ST ANTON is one of the few places in Austria that can stand comparison with the macho resorts of France and Switzerland - Val d'Isere and Verbier, in particular. Any keen skier would want to go at least once, to experience the splendid steep flanks of the Valluga.

But what keeps some keen skiers going back is its atmosphere. The village is no beauty, but it has more than a veneer of traditional Austrian character, and a vitality its French-speaking rivals will never match. With the road over the Arlberg pass skirting the village and the railway passing through its heart, it feels like more than a ski resort.

And there's the snow. If the weather is coming from slightly north of west, the first serious mountains it encounters are those of the Arlberg. The result is a snow record that other resorts can only dream of. However, the Valluga faces due south, so the sun has a profound influence on the state of the slopes.

The Valluga runs for which St Anton is famous are all formally off-piste, meaning no marking and no patrols - a disgraceful evasion of responsibility, considering every keen skier comes here expecting to ski them and only one in a hundred is prepared to hire a guide. There are plenty of alternative runs for less adventurous skiers. The Rendl area, across the valley, is a neglected asset - quiet, and great for early excursions off-piste. Stuben, Zurs and Lech are only a few miles away.

CHRIS GILL'S VERDICT: For competent skiers, St Anton is among the great resorts. If the slopes of the Valluga faced north, it would be hard to beat.

(Photograph omitted)