Step over Las Vegas! The party town of St Anton is so much more than just a stunning Austrian ski resort – grab your red vodka and hit the slopes...
I thought I'd been spoilt by years of ski holidays across the pond in the States, but I kept this to myself on the plane. My friends had been to St Anton before, and they assured me I was in for the week of my life. I didn't see how a sleepy European resort could possibly beat the view over Lake Tahoe or the dizzying heights of Vermont. But as I stepped off the plane into the tiniest airport I've ever come across, Bern Belp, and saw the snow-topped mountains in the distance, I was struck by the gentle beauty of it all.
We'd pushed the boat out, booking in with Skiworld to the fully-catered Chalet Sofia (www.stantonchalets.co.uk/chalet_details.asp?cid=93), just on the outskirts of the town. I'd flinched as I'd handed over my credit card back in London, but as soon as the bus pulled into the driveway, I knew it was worth it. Our home for the next week was to be a beautiful, traditional Austrian chalet, nestled amongst pines heavy with snow. The bedrooms and balconies looked out on an unforgettable panorama of the town and the looming mountains. It was like a picture postcard. Inside, the chalet was a warming combination of timber and red furnishings, comfortable and Christmassy. The big dining table at the very top of the house seated all 18 of us, and was to be a place where new friends were made and we all laughed until we cried.
This holiday made me realise exactly what it is I love about ski trips: that for a whole week there is always something better about to happen. If it's not the huge cooked breakfast in the morning to shake off that hangover, then it's the first run of the day over the unbroken snow. If it's not meeting your friends for lunch in a little slopeside cafe, it's the thought of home-made cake and tea back at the chalet at the end of the day. And after all that, of course, comes the thought of loosening your boots, stripping down to your thermals and taking in the après-ski. And St Anton is just the place for that.
A short way from the bottom of the slopes sit the Mooserwirt (www.mooserwirt.at/) and the Krazy Kangaruh (www.krazykanguruh.com/) bars, opposite each other and fighting for your attention. These bars are probably the most famous thing about St Anton but it's the atmosphere itself that is so unique and unmatched. There's nothing like racing home after a few Jaegerbombs in the dark, dodging the snow machines.
In the town itself, there are some equally fun places to spend the evening. The club Kandahar welcomed us in bedecked in our Hawaiian fancy dress, and we partied many nights away in Postkeller and Piccadilly. Walking back to our chalet in the early hours of the morning was unforgettable, the black shadows of the mountains around us and the icy snow crackling under our feet. With a four-course meal cooked for us every night by our fantastic chalet hosts, we didn't eat out much. But the Hospiz-Alm (www.hospiz.com/hospizalm/home/en/start.aspx) was a favourite for lunch and a steaming china mug full of vin chaud. One night we got a long taxi ride through deep, dark woods to a tiny, traditionall Austrian outpost, where we feasted on boar cheeks and goat – a culinary delight. I wish I could remember the name but you'll have to seek it out for yourself.
The skiing itself was unbelievably perfect – we had been lucky with the snow but there are so many cannons that I imagine it's always reasonably reliable. The Arlberg region is huge, and our ski passes gave us access to most of it. The resort is serious about skiing and boarding, and probably caters more to good intermediates and experts than beginners. Its real appeal lies in the miles of deep, untracked runs through the trees. One day we travelled around the mountain to Lech, where we pushed ourselves to the limit with a dopamine-addicted guide and stopped for a warming shot in the ice bar.
There is so much to take in and enjoy but somehow St Anton just urges you to keep on going. You can sleep when you get home, it whispers. I'll be back, just as soon as I've gathered enough energy.