An all-girl ski trip to St Anton Am Arlberg in the gorgeous Tirol region of Austria to celebrate Snowsport England’s fantastic GO SKI GO BOARD initiative, encouraging everyone to give snowsports a try in partnership with the #ThisGirlCan campaign. We took to the pistes during St Anton’s Ladies First weeks for a few days of exploring in the forests, falling over in deep powder and eating our bodyweight in potatoes.
I was joined by a gang of outdoor-loving ladies on a trip to St Anton am Arlberg. Our stellar line-up of ladies included Fiona Outdoors, Annie of Tales of Annie Bean, Sarah of Sequin This and Helen for the Manchester Evening Post. And we all had matching hats. It was going to be excellent.
St Anton looked seriously romantic when we arrived. Snow was falling, the high street was festooned with fairylights and above us loomed the mountains so famous amongst skiiers in search of a powder fix, ready for the taking tomorrow.
My own love of skiing came about after a winter season spent waitressing in the Italian Alps in exchange for getting to careen down pistes, fall over a lot and, eventually, get a serious case of mountain fever. But there’s definitely an idea, especially amongst women, that snowsports are still expensive, exclusive, perhaps a little bit macho. Snowsport England is aiming to change that perception with their GO SKI GO BOARD campaign, aiming to get people into and back into snow sports. Their website is full of courses, tips, holiday ideas and tons of inspiration to get you back in salopettes.
For girls keen to learn how to take on the white stuff St Anton is the perfect destination. It may be known as an off-piste-loving daredevil’s dream, but there are miles of gentle blues slopes and challenging reds to cut your teeth on, too. Female skiiers have it particularly good every January in Tirol, when Ladies First weeks offers discounts and extra services to encourage women to get out on the snow. 2016’s Ladies First weeks ran from the 9th-30th January, and female visitors received a booklet and welcome present, free drinks, restaurant discounts, wellness offers and special deals at hotels.
The snow was falling thick and fast as our guide, Christoph, took us up into the mountains to tackle some of the area’s 280km of dreamy ski slopes. St Anton is known as the ‘cradle of Alpine skiing’ – it’s here that Hannes Schneider developed the Arlberg tecnhique, still used by Ski School Arlberg to teach beginners ‘the white art’. One session following Christoph down trails and I was hooked – as we sped down St Anton’s glorious red runs and slowly inched our way down the blacks he helped me work on my patchy carving technique and took us through some easy off piste, a taste of the freeriding heaven that sees hardcore skiiers flock to St Anton to explore the backcountry.
Still, it was no hardship to take off our skis and head out to explore the town itself – St Anton itself is buzzing with happy skiiers in bobble hats exploring cosy cafes and getting down to some serious apres ski. On Wednesdays the whole town turns out for a night skiing display on the resort’s home run called ‘The snow must go on’. Pro local skiiers and snowboarders display different techniques, perform death-defying jumps and glide down the hill with lit torches and flags.
The next day the skies had cleared and we could finally see the gorgeous peaks, pines heavy with snow and tiny wooden chalets which make up this lovely mountain resort. I’ll definitely be back to ski this gorgeous corner of Tirol, and discovering St Anton with a motley crew of fantastic ladies made it even better. All girl ski squads are the way forward.
WHERE TO STAY: Hotel Valluga
Oh hello Hotel Valluga. I’m usually more of a chalet fan but you may have converted me forever. Restored from a traditional inn by charming owners Mikael and Johanna Landström, this super-chic yet easy-going hotel is big on comfort – think enormous beds, a roaring fire, mountains of furry rugs to cuddle under and sumptuous spa – without compromising on style. Classic nods to Austrian heritage such as antlers on the walls and wooden log detailing are mixed with modern quirks and cool colours. The staff are charming too, friendly and attentive to little details, from a goodnight packet of sweets to a bookmark left in your novel so you don’t lose your page. The restaurant is refreshing after carb-heavy ski fare – dinner is all light ingredients, beautifully served, whilst breakfast boasts a different daily smoothie for a vitamin hit and a make-your-own-muesli bar which I was a bit obsessed with. Sorry I ate all your hazelnuts, lovely Hotel Valluga.
Stay at the Hotel Valluga from €190 (£137) per person per night with breakfast and dinner.
WHERE TO EAT:
HOSPIZ ALM: A delightful mix of Austrian tradition and modern fun. Walk into this huge, welcoming chalet and you’ll find a wall of all the visiting European royalty who have eaten here. Plus a big wooden slide leading to the wine cellars downstairs. Inside is centered around a huge circular fireplace where you can leave damp ski gear to dry out whilst you sit down to the fabulous food served by waiters in lederhosen. We warmed up with hot coffee and pans full of Tiroler Grostl – an insanely good bacon and potato hash topped with fried eggs which I have dreamed about ever since. Oh man.
THE MUSEUM RESTAURANT: St Anton’s main ski run glides right past an enormous and lovely chalet which you may recognise. Fans of romcom Chalet Girl (totally not me. At all. I definitely didn’t cry when I watched it) will recognise this venerable building as the chalet itself featured in the film, and inside is a charmingly traditional restaurant and a little museum dedicated to the history of skiing in St Anton. Food is rich, satisfying and perfectly paired with local wines.
Snowsport England’s GO SKI GO BOARD aims to get people into and back into snowsports, with courses, tips and holiday advice available. Read more from when I sent Mary Spender to try skiing for the first time. Give it a go – you could look as happy as this.