Best Kept Secret During February Vacation
Guest Post: David Abramowitz.
My daughter and I headed over to Europe for a father-daughter ski trip during February school vacation. It happened on a whim. A trip of a lifetime!
Initial plans were to ski out west, but the snow wasn’t cooperating. So, we started looking local in New England. While searching around online, I stumbled upon a $641 roundtrip flight to Munich. The price was too attractive to ignore. We started thinking big.
We considered Les 3 Vallées (The Three Valleys) in France. We’d skied there before out of Val Thorens. It was undoubtedly one of the greatest vacations our family had ever taken. However,, we wanted to try something new. We considered Switzerland, but the price tag shut that door. A friend told us to look at Austria; the birthplace of modern alpine skiing.
We quickly learned there are a lot of smart reasons to ski Austria. Aside from being more affordable than Switzerland and France, it too has the Alps, great snowfall, wide trails, plenty off-piste and modern lift systems. On top of that it has world renowned après.
Choosing where in Austria was the only challenge. Everywhere looked exciting. From Kitzbühel’s medieval town to the party scene in Ischgl to the off-piste forests of Kühtai to the five-star Lech to the large village of St. Anton. In the end, we banked on the deepest snow; St. Anton had a 160” base and more snow in the forecast.
St. Anton has a plethora of accommodations. There is something for everyone running the gamut from high end hotels to B&Bs to small family owned and operated hotels. We lucked upon a small family owned hotel named Der Waldhof.
Owned by the husband and wife team of Michael and Andrea Ladner, this Tyrolean style gem located five minutes outside of town on the mountain is impeccably clean, quiet, relaxing, comfortable and personal. Andrea has the hotel operations running so efficiently that she makes it look easy. Michael, the resident chef, prepares meals that should be Michelin rated. The Finnish saunas and a free shuttle to the lifts with boot and ski locker vouchers located at the base in Alber Sports don’t hurt either.
It’s also very reasonably priced. We could have found a less expensive B&B, but the room was priced with “half-board” accommodation. For us Americans, “half-board” is a semi all inclusive, which means it includes both breakfast and dinner. But don’t confuse this with the all inclusive resorts you picture in the Caribbean. This is a true dining experience. The meals were so good that a Parisian couple seated at the table next to us were in heaven.
We only had one glitch on the entire trip. Had we known beforehand, we would have purchased first class tickets for the scenic train from Munich to Innsbruck ahead of time. An assigned seat is a must on weekends. Lesson learned.
We brought our boots, helmets and apparel. Our boot bags (Boot Trekker and Powder Trekker) fit perfectly in overhead storage with American Airlines to our connection and then flying overseas. We rented skis and poles at Alber Sports located at the base of the gondola per advice of our hotel. Renting was definitely the way to go. Cheaper and easier than lugging our skis and poles on planes, trains and automobiles, and we switched skis out depending upon the conditions.
Lift tickets? We purchased them from Andrea at the hotel. The cost for five days of skiing was one third the price of the cost compared to skiing at a major US resorts. The low cost was a pleasant surprise!
The skiing in St. Anton. Wow! Massive! Pure fun! Gorgeous views in every direction. This is why I ski!
The trails are European wide. Nice steeps and groomers for serious speed. We found very little ice, but even the ice had a layer of powder cover making it easy to cut. If you like groomers or small to mid-sized moguls for bombing down the trail, then St. Anton is the place, especially after drinks at Heustadl or the Krazy Kanguruh.
If you like off-piste, there’s plenty in St. Anton. For starters, in Austria that pretty much means skiing anywhere off the trail. The mountains are huge. Very little is roped-off. And, if it is off limits you can trust the Austrians to stay out. We tested things a bit too much to our chagrin.
A great thing about St. Anton is that it’s now connected by a 21st century lift system to St. Christoph, Steubens and Lech. Each in its own has more than enough skiing for a week, but on the same pass you can ski them all. We played-around off-piste in St. Christoph one day chasing the deep powder and sunshine.
And, you can’t mention skiing Austria without mentioning the après. The Austrians know how to enjoy themselves. They’re certainly not as risk averse, and St. Anton is famous for its big beers and party lifestyle. Well earned! But, just be careful about too much before sledding.
Sledding (or Sledging) in Austria is serious stuff. Small hills and steering wheels? Please. Like everything else in Austria, Sledding in St. Anton is on a grand scale. The track is a 4.3 kilometer (2.7 mile) long trail running from the top of the gondola. The sleds, similar to the wooden base, metal runner those in the States remember, are more akin to riding a horse. Pull back on the rope, lean and scream. Far more art than science. You will crash at high speeds so make sure to wear a helmet.
Even the trip home was an adventure. We left two nights and a day for touristing Munich. A nice Bavarian meat and potatoes dinner when we arrived. Woke up the next day for walking Marienplatz, lunch at the Ratskeller and dinner at the Hofbrauhaus. Not a bad way to top off a terrific week of skiing!
But, here’s the biggest takeaway. Skiing Austria isn’t just fantastic. During US February vacation, it’s the best kept secret. The European students are in school! It’s a week skiing the Alps without the crowds!