Lech is a big village in the woodland background of a sunny valley, and despite the fact that it's been drowned by top-end tourism, it still has the atmosphere of a traditional farming community. In winter, the only through road ends in a pile of snow, creating a wealthy enclave ring-fenced by natural barriers. The Lech river flows parallel to the main street, with chalet-style hotels lining both sides, and a wooden shed close to the main bridge offers shelter for horse-drawn sleighs: there's such a buoyant market that the animals are constantly reined in readiness for their next task.
Lech'spatrons are mostly German, but there are also some loyal Brits. They feel safe off and on the slopes - a cocoon of luxury would do that for you. Oberlech, fixed on its own sun-soaked plateau, is charged as a blueprint for the future because it is entirely car-free. Guests park in the multi-storey car park and get into the cable-car (open until 1am) while their luggage is transferred in an access tunnel made as a supply line for the satellite resort. This is not particularly convenient, but the end result is certainly peaceful. Families that have young kids and anyone else who likes a genuine ski-in, ski-out accommodation don't have to look further. The other option is Zug, a couple of kilometers up its own valley but linked into the lift system. It is small and charming, grouped round a traditional church and populated with a scattering of old-world residents.
Zürs is made up of 22 hotels, three of them five-star, which is way above the normal ratio. It standsover the treeline, separated by the only road into the valley. This moonscape placement is not very sympathetic, especially when the snow is beating through the funnel created by the Flexen Pass. All the same, it does mean it has some of the most snowsure slopes in Austria and its ski-in, ski-out credentials are immaculate.
Although all the Arlberg ski resorts are served by the same lift pass, they divide into two zones - Lech-Zürs, and St Anton, St Christoph and Stuben. The slopes in Lech and Zürs are linked in one direction, but not the other. Beginning at downtown Lech, the clockwise circuit starts with the twin Rufikopf cable-cars, which open a blue run to Zürs. Alternatively, there are wide red pistes covered by the Hexenboden and Trittkopf lifts. This terrain is distinctive of Zürs, short swooping descents that ask for fast cruising during good weather; when it closes in you'll be lucky to see across the road.
© 2012 Athena Goodlight
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