Looking for the perfect Austrian ski holiday? We were too when we made our first trip to Austria. Many people choose to head for the hills in the summertime, but we were after some fresh snow. Something we found plenty of in the wonderful region of Vorarlberg.
Vorarlberg is the westernmost province in Austria and borders Switzerland. It has everything you could want from a winter destination. If you’re hungry for the slopes, like us, Vorarlberg has large resorts, intimate villages, and plenty of snow to go around.
Tips to the Perfect Austrian Ski Holiday
Pick up a guide
After visiting almost 20 different ski resorts in one season we have found without fail the best way to ensure we enjoy our day is to pick up a guide. Generally the larger the resort the more you will benefit from a guide/instructor. It doesn’t matter your ability level as even expert riders and professionals hire out a local guide who knows the mountain to show them the best places to head.
With fresh powder on our first day in Lech, we tackled some of Lech’s famous off-piste opportunities with our seasoned guide Berdnand. It was our first day of the season off-piste and we could not have asked for better conditions or terrain. The Vorarlberg region is famed for its off-piste opportunities with much of the skiable terrain above the treeline. All of this terrain is best accessed with the knowledge of a guide and proper safety equipment.
Rent or bring your own
There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to bringing your own gear or renting ski and snowboard equipment. If you have your own equipment and are flying from overseas I would recommend to at least bring your boots as a carry-on. Nothing will fit like your own boots and quality boots like my Burton Raiders are designed to form fit around your feet.
If you’re flying to the destination it most likely makes sense to rent your gear. Flying with equipment can be a pain in the ass. You don’t need to assume rental gear will be the worst stuff ever as many rental shops have top quality gear and you can also demo the latest pro setups. As with many things in life you get what you pay for, pro gear is costly and the rundown gear is cheap.
That being said we do travel with our own gear, but we also put in 20 days on the slopes around Italy, Austria, and Switzerland. A lot depends on the length of your trip and how many days you’ll actually ride or ski. If you’re looking for a great snowboard bag we’ve been using the Dakine Low Roller Bag. If you’re a skier this bag is great for traveling. Also, as a tip, if you’re using a rental car you don’t need an SUV to get gear around just a standard vehicle with an open seat. We stick our gear upright in the seat with the tips under the front seat to avoid paying extra for a larger car.
Get off the slopes
If tackling the pistes or free ride options are not you’re calling there are other activities to give a try. There are a wide array of winter activities to enjoy in Vorarlberg.
Or you could strap on a pair of snowshoes and head deep into the woods or trails and get closer to nature. We spent an evening walking from Lech to the neighboring village of Zug for dinner. With a village atmosphere known for being excellent hosts, you can enjoy wonderful alpine food around the area.
There’s also a number of sled tracks which is always a blast. We didn’t take part in any of the tracks due to lack of time, but we’ve been sledding multiple times and find it’s something fun for everyone as you barrel down the mountain. It’s a particular highlight for a group of friends or families. Doesn’t matter your age just have some silly fun!
Cross-country skiing is big in the area with tracks all over Voralberg. Before heading to Gargellen we stopped by Bielerhoehe to take in the views of Piz Buin. The area is a stunning winter wonderland with glaciers and jaw-dropping mountain views. We spent an afternoon cross-country skiing on a number of tracks before being snowed off the mountain.
There is also a small area to ski and snowboard around as well as do some ski touring. In the summer multi-day hikes are also quite popular here. Piz Buin is accessible via gondola from the village of Partenen. Which can be easily reached within the Montafon region with an efficient bus system that connects the various ski areas and villages.
Just don’t assume the only thing you can to do on a ski or snowboard holiday is ski or snowboard. They’re often the best way for groups to have fun together because riding or skiing in a group can be difficult on the pistes. We’ve done all sorts of activities around the slopes and suggest you research the individual offerings of every village and resort.
Nail your transportation plans
Once you’ve settled on the destination you need to firm up flights and transportation. Vorarlberg can be accessed by the via international flights to Zurich, Munich, and Milan. In addition, smaller regional flights operate out of Innsbruck, Altenrhein, and Friedrichshafen.
We’re often big advocates of renting a car and driving ourselves from sight to sight. However, when it comes to a ski holiday in Austria we suggest sticking to public transport, taxis, and private transfers as it is quite efficient and definitely safer in winter. If you plan on renting your gear or want to save a buck public transport is amazing in the region with a network of trains and buses linking almost every village in Austria.
To reach Lech am Arlberg you can take a train to the Langen am Arlberg railway station then a bus (bus 91) or private taxi to the village. Or you can opt for private or public transfers from the airport. Zurich airport, for example, has a ski bus that will deliver you to Lech am Arlberg from Zurich for around €80 return. That comes out cheaper than renting a car and you’re not liable if you spin out into a snowbank.
Chase the snow
This may be a tough one for everyone as plans are often made well in advance. However, if possible it’s best to watch the weather and snow reports of the region and make your decision on where to base yourself. Both of the villages we chose to go in Austria are at a high elevation and virtually guarantee good quality snow, which we found plenty of! If you’re making late season plans look at the snowfall averages and who has had a good season before booking tickets.
Pick the right region
The key to a good vacation or holiday is to not overextend yourself. We travel full time and have made travel our job so we’re able to canvas a larger area, but with limited time its best to concentrate on one area. One of the best in Austria and Europe for that matter is Vorarlberg. Vorarlberg, Austria was an easy choice for us when we were planning our recent Europe trip. They have fantastic ski resorts and what is widely considered to be one of the best areas to ski in the world.
So once we settled on Vorarlberg we began to pick our destination (or destinations) within that area. We picked two of Vorarlberg’s best villages – Lech and Gargellen. Each with its own distinct feel. We chose Lech am Arlberg because it’s a massive resort that is well known for being the best in the world. While Gargellen is the lesser known resort that has a lot to offer for those looking to for a quiet mountain village.
