Most people have heard of Aspen or St Moritz, but what of Lech? For those in the know the resort in the Arlberg region of Western Austria, close to the Swiss border, is one of the world’s best ski resorts – it just chooses to be quietly modest about its fame.
Lech was one of the earliest Alpine ski villages, with the first appearance of Telemarking skiers on 'Nordic Planks' here in the 1890s, 15 years before the Alpine variant of skiing, most commonly used today, was invented. In the century since then Lech has quietly established itself as one of the world's greatest ski resorts, having several of the crowned heads of Europe in its list of repeat clientele. Despite being hundreds of miles from the nearest sea and nearly 5000 feet above sea level the resort recently established its own yacht club – an unusual asset for a ski resort!
Yet the village has risen to the top without shouting from the roof tops and today it attracts the great and the good to its more than 35 four and five star hotels (that's more than twice as many as there are in St Moritz) without very many people knowing about it. Apart from being synonymous with great skiing - the resort has spawned four Olympic gold medalists, most recently Patrick Ortlieb (also 1996 World Champion). The legendary Hannes Schneider – a key figure in the evolution of skiing nearly a century ago - attended the first ski training course here in 1906 (Austria's first ski school).
Although a cosmopolitan resort today, Lech has also managed to maintain its character, still being owned by the original families from the last century and before and still centred on the old square towered church with its onion dome. They have ensured that the water in the mountain streams remains pure enough to drink, although you don't need to as "mineral water comes out of the taps".
The Arlberg region has some of the world’s most exciting, and extensive skiing and snowboarding. On the one side is Lech and it’s neighbour Zürs, (an even more exclusive enclave of largely four and five star hotels booked out by the great and the good each winter and wishing to keep a low public profile). On the other there’s St Anton, which hosted the World Alpine Skiing Championships earlier this year ands its smaller neighbour St Christoph. Altogether there are more than 80 lifts and 160 miles of ski runs all on the one lift ticket, but the two halves are not officially linked by lift or ski trail – only good skiers can make the connection with the help of a local guide.
Despite its reputation as a great destination for expert skiers, Lech’s ski slopes have ample attractions for all ability levels with the main area around Oberlech above the village boasting wide open slopes for beginners and intermediates. That being said, 50 miles of the Arlberg’s 160 miles are in fact off-piste trails, because this is one of the few ski regions in the world to measure its unprepared trails as well as those mechanically groomed. For advanced skiers that can ski this terrain the first decision of the morning is whether to warm up on the Mohnenfluh and test the Steinmähder, Hasensprung, Rotschrofen and Weibermahd slopes or to head straight off on to the tough pistes on the Rüfikopf. Beginners and experts alike can use the Arlberg Card, a high-tech ski pass which fits in your pocket, gives the holder automatic access through all turnstiles at the Arlberg's cable car and lift stations.