We all have a bucket list of “things to do before turning 30,” and mine included learning how to ski or snowboard. Most of my friends started learning when they were much younger, which was why the idea of speeding down a mountain at the age of 31 was quite daunting. Nevertheless, it was time. I decided to do some research and figure out what location in Europe would be a great place for skiing and snowboarding beginners such as myself as well as make a fun vacation out of it. Where did I end up going? — Lech, Austria! Trust me, after countless hours of research, this is the perfect place to go for a beginner.
For a skiing or snowboarding beginner, Lech has many good schools to choose from and the slopes have a gradual increase in incline. When you advance from the baby slope to the intermediate slope, you won’t feel that it’s too scary of a jump. Also, if you decide after a day or two that you want to take a break or that skiing/snowboarding just isn’t for you, there are a lot of other physical activities you can do. For example: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, or renting a toboggan (sled). Finally, Lech is right next to Zürs (where most of the 5 star hotels are located) and St. Anton (where all the parties are at) so you won’t be bored even if you give up on skiing or snowboarding. But, let’s try not to give up!
Lech is also a great place to go if you’re planning on going with friends who are experienced skiers. There are numerous slopes in the area that you can easily get to. For instance the steeper slopes of St. Anton are connected to the slopes of Lech, you just have to ask around to find out how to ski over to that side from Lech. What’s even better is the Arlberg ski pass works for all the lifts in the Arlberg area! At least that’s what I’ve heard from the more advanced skiers. I only stayed on the easier slopes.
How to get there?
- Plane — If you’re flying internationally, the best way is to fly to the Zürich (ZRH) Airport and then take the Arlberg Express to Lech directly from the airport. Otherwise, you can fly to Innsbruck (INN) and take the Four Seasons Airport Transfer service it’s ~1.5 hours.
- Train — there are rail lines in Austria, Switzerland and Germany that get you to Langen am Arlberg station (closest station to Lech) and then you’ll have to take a bus shuttle or taxi to your hotel in Lech. (I think this is the most tedious option especially if you have a lot of luggage, I would recommend renting a car).
- Car — if you live close by, driving is probably the cheapest and most convenient way to go! We drove from Zürich and it was ~2.5 hours and a surprisingly smooth drive. (I’d have to say, a very different experience from driving on snowy roads in the US.) PROTIP: Make sure if you’re crossing the border to enter Austria, buy a vignette. It’s a small toll sticker that you put on your windshield. If you don’t have it, you might receive a fine for driving in Austria! They sell them at gas stations close to Austria’s borders (before and after entering), sometimes they sell it at the car rental. We rented from Hertz in Zürich and they didn’t have it. It’s not expensive and easy to get, so definitely not worth getting fined. It costs 8.90 Euros for a 10 day toll sticker.
Where to stay?
The whole town is run mostly by the locals and so the best places to stay are the bed & breakfasts that are owned and run by a family where you’ll get top-notch service, amazing home-cooked meals, and knowledge that only the locals have. Fun fact that a local told me: there’s around 2000 locals and when it’s peak season tens of thousands of tourists come every week! You can stay at a non-family run hotel, but it won’t have the same homey feel and it will cost you quite a bit more. My recommendations:
- Adler Hotel Palma (in Zug, 10 minute bus ride from Lech): This was where I stayed and it was close to perfection, definitely exceeded expectations! At first when booking it, I was worried that it wasn’t in Lech and that it’ll be far from all the action. However, the hotel’s reviews online were top-notch and the price for that week was the lowest I found amongst the highest rated hotels in the area. Not sure if all the rooms have it, but our room had a sizable balcony with a really nice view. Too bad it was too cold when we went, otherwise I would have spent more time out there.Pros:
- Price-quality ratio
- Service was impeccable, the family treated us like their own family
- Free breakfast and the mom would ask us every morning what she can prepare for us fresh such as scrambled eggs or cappuccino
- Ski gear room was perfect for storing all your board, wet shoes, gloves, etc
- Spa area (**Note: for those who aren’t use to being in a sauna or steam room in full nude with others, don’t be too surprised because it’s very normal here!)
- Dinner! We had dinner twice here (because we got lazy and we couldn’t move our bodies anymore) and were pleasantly surprised. The food was amazing – home cooked by the mom – traditional Austrian dishes made with fresh ingredients of the day. They also make the bread, butter, and pizza themselves! Couldn’t have asked for a better meal.
- Bus stop to go to Lech only 2 minute walk from the hotel’s front door (the shuttle is free before 7pm, after it’ll be ~2-2.5 Euros)
- Although it isn’t located far from Lech and the bus makes it quite easy to travel to and from, we would get lazy to make it out of Zug after a whole day of snowboarding. I sometimes would wish that the hotel was right next to the slopes we were at.
