Apparently, the first ever ski lift ever built was in the village of Zürs, a picturesque setting nestled in a high valley and sitting on the Vorarlberg side of the border with Tirol. Today, one of the world’s most technically advanced cable cars connects the resort with neighbouring St Anton (Tirol), creating Austria’s largest ski area and the world’s fifth largest interconnected winter sports region.
This sums up an area that is regarded as the cradle of Alpine skiing and you can’t help get a sense of that – the traditional and the modern blending together in a seamless fashion that oozes charm, sophistication and cosiness all rolled into one product that spits out your ideal ski resort scenario.
The snow could be a little more plentiful during my visit in December 2016, but it’s the situation widely being experienced across the Alps and with artificial snow cover on a large part of the mountain and recent cold temperatures, the on-piste skiing is extensive. The area is well-known for its off-piste / backcountry skiing, although this is going have to be reserved for another visit.
I’m here to check out the new ski lift that finally adds a piece in the jigsaw puzzle, linking up an area that stretches from the town of St Anton across to the villages of Warth-Schröcken, with St Christophe, Stuben, Zürs, Zug and Lech in between. The Flexenbahn removes the need to catch a bus between St Christophe and Zürs – previously 180 buses trundled their way through the valley. After Lech joined up with neighbouring Warth-Schröcken two years ago (a process that had been going on for over 30 years as locals negotiated how it would all work), the natural step was to compete the puzzle with the final (I say final but there’s already rumours of further expansion from St Anton southwards from Rendl) from Zürs to St Anton.
And it’s certainly been done in style – the new Flexenbahn is a quad of separate super-size gondola style cable cars that whisk you quickly and comfortably up to the ridge separating the Zürs and St Anton ski areas (Trittkopf). These four lifts will do away with over 150 daily buses along the small winding, mountain road. It took over 250 people all summer for seven days a week to complete the construction for the project that started five years ago.
The sheer scale of the engineering is there for the eyes to behold, with impressive (and exceptionally high at 80 metres) pylons straddling jagged ridges. Even if you spend half your life riding cable cars, this one manages to inspire – and we like the neat little ski racks inside the cabins too.
Despite the increase in capacity for skier numbers being uplifted within the system, the lift company “doesn’t expect numbers in resort to increase, but believes it will really enhance the experience for skiers and snowboarders during the winter”.
Certainly it’s a huge marketing feather in the cap for the area, now officially Austria’s largest and the world’s fifth largest interlinked ski domain. Will it enhance the experience in our opinion? Well, the quality of skiing in the area is already world class and the new lift doesn’t really add any new terrain that improves on that, but then again, it doesn’t have to. There’s a bit of travel time for skiers as they need to descend on the lift when going back from Zürs to St Anton, which is time consuming (allow minimum of one hour from Zürs to St Anton if you’re on skis)….but yes, an addition like this to an already fantastic destination is something to celebrate.
Rob stayed at the Inghams Chalet Hotel in St Christophe – price: from £909 pp based on two people sharing, departing February 3, 2016 including 7 night’s half-board accommodation with a 5 course evening meal including wine (Tuesday chalet night off), afternoon tea, full buffet breakfast, indoor swimming pool and sauna.