St Anton is one of the oldest and finest resorts in the Alps, featuring a newly developed village centre.
One of the oldest ski centres in the world, St Anton lies in the Arlberg region at the western end of Austria, just before the Arlberg Pass, which has been an important European trade route for many centuries. A main East-West railway line has long given the resort excellent communications with most of Europe, but it used also to divide the resort in two, separating the village from its main ski area.
But thanks to a major redevelopment scheme, a new railway station was built on the edge of the town and in the process a huge area of land in the centre was freed up.
A new village centre was built directly on the edge of the slopes below Gampen and Galzig. The main feature of this development was the impressive Arlberg-well.com centre that features a large and funky indoor/outdoor swimming pool and an ice rink. The building can also serve as a conference centre for up to 3,000.
Otherwise, happily, a lot of empty ground was provided, giving a very spacious feel to the centre of St Anton. The old station building was sold to the Hotel Post, which is now running the old restaurant there. The new scheme did not quite create the ski-back-to-the door access to the village centre hotels that some of us had imagined, but most of them are an easy stroll of less than five minutes from the foot of the slopes.
Another crucial development has been the construction of a new cable car from the suburb of Nasserein to the top of Gampen. Previously Nasserein had always been regarded as a less desirable place to stay because of difficulties of getting quick access to the main ski area. But thanks to this new installation the chalets and hotels located in Nasserein are nowadays much more in demand. (Although the new lift does not make Nasserein any closer to the apres-ski hotspots, the well-lit footpath, lined with wooden sculptures of famous ski racers, that runs along the route of the old railway line makes for an agreeable stroll to and from the village centre.)
But for all its recent modernisations, St Antons appeal as a ski resort is still largely based on its sense of history and its connections with the origins of the activity of skiing as we know it today. The Pastor at neighbouring Lech also covered by the Arlberg lift pass is recorded as visiting his parishioners on skis as early as 1895, so it can be seen that the region has a long skiing tradition. Hannes Schneider opened the Arlberg Ski School, which became a model for ski schools the world over, in St Anton in 1921. The early Arlberg skiers were responsible for developing a ski technique, named after their region, which was a standard to which skiers the world over aspired for almost half a century. It involved the skis being clamped tightly together in the parallel position and the upper body facing resolutely down the valley. Although the great French champion Emile Allais challenged the Austrian technique just before the war, it was only recently as the 1960s that French instructors really started to question the Arlberg orthodoxies.
The British have a long association with St Anton dating right back to the early days of the Arlberg Ski School. British ski pioneers helped start the Kandahar downhill race here in 1928 and still today it remains one of the key fixtures on the World Cup circuit. This and many other interesting associations are commemorated in St Antons ski museum one of the best of its kind in the Alps. It is well worth a visit on a snowy day, or you can look around it after having dinner in the excellent restaurant with which it shares its building. The museum was used as the facade for the main chalet in the 2011 film Chalet Girl.
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