- Hotel Garni Lavendel (in Lech): This B&B came highly recommended by our ski instructors and when I was researching hotels, this one was highly rated and has really good reviews, but it was full already for the week I went. Will have to stay here next time!
Where to sign up for classes and rent your gear?
There are quite a few ski schools in the area and I’m sure you can’t go wrong with any of them. From what I observed when I was there, all the instructors from the different schools were really patient and engaging with their students. However, I recommend going with SkiSchule Lech because this school has the most flexible programs. They have group lessons starting from 1 day up till 12 days and they also have private classes. The prices amongst the schools are all about the same but many of the other schools that I found only offer private lessons or group lessons for a set 5 days. Take note though, most beginner group lessons start on Sunday or Monday or Wednesday. We went on a Friday and ended up having to take private lessons Friday and Saturday. One more thing I liked about the SkiSchule is that the staff was super responsive via email, which makes it easier to book your lessons and ask questions if you prefer not to call.
To rent your gear, I would recommend SportAlp. They’re located 1 minute walk from where you’ll meet your instructor for lessons and 2 minute walk from the SkiSchule. The staff is also very helpful and will guide you through what size of everything you should get. PROTIP: if you pay for everything through their website before you get there, you’ll get 10% off.
Where to go for après ski?
Honestly, Lech’s après ski is pretty calm. Most people go to dinner sometime around 7 or 8pm and that’ll be the end of the night. There’s only 1 or 2 bars where the young people go to dance late into the night. I totally understand why most people don’t stay out late though, especially if you’re skiing or snowboarding all day and want to wake up early the next day to ski some more, you’ll want to sleep early. However, if you want to party it up, the famous party ski town St. Anton is a skip and a hop away! You can catch a bus to St. Anton where the famous après ski takes place.
Après ski in Lech
- Eisbar at Hotel Tannbergerhof: the most popular spot for aprés ski in Lech
- Hotel Krone outdoor bar: you won’t be able to miss it, there’s always a ton of people and loud music
- Fux Jazz bar: want something more low-key? No problem, Fux has a bar that plays jazz music. It has a more romantic vibe if you want something more intimate.
Aprés ski in St. Anton
- MooserWirt: Everyone has their party hats on here, there is no one that’s not dancing or smiling or both! The bar goes through an obscene amount of beer every week.
- Krazy Kanguruh aka “KK”: Started in 1965! Want to dance on a table? You’ll probably be doing that here!
Where to eat?
- Baristo: Best for lunch, afternoon snack, a nice place to relax and grab a coffee, tea, juice or alcoholic beverage (I came here everyday I was there after snowboarding, just to relax and it gets super crowded after the ski lifts close!)
- Backstube Cafe: If you need some pastries this is the cafe to go to, not a lot of sitting space and the ambiance is not as nice as Baristo but definitely the place to go for pastries.
- Hus Nr. 8: Traditional Austrian food in a traditional Austrian architecture. The house is about 300 years old but it has been restored. If you don’t eat here, it’ll be a nice place to visit and take a picture.
- Rote Wand: Rote Wand is a hotel with a restaurant that is quite famous. In the winter time they have a fondue section where you can order various types of fondue (cheese, fish soup, Chinese hot-pot type, vegetarian or bourguignonne.) You can also make a reservation for their restaurant that has a 5 course evening menu.
- Hotel Adler Palma: As I mentioned in the hotel section, the restaurant at this hotel is wonderful. The chef (the mother of the family who runs the place) only uses local ingredients bought that day. She doesn’t believe in keeping fresh produce overnight. I also caught a glimpse of her top of the line, professional oven.
- Hotel Gotthard: They have an upscale restaurant with a set course menu but you can also go to their casual restaurant to have a-la carte.
- Schneggarei: Best wood-oven pizza. A local told me that the owners are from Italy and they only use ingredients from Italy to make their pizza! PROTIP: you can make a reservation online from their website! Everyone wants some good pizza after skiing so this place gets packed pretty quickly.
- Cafe Olympia: apparently second best pizza in Lech according to a couple of locals I spoke to. I didn’t get to try it so can’t vouch for it but putting it here on the list anyway so you can try it out.
- Fux Restaurant: They have two sides to their restaurant – Steakhouse and Asian fusion. It’ll be hard to find other Asian restaurants in the area.
I really enjoyed the 5 days exploring Lech. It’s a great place to learn how to ski or snowboard and not as expensive as the US or Switzerland. The breathtaking views are also a great reason to go. I hope you’ll find this post useful and good luck planning your trip to Lech!
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