St Anton

Above St Anton am Arlberg

Some old friends from the Hellfins Scuba Diving Club have been on a week’s ski holiday in St Anton, so I thought I would pop across to see them. Surprisingly it is quicker to get to St Anton by car from Basel than it is to get to some resorts in Switzerland. The road trip is a doddle, roughly 3 hours and  around 2 hours from Zurich. Key things to remember driving from Switzerland to St Anton are:

  • It isn’t obvious where to cross the border. You drive on the motorway towards St Gallen and after St Gallen follow the signs to Chur until you reach exit 3, signposted Widnau,  Diepoldsau and Heerbrugg. You drive through Diepoldsau until you hit the border where you can pick up the motorway towards Innsbruck.
  • On the return journey it is easier. The Austrians do acknowledge that people might want to cross the border, so you will see signs for Switzerland and St Gallen. The junction to exit the Austrian motorway is 23, just after a motorway service station.
  • Whatever you do avoid crossing the border around Bregenz. It will add a lot of time to your journey.
  • You need a permit to drive on the Austrian motorways. You can pick one up at the motorway service station after St Gallen at St Margarethen or wait until you hit the first motorway service station in Austria. I’m sure any other service station in Diepoldsau will sell them too, but I’ve not tried. The stickers cost around 8 euro for the minimum duration of 10 days.
  • You need to go through the 14km Arlberg tunnel and drive sharply off it as you exit the tunnel to get to St Anton. You can drive over the Arlberg pass, if it is open, and save yourself the 8.50 euro fee for the tunnel. Scenic but adds time.
  • In Austria you are required by law to have winter tyres in wintery conditions. I don’t have winter tyres, but the road conditions for my trip didn’t warrant them. Probably a different story if you go over the Arlberg pass or the weather is bad, although I’ve nenver invested in a set. If the road conditions warrant it, I just don’t drive.
  • When you arrive in St Anton you are given a choice of car parks to stay in. None of them are free. I chose the Rendl car park, situated where the old Rendl lifts used to operate and just a few minutes walk to the Rendl, Gampen and Galzig lifts.

As a keen user of public transport you may ask why I didn’t take a train. Granted St Anton has a railway station and indeed it is a very good way to get there – I’ve done it before, from the UK. However from Switzerland the service does not start early enough to get to the resort for a one day ski trip.

For some reason the railway connections between Switzerland and Austria are crap, which is strange because they are so good to other neighbouring countries. You can’t blame the Alps because the Swiss have been tunneling through them like demented moles for years. Bizarrely, the Rhaetian Railways have a line that passes through the 19km Vereina tunnel all the way to Scuol, in the Inn Valley where you would have thought it would be the easiest thing in the world to extend the railway towards Innsbruck, but no, the line stops just a few kilometres shy of the border. My own theory is that the Austrians didn’t want the Voralbergers to get too cosy to the Swiss and avoided making it easy to pass between the Voralberg and Switzerland. Around the time of significant expansion of rail and road networks the 80% of the people of Voralberg did actually vote to become part of Switzerland, but were prevented from doing so. They still speak an Alemmanic dialect more like Swiss German than Austrian German. The Arlberg ski resorts are not all in the Voralberg, Lech and Zurs are, but St Anton is in the Tyrol.

Anyway, I digress. if you do want to take the railway from Switzerland to St Anton, there is a direct service from Zurich which takes from about 2 hours 20 minutes. The train runs 5 times a day, and there are other times you can travel, but you need to change trains. The earliest train is at 8.40am, and the earliest train for which you do not need to change is 10.40am. Certainly makes St Anton do-able for a long weekend if you can find somewhere to stay.

And why would you you choose to go to St Anton, you may ask. The answer is that it is quite simply the best ski resort in the world. Not as extensive as the large French circuits but bags of variety and plenty of off-piste. The nearby resorts of Lech and Zurs used to be connected to the St Anton pistes, but in recent years that run can only be done off-piste. Not sure why, it was one fabulous circuit when it was in place, but neighbouring resorts are still easy enough to get to by bus or taxi. Where St Anton really scores over the French resorts, however, is the nightlife. Not as wild as it used to be, and not as crazy as Mayrhofen or Ischgl, but still pretty good. A few beers at the end of the day in Taps, the Krazy Kanguruh and/or the Mooserwirt (which reputedly sells more beer than any other bar in Austria)  followed by a crawl around  Base Camp, Underground on the Piste, the Piccadilly and the Kandahar makes for a great night out.

Crazy Kanguruh in St Anton

Of the Swiss resorts, probably only Grindelwald, Verbier and Zermatt can match St Anton for range of slopes, scenic setting and decent apres ski. Zermatt shades St Anton for fine eating,  and nothing compares with the splendid views of the Matterhorn that dominate Zermatt, but it is more expensive and not as good for beginners. For me the main advantage of Verbier is it is French-speaking, and is probably the best of all the resorts for hard core off-piste. Grindelwald has a quieter (but reasonable) night-life and apres ski scene and fewer challenging off-piste runs, but is blessed with the awesome North Face of the Eiger dominating the town and its slopes.

