Austria’s most exclusive resort
Few resorts have a more exclusive image than Lech. Princess Diana was its most famous patron and other past visitors include the Jordanian royal family, the Dutch royal family and Monaco’s Princess Caroline.
With a blue-blooded guest list like this, Lech might sound like an Austrian St Moritz or Megève, a place for the rich and famous to see and be seen. But despite its international reputation, and no shortage of five-star living, picturesque Lech remains true to its farming village origins.
The village of Lech is set at a modest altitude of 1,450m, but each year the resort receives up to twice as much snow as some of its French rivals. The local slopes are best suited to intermediates, who will find the terrain a lot more friendly than in the linked resort of St Anton, which – for those seeking variety or more challenges – is covered by the same Arlberg lift pass as Lech/Zürs.
Inside the resort . . .
Lech’s original cluster of inns around the church and river has expanded over the years in both quality and quantity, and its car-free satellite, Oberlech above the village and served by the 80-person Bergbahn cable car, has grown almost into a resort in its own right.
Huts that were once the summer domain of shepherds and cowherds here have been replaced by expensive hotels, serviced by an intricate network of tunnels beneath the piste that allow staff to shift catering supplies as well as luggage without exposure to the elements.
The resort shares its local ski area with the smaller village of Zürs next door, and with nearby Warth-Schröcken, which lays claim to the title of snowiest ski area in the Alps, with an extraordinary average of 10.6m each winter.
For travelling further afield, heavyweight, modern connecting lifts make it easy for Lech visitors to access the whole Arlberg ski area, which is Austria’s largest interconnected ski area, and includes St Anton and its linked villages of Stuben and St Christoph. The Arlberg ski area has 97 lifts and 305 km of pistes, and also boasts 200km of off-piste runs.
A high percentage of Lech’s day visitors are lower intermediate refugees from St Anton who find the neighbouring resort’s terrain much tougher than expected. However, overcrowding is rarely a problem – Lech was the first resort in Europe to cap the number of day passes issued to 14,000 a day.
Unlike St Anton, Lech is not in the Tirol but in the neighbouring state of Vorarlberg. The high Flexenpass that separates the two is subject to sudden closure due to avalanche danger in mid-winter.
On the slopes . . .
Navigate Lech’s ski area with our insider’s knowledge of the local slopes and beyond, on and off piste, ski schools and terrain parks.
While there’s plenty of entertainment for every standard in the huge Arlberg ski area accessed by Lech’s Arlberg lift pass, the slopes around Lech itself are best suited to intermediates, though there are also some challenges for the more experienced. Lech is the middle village in its local ski area, with its satellite Oberlech above, then there is the village of Zürs to the south, and Warth, which connects to Schröcken, to the north. Their combined ski area divides naturally into three distinct sectors. To the east there is St. Anton, St Christoph and Stuben – also part of the Arlberg area.
The first is comprised of the sunny side of the mountain above and below Oberlech, which is largely given over to a network of flattering blue runs, and the high slopes on both faces of the 2,377m Zuger Hochlicht above. These are much more demanding, with red runs and itinerary routes (ungroomed runs that are marked on the map but are neither patrolled nor avalanche controlled) leading back towards Lech or down to the picturesque hamlet of Zug. This outpost makes a good base for those who prefer the tranquility of an Alpine hamlet to the razzmatazz of a larger ski resort.
The second sector is on the other side of Lech, starting with the slopes opposite Oberlech. This area looks outwardly much more daunting, if only because it begins with a scenically dramatic journey up one of the twin cable cars from town to the 2,362m summit of the Rüfikopf. The itinerary and off-piste descents from here are some of the most enjoyable in the resort, but anyone from a lower intermediate standard upwards can have fun here, as well as get the sense of travelling around – a couple of easy blue pistes go all the way down to Zürs.
From here it’s easy to explore the Zürs network of intermediate runs on both sides of the Lech access road. Then there’s a choice – catch the ski bus back to Lech, or venture onwards up the 2,446m Madlochjoch on the new six-person Madlochbahn chairlift, installed for 21/22, which takes five minutes to reach its destination. Choose the latter and a couple of long itinerary runs wind their way down to Zug – and a welcome pitstop for a hot chocolate or lunch. From here there’s the choice of a bus from Zug to Lech, or the Zugerbergbahn, also new for 21/22, a fast, ten-person gondola, to head back on piste.
The third sector, Warth-Schröcken, is connected to Lech by the 10-person Auenfeldjet gondola. This runs from above Oberlech to the other side of the valley, from where a six-person chair whizzes to the top of the 2,043m Saloberkopf. From here, the runs back down on the Lech side aren’t too tricky – but there’s more challenging terrain on the Warth side, with a handful of short, sharp blacks mixed in with the easy and intermediate runs.
In addition to all this of course, there’s plenty of entertainment for every standard in the huge Arlberg ski area – St Anton, St Christoph, Stuben, Lech, Zürs, Schröcken Warth have a combined total of 305km of pistes. Four key lifts linking the Lech side of the Arlberg massif to the St Anton side make light work of journeys around the huge ski area. The most important for moving from one side to the other is the 10-seater Flexenbahn gondola linking Zürs to Alpe Rauz in Stuben – the mid-point between Lech and St Anton – in six minutes.
The Trittkopf I gondola in Zürs side a mid-station that gives the option of continuing on Trittkopf II to the top of the Trittkopf sector in Zürs, or jumping on the Flexenbahn to Stuben, from where the Albonabahn II gondola continues onwards and upwards to the top of Stuben’s Albona sector.
In addition to its wealth of pistes, Lech has a highly rated terrain park with 17 features and three separate lines, from fun run to pro – a pleasant surprise considering the average visitor is a well-to-do 40-something German. There’s also a good separate beginner area behind the church where novices can learn the basics without the distraction of other people whizzing by.
Who should go?
Few resorts have a more exclusive image than Lech – it’s one of the world’s most luxurious ski resorts. The original cluster of inns has expanded in both quality and quantity, and there are three five-star superior hotels, along with some award-winning restaurants. While many Austrian resorts are well known for lively après ski, Lech best suits more sophisticated, cocktail-sipping types. The slopes here are best suited to intermediates, and are unlikely to be overcrowded, plus they’re snow-sure in time for Christmas. What’s more the car-free satellite of Oberlech above the village boasts ski-in/ski-out access.
Know before you go . . .
British Embassy Vienna: (00 43 1 713 1575; gov.uk), Jauresgasse 12, 1030 Vienna
Emergency services: Dial 112
Tourist office: See lechzuers.com, the website of the Lech Zurs Tourist Board, for weather reports, lift status, webcams, traffic details and local event listings. Pick up maps, leaflets and other information from the office in the centre of Lech.
Telephone code: Dial 00 43
Time difference: +1 hour
Local laws & etiquette
• Formal greetings are the norm when meeting someone, and you’ll hear ‘Grüss Gott’ (greeting the almighty), or the more worldly ‘Guten Morgen/Tag/Abend’, just about everywhere you go, and it’s customary to return the salutation. Locals love their titles, so if you are meeting someone who has a university degree, not only are you expected to know this fact, but you’re expected to use the title whilst shaking hands e.g ‘Grüß Gott Herr Doktor’ in cafés and restaurants the waiter will expect to hear a ‘Herr Ober’ (Mr. waiter) from guests seeking attention.
• Tips are not included, nor is it usual to leave them on the table. After the waiter has given you the bill add roughly 10 per cent and ask for it to be added to the total.
• A simple thank you is ‘Danke‘; ‘Bitte’ means both ‘please’ and ‘you’re welcome’.