors, higher than any other resorts I have visited – money won’t buy you happiness, but it certainly grants you an education! The average age was also lower than some claim, although I did spot several older skiers, while 40-something couples in Lacroix outfits were legitimately numerous (this seems like the perfect resort for a romantic ski trip – applications are officially welcome).
RESTAURANTS – I am glad to prove I have not been paid to write this by confessing I was a bit disappointed by food around here, especially compared to other resorts like Saalbach or Mayrhofen. It is not so bad, just plainly unimpressive – and sold at a premium price (18-20 euros for an average lunch). Keep in mind that some restaurants (like the ones scattered in the village of Oberlech) are not indicated on the piste map. Of all the ones I have tried I could mildly suggest only the Seekopf-Restaurant, with a spacious terrace, good service and acceptable specialties.
See you soon...
APRES-SKI – …what? Ok, ok: the coolest place I have seen is the apparently exclusive Balmalp, on top of the long Zugerberg chairlift.
UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 9/10 + Standing Ovation
Explore tipsology’s Lech-Zürs 2012 photo gallery on Flickr.
Read a post with general advice on the area – Skiing in Austria: Magical.
Visit Lech-Zürs‘s official website.