St Anton, Austria - a First Timer's Guide
St Anton is the reigning king among skiing resorts in Europe, famed for its challenging slopes and its legendary Après ski experience.
Well hidden in the Arlberg region of Tyrol, it attracts hundreds of thousands of skiers and snowboarders each year, along with the nearby resorts of St Christoph, Stuben, Zurs and Lech, which all together define the Arlberg ski region, boasting a massive ski area served by no less than 97 lifts. Note, though, that Lech and Zurs is not directly connected to St Anton’s skiing area, except maybe for experienced back-country skiers.
The Terrain and Information
|At a Glance
St Anton’s main advantage is its steady snow record and its spacious and diverse ski area: apart from the 190 miles of pistes, it boasts more than 120 miles of off - piste itineraries and over 34 sq miles of off - piste terrain.
Most of St Anton’s terrain is found on the north of the valley. The south Rendl is a bit small but great, while the slopes of the Gampen and Kapall mountains are by far the friendlier to beginners that have the nerve needed to test their strength. Up in the west, across the Moos Valley and on the Galzig Mountain the ski area widens. The awe – inspiring Valluga and Schindler peaks dominate the east. As you move along the top of Galzig, St Christoph and Stuben stretch down the valleys, then Albonagrat. Moving further north, Zurs and Lech delimit the Alberg ski region.
To be sure, St Anton favors advanced skiers and boarders. It is often said that several of St Anton’s blue pistes could be classified as reds elsewhere and experienced skiers see off-piste itineraries as ordinary runs.
Well, that is generally true, but things are a bit more complicated than that.
Unfortunately, St Anton just by itself (without its satellite resorts) is extensive, but not extensive enough for the crowds of skiers flooding in each day. Hence the quality of the snow floor quickly deteriorates and areas of ice and clumps of soft snow appear in several spots right beside hard moguls. That means that, no matter how well the resort strives to maintain the piste, skiers must bear in mind that the runs will not be as smooth as they would expect.
This has a bearing on the afore mentioned classification issue: some of St Anton’s blues are indeed equivalent to other resorts’ reds not because of the steep angle or some difficult curve, but because of the snow’s anomalies.
On the other hand, St Anton’s terrain has some of the best and more diverse off piste areas in the world – but they demand genuine skill, not just pride and self – confidence.
Off - piste itineraries are divided into "normal" and “extreme” runs, depending on their difficulty – but probably the designation is not as accurate as it should: the word “normal” in no way means easy and demand respect and caution even from veteran skiers.
"Extreme" is a bit more precise term, because that is exactly what they are and the best thing to do if you wish to tame them is hire a skilled and reliable guide.
Advanced - Experts
As already mentioned, St Anton is just great for experienced and ambitious intermediate skiers. True enough, experts have limited options on on - piste black runs, but they have seeming endless miles of expert terrain off - piste.
If you are a proven and hardened black run veteran, opt for the steep slopes just beneath the Valluga summit. The only problem is that due to its south - facing orientation, some of the greatest spots often get sunny.
The rapid reds stretching from Albonagrat to St Christoph are great for those who wish to improve their carving. The runs stretching from Valluga to St Anton are only for skiers of excellent physical condition. Don’t miss the astonishing descents on the north - facing Albonagrat, the seemingly effortless tree runs in the Langen woodland, or the thrilling itineraries from Rendl to Pettneu. Just not fail to start early and if you want to challenge yourself off - piste do ask the help of an experienced local guide.
St Anton is not the best option for fresh intermediates, nor for hesitant ones. More brave and adventurous intermediates have miles of great on - piste trails and snow coverage, mainly because of the excellent grooming and the artificial snow machines.
St Anton is indeed a great choice for enthusiastic intermediates who truly wish to take their skiing or riding to the next level. Please remember what we said at the beginning about St Anton’s classification of runs and measure your strength and skill wisely. Rendl is a good place to start, and it will help intermediates that need to find their feet first.
Beginners will find things hard in St Anton. The constantly crowded slopes don’t help either, making the few green runs much more difficult than would appear at first.
The best area for beginners to start is probably around Nasserein and then they could check whether they can handle some spots of Rendl. Later on they can also try the beginner's area on Gampen.
The Lift System & Passes
Despite having one of the most technologically advanced lift systems, including gondolas capable of carrying 24 persons, High Speed sixes and quads, cable cars, numerous fast and cozy chair lifts (some have even heated seats), queues are a lingering issue in St Anton, which could stress your patience to the limit.
The famed Galzig gondola, the world's first lift to use a ferris wheel system, allows skiers to board on ground level and transfers them across the valley to the Galzig mountain, where the ski area widens.
When it comes to lift passes, budgets ache a bit: a 6 - day pass for the whole St Anton ski area (including Lech and Zurs) costs around €260.00. Of course children and teens get discounts (don’t forget to bring along valid identification papers).
If you want better deals consider multi - day lift passes during off - peak periods, like early December or mid April.
St Anton town and the nearby villages have an array of accommodation options, including hotels, chalets, pensions, apartments and guest houses. As expected, there are luxury hotels and more economical options, but do remember that St Anton is relatively considered a bit more pricey than most Alpine resorts, especially in Austria.
Since you obviously already know your budget, another way to limit down your options and make things easier for you is by to your priorities clear. If skiing is your first and most important pursuit, and if you can afford it, check in a hotel as close to the Galzig gondola as possible, to avoid long queues. If you can’t afford it, opt for accommodation in Stuben or Zug or generally in spots connected with lifts to St Anton.
