Travel Skiing Austria: Austria's most intriguing resorts

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The Independent Culture
ST ANTON

This is hardly a prepossessing place. Bisected by the railway line between Zurich and Innsbruck, with its pedestrianised main drag running alongside the tracks (which are to be moved to accommodate the 2001 World Skiing Championships), the town is dominated by the sort of unremarkable architecture that makes lowland Austria so dull. But roll your eyes upwards, and you are thankful to be there. The setting is stunning, with mountains climbing to 2,800m and beyond. And to the north west, below the Valluga peak, is some of the best skiing in the Alps. The Arlberg ski-pass gives access to St Anton, the resorts of Lech, Zurs and Stuben, and the linked ski- area of St Christoph, covering a total of 82 lifts, 260km of pistes and 180km of off-piste. Although there are some easy runs into St Christoph, most of the St Anton area is best suited to intermediates and above. For them, the Schindlergrat area borders on the sublime, not only heading downhill - on the runs, pisted and unpisted, that drop off either side of the lift - but also going up: the lift is one of the great skier's ascents, suddenly flying over a sheer drop as it reaches the top.

St Anton also has a heavy-duty apres-ski scene, and the standard of accommodation is high. But those are its lesser attributes: the great thing about St Anton is the skiing, especially in late season when the snow sticks around and the sun comes out.

All the major tour operators except Neilson, and more than a dozen independents, offer packages to St Anton.

Stephen Wood

PFUNDS

Where? You'll never get a flash of recognition when you announce that you're off to Pfunds, in the Austrian Tirol. That's partly because Pfunds is not a ski resort. The village has a ski school, but its speciality is to ship its clients around the impressive range of resorts nearby. What lends a special spice to this arrangement is that Pfunds is near the point where Austria, Switzerland and Italy meet. So in a week you can spend a couple of days skiing in each of the three countries. The best return on travelling time invested is in Ischgl, in Austria. But even this excellent high-altitude area is approached through Switzerland: it's only a 20-minute drive from Pfunds to tiny duty-free Samnaun, which has the world's biggest cable-car (a double-decker) in the cross-border ski area it shares with Ischgl. Nauders and Serfaus (in Austria) are even closer, Schoneben (Italy) and Bad Scuol (Switzerland) a little further - all of them worth a day's exploration; Bad Scuol maybe more. St Anton and Austria's other Arlberg resorts are in easy reach, the scenic glories and swank of St Moritz more remote (well over an hour's drive). Pfunds itself is a quiet place in winter, delightful to explore, with the Hotel Post offering solid comfort.

Made to Measure Holidays (01243 533333) can put together tailor-made, inclusive packages for Pfunds. The Hotel Post also collaborates with the Pfunds ski school to offer multi-resort trips. Chris Gill is co-editor of `Where to Ski and Snowboard' (Thomas Cook, pounds 14.99).

Chris Gill

OBERGURGL

You get a wonderfully smug feeling as you head up the mountain on the approach from Innsbruck into Obergurgl. While all the countryside around you is looking bleak, and if not snow-free then at least patchy, you can be sure that there will be snow up above. As part of the highest parish in the country, it is especially good for early- or late-season skiing.

Until this year, one limitation to enjoying Otzal valley, as the area is known, has been that you had to get a bus if you wanted to ski the nearby Hochgurgl; that's all in the past, with the opening of a new gondola which whisks you across from one mountain to the other in nine minutes - and brings you back again.

Where you stay is important in Obergurgl: the lifts, and most of the nightlife, are based in the main village area, and the further you are from the centre, the less convenient it all is. A lot of the entertainment in the village is peculiarly Austrian, with traditional music, and barmen in lederhosen. The Nederhutte, by the top of the Gaisberglift, is a cheerful place to stop on your way down the mountain: a spot of tea dancing and a few glasses of gluhwein can set you up for the gentle blue run towards the twinkling lights below.

The following operators include Obergurgl in their brochure: Thomson, Inghams, Inghams Luxury, and Crystal.

Cathy Packe

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