This article was originally published in Issue 3 of Ski+board 2016/17, read it in full here.

Colin Nicholson heads to Austria to check out the new lift linking two of the country’s largest ski areas.

Lifting myself from the heated seat, I took my skis out of the neat holder in front of me and stepped out of the gondola.

So what, you ask? Well, not only had the new Flexenbahn carried me on a Narnia-like trip from Lech and Zürs to St Anton, but the last time I made this journey it was a nightmare.

Three years before, we waited an hour for a bus – when it finally did arrive, there was the usual rush, with everyone trying to cram their skis in the tiny rack on the back. As I had a brand new skis - my first pair ever, I explained our plight to the driver, and asked if we couldn't take our skis into the bus, but he refused. I stuffed them in the rack and hoped for the best.

That time I was there to cover the new lift linking Lech to Warth and Schröcken.

And what a dream it was to step out of the lift, just a few minutes after I got in, skis unscratched. This time we were able to spend the day planning how we would explore the 305km of linked runs, rather than how we would board the bus to get back.

Despite the limited snow on offer in early December, more than half the pistes were open. Indeed, we had only got as far as the run into St Christoph when a delicious aroma wafted towards us. Having worked up an appetite, we entered the Thaja, where we tucked into a delicious lunch of half a grilled chicken and chips for just €13.50.

Aside from the extra pistes, the link to St Anton provides a way to find cheaper lunches than in upmarket Lech, although both are still far cheaper than ski areas of a similar size in France.

 

Sepp Mallaun

We continued exploring the maze of runs at the bottom of the Valluga lift. Before this season, that cable car was the only way to ski to Lech-Zürs… with the proviso that you would only be admitted to the top stage of the Valluga if you travelled with a guide qualified to take you over the top and on the off-piste descent.

This time, we were heading back to Lech-Zürs on the No.100 'blue' run to the bottom of the Flexenbahn.

Caroline feared that with the new lift would come St Anton's rowdy après crowd. Now I'm of an age where nightlife means mostly sleeping, so I did enjoy how demure this elegant town was, with its boutiques and five-storey, wood-fronted hotels. But I can't really see why hard-partying 20-somethings would abandon lively 'Stanton' for sleepier Lech. 

The next day we explored the substantial area above the town, stopping for hot chocolates laced with Stroh rum to take away the bite of the frosty morning. Then we swished down to Oberlech – the car-free village that you can only reach by cable car from Lech - where we lunched al fresco in the sunshine.

We were taking care to mind the gracefulness of our turns. It is from here that you reach lift linking Lech and its poorer relation, Warth, and Caroline says some snobbish Lech regulars were appalled at the hordes that came over. Their country cousins couldn't always do perfect Arlberg turns and had skis that weren't even that season's models.

Crowds were something we didn't see, though we did see the attraction of Lech's pistes in their excellent snow record. And nature was being given a helping hand on the lower runs, as we ducked under snowmaking cannons working overtime.

Having ticked off all Lech's runs, we wanted to push further into St Anton the next day, and like racing drivers careered round the pistes that hug the mountainside, passing between sandstone cliffs and through pine forests.

We even hoped to make it to the Mooserwirt and Krazy Kangaruh to lead an invasion of middle-aged stuffiness to St Anton's après scene, but the Flexenbahn closed at 4pm, so it's likely that the various villages will retain their character after hours.

If we had three more days and had there been enough snow cover, we would have had plenty more corners of the ski area to explore. We didn't touch the Rendl area on the other side of St Anton, with its six lifts, nor did we take the new Albonabahn II lift to the area above Stuben. And the entire Warth-Schröken area, which stretches to the German border, will have to wait for another day.

Each time a project is completed, the next is just around the corner. And Austrian ambition shows no sign of abating. The Arlberg area could yet be extended from St Anton, via Kappl and the Malfon valley, which is currently only known to ski tourers, to Ischgl.