If it is the après experience you value the most, prefer hotels in St Anton’s centre. If you are more family – oriented, prefer the serenity of Nasserein, just outside St Anton. Either way, accommodation services are 100% impeccable, even in budget options. Everything is shiny clean with top-notch matresses to recover from a day on the slopes and the staff is usually polite and willing to offer help.
Cost in St Anton is a sensitive issue and opinions on its value for money rating are not unanimous. From our perspective, St Anton is a value for money destination, but the truth is that it does not come first on the list of skiers who are on a budget, but it’s not as expensive as one would expect for such a renowned skiing resort.
Like most Austrian Alps ski resorts, a bit pricey, but with good planning and meticulous preparation, it could also serve as a nice destination for holidays on a budget.
The resorts of the wider Arlberg area that are included on your lift pass – Lech, Zurs, Sonnenkopf, Warth etc – offer great skiing on well - maintained runs, plus some lovely off piste.
But, unfortunately, takes time and money to get to them.
For instance, a minivan taxi one-way to Lech will not take more than half an hour, but it will cost you at least 55.00 Euros. Buses are cheaper, but you will lose more than 3 hours of your precious holidays. If you are planning to stay away from the major slopes, you should take into account the extra transportation cost.
In addition, what usually raises considerably the cost of staying at St Anton is the Après ski joints, bars and restaurants, so if you manage to show some restraint, you can do just fine.
But, to be honest, it will be difficult, almost impossible, to resist the temptations and one could rightly say that it would be a shame to visit St Anton and don’t partake of its nightlife ventures.
Parking can also prove rather expensive in St Anton. The rest is up to you.
Food, Après ski & Nightlife
St Anton is the ultimate destination for skiers that love wild parties, vibrant bars and good restaurants. St Anton indeed has the lion’s share of exquisite restaurants, elegant cafes, lively bars and wild clubs, and it seems that an important percentage of its visitors come there primarily for the excellent food, the incessant razzle and the legendary Après ski experience. Such people do not really care how far away their room or chalet is from the gondola or the pistes.
On the other hand, if you belong to this category of visitors, be prepared for cases where things may get a little bit out of hand - by having, for example drunken revelers all around you dancing and singing – or at least trying to do either things anyway! That is why relaxation and reclusion seekers should stay as far away from St Anton as possible, including families with small children. Teenagers, on the other hand, will probably love the vibe.
St Anton’s major problem, as you have probably guessed, is its popularity: almost until March the pistes are crowded with skiers. Therefore, parking is equally problematic inside the town. If you are planning to visit the place just for one day, opt for the big car parks at the outskirts of the resort.
Food in St Anton is excellent and surprisingly cheaper (please note the word “cheaper” does not necessarily mean “cheap”) than one would expect to such a famed and cosmopolitan skiing resort – and that applies both to St Anton and to the surrounding resorts and villages. It is certainly cheaper than several other French and Austrian Alpine resorts and of equally great quality.
Ski schools & Guides
St Anton has hundreds of skilled and experienced instructors (who speak English fluently by the way) and well – organized ski schools, offering help and guidance not just for beginners or intermediates but for advanced skiers and snowboarders too, both on and off – piste. Local guides are also very skilled and trustworthy and know exactly where to find fresh snow for you.
There are specially groomed trails for hikers in St Anton stretching over 40 miles, offering stunning views around St Anton and St Christoph. Several snowshoe trails are also available in the area, along with cross - country skiing. Other options include Heli-skiing, mountaineering and several other intrepid winter extreme sports.
If you like or even want to try tobogganing, note that there is a 4km sled run from Gampen to Nasserein, and the necessary gear is available for hiring or purchasing at local shops.
To sum up, St Anton surely rises above most European ski resorts and is easily ranked among the top ski holiday destination in both the French and Austrian Alps. It boasts exquisite accommodation – a bit pricy but in no way overpriced or overvalued. Popularity has reasonably raised the prices during the last decade, but value, regarding accommodation services, has risen accordingly.
The nightlife is notorious, and justifiably party animals will certainly feel they found the “jungle” they were looking for. Families, on the other hand should better opt for other destinations or at least avoid the resort’s core.
As for skiing, there is no doubt that St Anton is home to some of the most exciting, as well as terrifying (depending on your level of expertise) runs in Europe, both on and off piste. On the other hand, St Anton is not for anyone: it is ideal for slope veterans, for skilled advanced skiers and sober and determined intermediates that take skiing seriously and are not overconfident. It surely is not a destination for people who think they know to ski well, or for beginners that will first touch snow in a piste. All this, of course, applies to people that want to visit the Austrian Alps to ski. If you are just looking for fun on the bars and some rounds on the snow somewhere in the middle, St Anton will serve you great.
Therefore, if you are a skier or snowboarder that needs or wants less crowded and smoother slopes, you had better opt for another resort and visit St Anton later in your life, or under different circumstances. The cost of taking your skiing holiday in St Anton is considerable, and it would be a shame not to have the best time possible.
So, to sum up, you should definitely choose St Anton for your skiing holidays if
- you are (not just consider yourself) an experienced and skilled skier who is capable and wants to enjoy great off piste skiing;
- you do not have a problem travelling to neighboring Arlberg resorts in order to find smoother and less crowded runs;
- you are a party animal that wants to feel St Anton’s notorious nightlife vibe and live the legendary local Après ski experience.
You should definitely avoid St Anton if
- you consider yourself inexperienced skier or snowboarder;
- you have experience but you do not feel yet confident enough and fear steep slopes;
- you need to relax or spend time with your family and small children during your skiing holidays;
- you are an experienced skier who does not, however, feel ready to go off piste.
We truly hope you find all this information helpful.Back to Blog