Lech am Arlberg
If we were to pick one of our favorite resorts in Europe it would definitely be Lech Zurs Arlberg. The village ambiance is tough to beat due to a wide selection of boutique hotels all intimate in size due to strict ordinance laws. You won’t find any mega hotels or foreign investment in this former farming village.
It’s all distinctly Austrian with restaurants, hotels, bars, chalets, and B&Bs run by local families. Everything in the village is modern and luxurious but understated so you won’t be completely gobsmacked here. This charm is what continues to draw regulars from around the world year after year.
There are a limited amount of beds in Lech which in turn decrease the number of visitors on the slopes. We never had to wait in line here and rarely felt crowded on piste despite less than ideal weather closing many runs. And despite being well known for celebrities and royalty Lech puts on an open atmosphere for all to enjoy.
As Americans, we still can’t get over the fact that a lift ticket to one of the most famous resorts in the world costs only €55 compared to $100+ for average resorts in North America. Our first evening in Lech was magical as we wandered around the town snapping photos and ducking into a bar for a drink.
There’s a lot more to Lech than a beautiful village, it’s often credited as one of the birthplaces of alpine skiing. A wide array of pistes are connected with neighboring resorts to form the largest ski area in Austria. The pistes are well groomed with snowmaking capabilities – if they even have to use them due to regular snowfall every year.
To make matters only better they have awesome chairlifts. It’s tough to complain about a chairlift that is fast, covered with a bubble, and has seat warmers. Yes, you read that right, many of the chairlifts have seat warmers! Alpine sports were made for the region with a high elevation and terrain that begs skiers and snowboarders to ride.
Lech is famed for its freeride opportunities and as our first taste of off-piste, we were not disappointed with the fun terrain, deep powder, and fresh lines. We definitely recommend picking up a guide with intimate knowledge of the mountain to make the most out of your time on your Austrian ski holiday. The early bird gets the worm here at Lech, and the early risers are the ones likely to find untouched tracks.
Probably the best-kept secret in the whole region is Gargellen, and I must admit I’m even a little nervous to write about it and let it out! Gargellen is a wonderfully charming town that has no through traffic, so there are few day trippers and a strong locals vibe.
With only a couple of restaurants, bars, and hotels the village is anything, but overwhelming and that’s what makes it so special. The mountain village is located high up in the mountains and is the highest in the Montafon region with snow almost guaranteed. On our visit that couldn’t have been truer as the snow was piled high over our heads.
The same day we arrived in Gargellen, a large winter storm hit the area hard with a meter of snow forcing the roads to close. Everyone in Gargellen including ourselves was cut off from the world until roads were to open back up. It shouldn’t of come as a surprise as Gargellen sits at a high elevation and is only accessible via a long mountain road, so when the snow really falls here road closures can sometimes happen. Granted the last occurrence was sometime in 2011.
After two days of enjoying the heavy snow the skies cleared up and we were treated to a stunning mountain. Just behind the mountains lies Davos-Klosters in Switzerland. However, Gargellen draws a much smaller crowd than its Swiss neighbor. In good conditions, it’s possible for experts to take ski tours over to Switzerland for the day and in the summer hikers can follow in the footsteps of smugglers to the neighboring country.
We had several days on the mountain and had a chance to get familiar with the resort. It’s not massive in size, but it does offer a number of nice groomed pistes, ski routes (closed for us), and off-piste opportunities. As solid intermediate riders, we had a great time, but there is nothing challenging here for expert skiers unless they’re off to explore the mountains on a ski tour. What made our trip so amazing was a wonderful powder day on the slopes – a common occurrence with high elevation. It’s almost impossible to beat a powder day with sunny skies!
Get the right accommodation
Accommodation in Austrian ski villages is often small boutique hotels that offer wonderful and local service. These hotels are well appointed and offer an intimate experience. We love that many hotels offer the ability to book a room on half board. Half board is a great option as it simplifies your ski holiday. This supplies you with breakfast and dinner while you only have to pick where to have lunch on the slopes. Other features to look for when it comes to accommodation in the Alps is a dedicated ski room, sauna, and proximity to the slope.
In Lech am Arlberg we stayed at the wonderful Das Georg. It’s was charming and quirky with gold and purple portraits of Lech’s famous guests like Tina Turner and Princess Diana. The boutique hotel is tastefully decorated with modern appointments, a sauna, and ski room. Our room had a wonderful view of the mountain and village. After being snowed off a chilly mountain we enjoyed relaxing our legs in the wooden parlor along with some snacks and a coffee. The hotel does not offer a restaurant so there is no half-board option, but that is not a problem with plenty of restaurants in the village – just make sure to book reservations for dinner in Lech.
Our hotel, the Alpenhotel Heimspitze, in Gargellen has to be one of our favorite places we’ve ever stayed. The lovely staff and hoteliers could not have treated us better. The hotel is wonderfully charismatic with mountain charm and modern rooms. Most important to us, they had great food and a delicious breakfast – with delicious vegetarian options (hard to come by in the alps). If you’re looking for a low key holiday in a beautiful little Austrian village then come to Gargellen and stay this hotel. Trust me you won’t want to leave!
Bring all your winter clothing items with you to Austria before you arrive, because if you find yourself needing a pair of mittens in a European ski town you’ll pay a steep price for them. Here’s our guide to packing for a ski and snowboard trip, which showcases an extensive list of items you’ll want to have. If you’re heading to big cities in Europe, Decathlon is a great option for finding outdoor gear at a reasonable price. We’ve been shopping here for years, and it’s safe to say it’s our favorite store in Europe.
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