It’s snowing in Warth, again. The small village high up in the Austrian Vorarlberg region that has one of the best snow records in the Alps.
They get so much snow here that by this time of the season, late March, they have over three meters on the mountain. Far more than some the major high altitude resorts that attract some of the world’s best skiers. At 1494 meters, Warth is high by Austrian standards, but with a maximum altitude of 2050 metres, it’s nowhere near the height you might expect to hold so much snow.
Why do they get so much snow? Mainly because of the location at the northern edge of the Alps, just ‘inland’ from Lake Constance, Central Europe’s third largest lake. Not only does the area benefit from the storms coming in from the West, but also gets hit by the Northerly and Easterly weather patterns that other parts of the Alps can miss out on.
The town proudly boasts the statistic of receiving 11 meters of snow every year; surely this is a powder haven and I’ve come to see if the quality of the skiing matches up with the quality of the snow.
Photo: Dreaming of a white Easter, in Warth, Austria.
My taxi drive up from Friedrichshafen airport (along with my wife and 3 year old child), just one and a half hours drive, is a test of my nerves. In over 20 years of driving in the Alps, it’s one of the hairiest rides I’ve had. Heavy snow was filling the road faster than they could clear it and the taxi (a transit van basically) was struggling; and it was getting dark. The driver, a local from the next valley, was pretty shocked at the conditions but he performed an amazing job by safely dropping us off at the Hotel Lechtaler Hof, home for the next 4 nights.
The thing about Warth is it’s not really on the map of many skiers outside Austria and Germany. But, its next door neighbour, Lech, is very well known. Lech is so close to Warth that and easy ski tour will get you there in under one hour, with some bonus open wide bowls full of snow for good measure.
But, next winter (2013/2014) after years of debate, there will be a brand new lift connection that merges the two ski areas together. This suddenly makes Warth not just a pretty little picture, but a big landscape canvass, potentially even, a masterpiece.
The new area will provide access to 190 kilometres of ski runs and 47 ski lifts, making it the largest area in the Vorarlberg and with a bus connection from Lech to St Anton you suddenly get 340 kilometres of ski runs making it up there with some of the world’s largest (although I’d like to try skiing from Warth to St Anton and back in a day and see what you actually get out of that).
Anyway, tucking into my four course dinner with a glass of wine made the taxi ride up a distant memory and I found myself tucked up in a cosy room so typical of the high standards found in Austrian hotels (that also provide excellent value) but with some extra special touches thrown in.
I presumed it would be snowing in the morning when I woke up in the ‘home of snow’ (I’ve just called it that myself, it’s not a real name), but it was sunny! I went skiing with Martina, daughter of the founders of the Hotel Lechtalerhof, the Brenner family, ex-Austrian ski racer and our wonderful host who everyone seems to like. Martina knew the mountain better than I know my back garden. Once she realised I could get about and wasn’t a complete shambles on a pair of skis, we started to duck and dive all over the place.
Photo: Skiing to the door, in Warth.
Actually what I found out about this ski area is that it’s got something for everyone in its own right. Yes, the link to Lech will make it one of the largest ski areas in Austria, but if you fancy just staying local you’ll get plenty of variety and terrain to keep you busy. Better skiers will definitely benefit from the extended area, especially if they are staying for 5 days or more as a decent recreational skier could cover the whole area within a few days easily. But the terrain is good, challenging if you want it but with a soft feel that never seems to be pushing too hard. One group that I’m not sure about is complete beginners, as there is a jump between the relatively small nursery slope and the rest of the mountain, although the local ski school does seem very good and Mathias (co-owner and ski school director) speaks excellent English and was very helpful accommodating my three year old daughter into an existing kindergarten class.
Photo: Warth-Schroecken ski area is suitable for all abilities.
There’s a special offer for families with children from 3-6 years too. Stay 7 nights in either Warth or neighbouring Schröcken and the children get a 6-day ski pass as well as a 4-day ski course free of charge. The package includes an activity programme during the whole week that includes puppet theatre, toboggan rides, husky sled rides and a ski race.
Photo: My daughter going up the Magic Carpet during her Kindergarten class.
Another area the ski school seem keen to promote is the teenage ‘freeride’ market where they encourage young people to learn to ski the whole mountain safely and with respect. Instructors and pupils are provided with the correct safety equipment and guided through its appropriate use. The terrain offers plenty of ‘off-piste’ possibilities without it being overly exposed or ‘extreme’ in nature. For families that have older children who require something just a little more up their street, it could provide the perfect combination and keep everyone happy!
Back to that terrain! We skied a combination of ‘on-piste’ and ‘off-piste’ descents, where just slipping off the side of the marked run and around a corner, wide open bowls opened up, all north facing and with a nice gradient that flattered the style. The snow was about boot top depth and soft if not just a little wind-blown from the night before, but lots of fun all the same. The descents are fairly short but there were so many options and even though it’s so accessible every run we made provided our very own blank canvass of snow. I promised Martina not to tell anyone about this, although had I been alone I probably would not have found it anyway – so close but yet somehow secret, like the mountain wants to be left alone. I’d recommend taking a fully qualified mountain guide or instructor anyway as this terrain, like any other out of bounds area, can be prone to avalanche risk.
So what does Warth really offer? The village is small but the hotel accommodation is of a high standard and places like the Lechtaler Hof provide fantastic convenience to the slopes which are right on its doorstep. The Après Ski has some afternoon highs right on the slopes, but after that you’re restricted to the hotel bars. So for younger late night party searchers, it’s not the most ideal location in this part of the Alps. Families with children of all ages will be very much at home here as will skiers looking to get some decent mileage and quality riding done in what is one of the most snow sure resorts in the whole of Europe. The new link to Lech will further enhance the possibilities for skiers of all levels.
Photo: View from our window in the Lechtaler Hof hotel.
More pictures from Warth can be viewed in our Facebook photo albums.
The Hotel Lechtaler Hof provides 4* Boutique accommodation in the heart of Warth, right by the nursery slopes and the main ski lift station. Gourmet food is served in the restaurant every night and packages include 5 course meals cooked to an exceptionally high standard. The hotel caters for couple, individuals and families and full access to the spa facilities and pool is available for all guests.
Warth resort information: http://www.warth-schroecken.com/en/
Flights to Friedrichshafen airport are operated by Monarch, from Manchester and Gatwick, throughout the winter ski season. Transfer times from Friedrichshafen to Warth are approximately 1.5 hours by car, group and private transfers are operated by Transfer4you.at
Monarch, the scheduled leisure airline, operates year round flights to Friedrichshafen from London Gatwick and Manchester airports with fares, including taxes, starting from £30.99 one way (£64.48 return).
All customers are allocated a seat at check-in; however seats can be pre-allocated on scheduled Monarch flights for £5.99 per one-way flight to ensure that families and groups are seated together. For customers looking for added comfort, extra legroom seats are also available offering up to six inches of extra space from only £17.99.
Customers can take advantage of online check-in, which is available between 18 days and four and a half hours prior to departure. With a great range of tasty hot and cold meals that can be pre-booked or purchased on-board.
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