BIGGEST LINKED SKI AREA IN AUSTRIA
11th December 2016 | James Cove, PlanetSKI Editor
St Anton & Lech are now linked by ski lifts. But why are resorts so keen on building more lifts & are they really necessary?
It has always been possible to ski round the resorts of St Anton, St Christophe, Stuben, Zurs, Lech and Warth-Schroeken in Austria but you needed to take a bus between Stuben and Zurs.
It only took 10 minutes, so what’s the problem?
Well in high season just queueing alone could take four times longer and the bun fight to get on required determination.
And some very sharp elbows.
Once inside it was pretty much standing room only and could make the London underground positively spacious.
The new lift can take 5 times as many people per hour as the 120 bus journeys per day did in high season.
I was lucky enough to be invited for a preview of the lift, ahead of the official opening ceremony in January, along with a small number of Europe’s ski journalists.
FIRST THE STATS
The new lifts cost €45m.
There will be four new lifts including a main lift, The Flexenbahn, linking Stuben and Zurs.
It will be a 10-person gondola with a capacity will be 2,400 people per hour.
The journey will take 6 minutes.
A 1.8km piste with a descent of 562 vertical metres will also be created.
In addition there will be some extra chairlifts – The Trittkopfbahn I and II, and the new Albonabahn II.
That opens up the off piste terrain above Stuben that was previously only reached by an old 2-man chairlift.
The whole project is a significant development by anyone’s standards.
There is a distinct lack of snow in the area at the moment but when construction started in earnest back in April 2016 there was plenty of snow remaining and then last November as the deadlines approached more than 1m fell.
They could have done with less then and more now.
Once covered in snow it will look less of an eyesore.
“It is unbelievable that we have now opened the lift and created a huge linked ski area. All our divided parts have come together as one and it is a great and historic day for us all,” said Martin Ebster, the director of the St Anton tourist office.
255 people were involved in the construction of the Dopplemeyr lift and they put it in 125,000 man-hours.
3 helicopters were used and they were in the air for 11,000 minutes of flying time.
It is certainly a technological achievement, but is it really necessary?
Some rightly question whether we need more lifts and more linked ski areas.
They come at a financial and environmental cost.
There will be no immediate increase in the price of a lift ticket but the €45m will have to be justified.
Ultimately us skiers and snowboarders will pay for it either directly or indirectly.
“What this investment does is cement our position on the international stage as one of the premier resorts in the world and if we want to keep that position then we have to invest and improve what we provide. We need international guests to chose St Anton and the Arlberg area above other ski resorts and areas,” said Martin Ebster.
It is also about other numbers.
St Anton has a bed stock of around 11,000.
However in high season the slopes are over-crowded.
Anyone who skis here at those times knows that.
There simply isn’t enough space for everyone and it is hoped the new lifts will encourage people to discover the other areas and ease the congestion on the main St Anton slopes.
And it appears that St Anton isn’t yet satisfied.
There are advanced plans for further expansion from the Rendl area with 3 lifts needed to connect it to Kappl in the Paznaun valley.
Then is a short 5-minute bus ride to Ischgl.
Another huge Austrian ski area.
It is the dream of Mario Stedile-Foradori, the President of the Alberger Bergbaden lift company.
“If that goes ahead, and plans are currently with the authorities in Vienna, then St Anton would sit at the middle of a huge ski area and that would be the final dream of mine,” he said as he showed me the area where it would start.
Now that would perhaps create the biggest resort in the world if one counted the slopes of Ischgl.
Unless someone else gets there first.
But would that make it the best linked ski area?
It would certainly contain some fabulous resorts.
It is a subject much discussed: which is the best linked ski area in the world?
There is of course no definitive answer and people will, quite correctly, have different opinions based on different criteria.
But, for what they are worth, here are my thoughts:
There are bigger areas in the Alps than the new Arlberg area.
France has Les3Vallées and Les Portes du Soleil.
They come in at around 600kms of pistes and this new area in Austria has just 305km of pistes – half the size.
Then there is Paradiski containing La Plagne and Les Arcs.
The largest ski area in the Alps remains the Dolomiti Superski region in Italy, at 1200km, although the 12 resorts are not all linked.
The new lifts for the Ski Arlberg area will make it the largest linked ski area in Austria but not in Europe – by quite a way.
The previous biggest area in Austria was the Ski Circus that straddles Salzburgerland and the Tirol and contains Saalbach and Fieberbrunn – we reported from the area last winter after a HUGE snowfall.
But size is not everything.
Val d’Isere/Tignes (formerly know as Espace Killy) in France is not the biggest, but in my opinion the resorts of Tignes and Val d’Isère provide some of the best advanced skiing – both on and off piste – in France if not the Alps.
I was there last week and we had some of the best piste skiing I have ever had as PlanetSKI reported here.
The off piste is second to none and Val d’Isère has rightly been crowned most improved ski resort in Europe this year at the World Snow Awards.
But for me, although the skiing is excellent, it perhaps lacks variety – there are no quaint villages with a deep sense of alpine history and it is all perhaps a bit too one-dimensional.
It doesn’t have the history of skiing that the Arlberg area does.
This area after all claims, with some justification, to have been the birthplace of modern skiing as a T-bar was installed in Zurs.
The first cable car constructed was the Galzigbahn in St Anton.
And now I have moved across the Alps from Espace Killy to the Arlberg to see the new lifts.
I wanted to put the area through its paces to do a back-to-back comparison between Espace Killy and Ski Arlberg, but poor early season snow has put paid to that.
Much remains closed
Am I disappointed?
Not a bit as it means a return visit is in order this winter.
To do a proper comparison to decide which is my favourite linked ski area in the world.
And I won’t have to fight my way on to the bus to do the ski area justice.
Earlier this season James Cove was at the opening of the most expensive ski lift ever built. The 3S eisgrat in Stubai that cost a cool €68m – see here from his report for October.
And look out for his report from St Anton later this season as he makes his choice between Val d’Isere/Tignes and Ski Arlberg.
We are promised he will make a decision.
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