The glitz, it hits you almost immediately. From the minute you step off the train at St. Anton, you’re surrounded in it. Designer luggage, Gucci handbags, thousand dollar stilettos, luxury is everywhere.
For me, it was a bit surreal. Just over a month ago, I was running half naked through African forests chasing gorillas, my back looking like an Olympic mogul run from all the tsetse fly bites, and now I was here, high in the alpine mountains of the Austrian Alps, at probably the most exclusive ski resort outside of St. Moritz.
This place has a reputation. Nestled in the Austrian state of Tyrol among the mountains of the Arlberg massif, St. Anton practically gave birth to the sport of downhill skiing, and it was around here in the early 20th century that local ski instructor Hannes Schneider developed the Arlberg technique, the most popular way of teaching people to ski. But possibly even more important is the fact that St. Anton hosts what is generally considered one of the best après ski scenes in the world.
None of this is of course comes cheap. But the key to enjoying a place like St. Anton is not to hold back. If you’re apt at counting pennies, then it might be best to avoid this town altogether. Or you can do what I did: come for the early season.
There are quite a few benefits to exploring St. Anton in the beginning of December. For one, the prices are about a third of what you would pay in the week leading up to Christmas. And while a number of the ski runs will still be closed because of a lack of snow, there are also fewer skiers, which means its less likely you will be hammered into a snow bank by someone flying down the mountain and more likely to get hammered at any one of the various bars that dot the slopes.
But before heading out to engage in that deadly cocktail of high-velocity sports and alcohol (luckily, there are no biathlon tracks nearby), I needed to settle down in my new abode. In fact, the first decision anyone should ask themselves before coming here is whether they want to stay in a chalet or a hotel.
Oh the problems of the jet-setting class, am I right? But there are some real factors to consider. Naturally, larger parties would best be situated in a chalet to reduce cost. Chalets also offer a bit more privacy and are great if you’re going to be organizing nightly raves. Not to mention they just feel right in the mountains, don’t they? But if you are more interested in skiing or hitting St. Anton’s various bars and pubs, a hotel may be better as they tend to be more centrally located and offer greater amenities and services.
Or you can do what I did and compromise by booking a room at the Bergschlössl. Wedged in between the Galzag ski lift and an après ski staple, BaseCamp, this small family run hotel housed in a turn of the century customs building is about as centrally located as you can get. The absolutely wonderful staff led by Jutta, who has been working here for over twenty years, makes you feel at home. With the limited number of guests (there are only ten rooms), it really does feel like you’re the lord of the manor. It’s that cozy chalet feeling right in the heart of St. Anton. And while you may have to put up with a bit of noise from the DJ at BaseCamp, they turn off the music by 8 PM so getting a good night’s sleep is no problem.
From my suite, the fireplace crackling, I watched the skiers pouring down the mountain as they completed their last runs of the day. Evening in the Alps comes fast, and the valley was already in shadows. BaseCamp was filling up with men and women still in their ski boots drinking gluhwein and jagertee as they swayed to the beat of the live DJ. I headed downhill into town for a traditional schnitzel and beer. The slopes would have to wait.