Every year since I was 8, my parents have taken me on a weeklong ski vacation. I wasn’t exactly sporty growing up, so the idea of spending 8 hours a day exercising, in what felt like boot camp, used to be totally unappealing. If you ask the friends who accompanied me in my former years, you’ll hear plenty stories of me in tears, while being dragged to the slopes kicking and screaming. As time has passed however, I’ve come to love the sport and appreciate the beauty of the mountains rather than fear them. We have a great “ski team” of friends and family from all around the world, 28 and counting… and I’ve become good at it, which helps!
This year choice in destination is a small little town in Austria call Lech. Located in cradle of the Austrian Alpine ski region, it is home to one of the most celebrated & best ski schools in the world and is home to a number of Olympic ski champions. Known as one of “The” destinations for elite skiers, its visitors include a rather long list of celebrities and royalty too. It’s a favorite with Tom Cruise, Prince Charles, the late princess Diana, The Dutch Royalty and more. Its no wonder that this sleepy town (from a mumbaiites perspective) has hotel rooms that charge over 1000 euro a night!
About the town
Well before Lech was one of Europe’s glitziest ski resorts, the inhabitants in this quite, riverside, mountain village made a living mainly as dairy farmers and livestock breeders. The first ski course for locals was opened in 1906 but it was in 1949 that international tourists started to arrive. Since then this little town hasn’t looked back. It has gained notoriety for its excellent ski system, celebrity visitors, gourmet restaurants and old school feel with brick and wooden houses and hotels. Although it is fairly close to the airports of Zurich (2.5 hrs), Innsbruck (1hr) and Munich 2.5hrs), the road leading up to the resort is difficult to drive in heavy snowfall, but its isolation only increases its charm. Today it has roughly 1500 inhabitants and many more visitors each year (almost 1 million hotel beds booked annually!), who enjoy its popular ski system, along with those of its neighboring villages. It is one of the 12 prestigious “best of the alps” ski resorts. You can pretty much walk the length of the town in 15 mins, so there is little else to do if you are not on the snow. It is also home to the gothic style church of St. Nicholas, with its onion shaped dome, which is believed to be built in 1390.
Winter in Lech & Ski info
Lech offers hiking, nature tours & cultural events during the summer, but it is the winter skiing that drives the crowds here. Together with the neighboring resorts of the Alberg region, Lech offers 280 Km of perfectly groomed slopes, 180km of high alpine powder runs (for off piste skiing), 79 different lifts and one of the best ski schools in the world. The mountains in the area range from 1300m to 2800m in height. The “Alberg card” allows you to freely use all cable cars, lift systems and public transport in the 5 Alberg locations (Lech, Zurs, Stuben, St. Anton & At. Christoph). Lech is popular for downhill skiing (both off piste and on piste) and also offers some cross-country skiing. The resort has snow from November to April, which allows for significantly flexible ski time. Other winter activities include horse drawn sleigh rides, para skiing, Nordic walking, skating, snowshoeing and more. Visit the Lech tourism website for more information about the Alberg ski system.
[Note to the reader: if you are a skier you probably know how the difficulty grading system works. If not here’s a crash course- Ski systems have ski slopes or pistes. The difficulty of a piste depends on its comparative difficulty to other slopes in the system and is based on steepness, width, grooming and its position on the mountain face. The difficulty levels usually are green, which is the easiest, followed by blue, then red, then black. Sometimes resorts will divide them further into dark red, double black etc. which are really variations, that better define the system.]
Hotels, shops & Restaurants
Lech gives its visitors plenty of accommodation to choose from. With nearly 9000 beds to host guests, it has 2-5 star hotels, apartments and private homes, both on and off the ski slopes. Add to that the hotels in the neighboring Alberg towns and you are spoiled for choice. The good hotels however, fill up very quickly with guests who book in advance and returning visitors, so its better to book early.
As compared to most ski resorts I have visited, Lech and the Alberg region surprisingly has some of the best food. The superb new Italian restaurant Trovado, we visited on the first day set the standards pretty high. There are nearly 50 restaurants in the town of Lech alone, however nearly all of them are in hotels. Although there is a serious lack of quaint stand-alone restaurants and cafes here, Lech is home to some Michelin starred restaurants revered by celebrity guests from around the globe. Visitors can choose from excellent mountain restaurants- on the ski slopes with table service, hotel based restaurants, off slope restaurants and Apres- ski options. The food mainly is local and Italian but there are some unique options like the Euro- Asian fusion stake house, Fux.
The shopping in Lech is limited. Most of the shops in Lech line the resort’s main thoroughfare, the Hauptstrasse. There are some small boutique stores and ski shops here. The nicest (and largest) store is Strolz, which is definitely worth a visit. Its eclectic mix of merchandise makes you want to walk out with a purchase. Expect it to be expensive though, as it pretty much monopolizes the area. If its sporting equipment you are after, it probably has everything you need, from almost every important manufacturer in Europe.
Energetically anticipating this week!