Finally, on the subject of driving to ski resorts in Austria, Lech is about the same journey time as St Anton – you exit before the Arlberg Tunnel. Ischgl is probably easier to get to than Samnaun, the Swiss resort it shares the Silvretta Arena with, and takes about another half an hour to get to after you pass St Anton (turn right at Pians – it is clearly signposted).

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March Ski conditions in Gstaad

It is the middle of March and, after an unseasonably warm couple of weeks, many people are already predicting the end of the winter sports season. Not true! Many friends have told me about the excellent cross-country and ski touring, and my own experience on the pistes certainly suggests this season is far from over.

I visited Gstaad Mountain Rides this last weekend, and the conditions were fabulous on-piste. Off-piste was crusty, but these are slopes that are generally between 1000m and 2000m, so it is probably not reasonable to expect too much of them in mid-March. However, in general, there was good snow cover and some fabulous runs on the pistes. The only areas to show significant wear and tear were the steeper black runs, of which there are few in this area, and the valley runs to Gstaad and St Stephan. Remarkably, under-threat Rellerli still seems to be in good nick, and the runs down to Saanen off Eggli were near-perfect.

I have to declare a love affair with Gstaad and its pistes. There are nine unconnected areas in six sectors which make up the Mountain Rides lift pass area, and the public transport that joins everything up is infrequent. However the trains and buses are reliable so if you carry a timetable with you, you need never find yourself hanging around. In addition, there are really only three significant areas – although the others are worth a detour if you have the opportunity – and two of those are in the same designated sector. Added to that, all public transport is free if you have a lift pass.

The senery is stunning, and the area has a fairly high standard in mountain restaurant cuisine. There are no lift queues to speak of, even at busy times, and the lifts are generally modern or scheduled to be updated.

But what really makes this area so enjoyable for me is the mile after mile of wide, easy pistes. There are no flat spots to speak of, and largely avoidable surface lifts. This really is an intermediate paradise, particularly for boarders.

It is also easy to get to from Berne or Basel. Zweisimmen is the gateway to the region, and far more easy to get to by train than car. Most riders would be happy to spend a day on the large area accessible from the gondola station next to the station at Zweisimmen, but trains connect to Lenk and the Adelboden pistes, and the pistes across at Saanen and Rougemont so it is feasible to take in atl east a couple of areas in one day.

Iv’e posted pictures on the relevant resort pages at and at my flickr site here. Check them out.


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Ski Baselworld


Baselworld is the world’s largest and most prestigious watch fair. It’s almost 2000 exhibitors  receives over 100,00 visitors on the nearly 2 million square feet of exhibition space. This year it follows sharply on the back of Basler Fasnacht, the largest of the Swiss carnivals, and as always it co-incides with the ski season. I’m a great fan of Swiss watches and love all the glamour and excitement of this fabulous celebration of the art of watchmaking. After a busy few days working the halls, however I’m sure many of the exhibitors and visitors feel they deserve some downtime, and where better to do it that than in  the Swiss Alps?

For skiers and snowboarders the choice is wide, Klewenalp, Melchsee-Frutt and Engelberg are the nearest resorts to get to by public transport or car. Grindelwald, Wengen and Mürren are not much further away and give you iconic views of the Eiger – although Sörenberg, from the top of the Brienzer Stockhorn also gives you a fabulous view of the Jungfrau massif from across Lake Brienz. Of these Engelberg and Grindelwald have the liveliest nightlife, whilst the others make more suitable destinations for a day trip. If you are going to spend a couple of days in the mountains the resorts of the Valais must also surely beckon – Zermatt and Verbier in particular, both of which have a nightlife to match the skiing and snowboarding. We have had a very warm spell recently, but the conditions have improved and all these resorts have good snow reports.

If tobogganing, winter walks, snowshoe-ing or cross-country is your thing, there is plenty of choice, but Gstaad is probably the nearest best option.

You can drive, of course, but many of these locations are car-free and all are served by public transport. The excellent Snow’n’Rail scheme operated by Swiss Railways provides a significant discount for 1 or 2 day breaks on both the rail ticket and the lift pass. For more details of your transport options visit this page.

The good news for booking somewhere to stay that it is much easier to find a place in the mountains for the night than it is in Basel, at least during Baselworld. The strong Swiss Franc has led to many hoteliers having overnight, last-minute vacancies this season. I easily found somewhere in Verbier only last week.

And where do people who live in Basel go? Well, all of the above and a number of other smaller or less well-known resorts. We also have a small resort across the border in Germany at Feldberg, although it is quite low. I think I might try Gstaad this weekend – Zweisimmen is easy to get to and the gondola station for the largest terrain in the area is right next to the station.

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