In other words, a trip to Lech in Austria’s Arlberg region is more important than you think. Flanked by a handful of resorts that share boundary lines and the steep, glacier-cirqued freeriding the Alps are famous for, Lech is a gold mine of out-of-bounds shredding. Just a lift ticket, a pair of feet, and a tube of sunscreen gets you more chutes, rolling snowfields, and craggy cliff lines than you can shake a mitten at. Park And Pipe You didn’t travel halfway across the world just to ride the same old park kicker, and if I find out that you visited the Alps and spent the entire time hiking the pipe, I will personally kick your ass. With that said, Lech’s Boarderland Park on the Schegelkopf has both pro- and regular-sized jumps, a halfpipe, and a handful of different rails and jibs. “The pipe needs a little bit of work and size,” admits Austrian pro Eric Themel. “But the park is mostly in a good condition.” There’s also a park geared toward kids in the same area.
This is the reason to come here-the Arlberg is widely recognized as one of the best freeriding spots in Europe. “The mountains are situated perfectly for any big storm that arrives from the north or west,” says Austrian Nitro rider Thomas “Beckna” Eberharter. “And it’s also the first big mountain range the storms pass over, so it usually gets dumped on more then the other resorts.” “Dumped on” means so much snow that avalanches shut down access roads for days at a time, stranding people in the mountain villages with nothing to do but shovel themselves out of their houses to go shred it. Sounds awful, we know.
Lech sprawls out over one side of a steep valley and shares boundaries with Zà...rs. Another resort called Oberlich sits directly across the valley. The beauty of this setup is that you can see almost everything each resort has to offer by standing in the parking lot and gaping heavenward. Says Eric Themel, “You can get anything that you want at Lech-good kicker spots, sick mountains, road gaps, and much more.”
A huge part of what Lech has to offer is “off-piste,” or out-of-bounds, making it ideal for film crews. Just a short hike or traverse gets you to places you’d have to snowmobile for hours to reach in North America. The Robot Food crew is known to frequent Lech after big storms in January and early Febuary. Pop in Lame again and check out David Benedek and Christoph Weber’s parts for the perfect kicker set against a 400-foot cliff wall backdrop-that’s Lech. And the best part is, all that is accessible to you, too.
Aprà¤s-ski could be one of the more entertaining things you do when you’re done snowboarding-sitting outside at the base of the mountain in the blazing Alpine sun drinking lager and watching ritzy Europeans prance and scuff around in tight ski outfits, fur, and rear-entry boots-it’s like a whole different planet, seriously. Also, ask around about “Swedish night” in St. Anton (just a few villages over) and witness the miracle of a tiny Austrian village overtaken by leggy, eye-batting Swedes on vacation. Ah, yeah.
Actually, this is sort of a “do miss,” but pretty much the entire countries of Austria, Switzerland, and France go on vacation during February (remember that Europeans actually take vacations instead of working themselves into an early grave like Americans), so be warned-a sleepy little village can turn into a raging cattle maze overnight. Make sure you plan stuff out.
Most of the restaurants are right on the main street, so it’s easy to just walk along and take your pick. The Italiener has good Italian food, and there’s a grip of traditional Austrian restaurants where you absolutely have to order Kaesspaetzle (an intense version of macaroni and cheese made with sharp local cheese) or at the very least Wienerschnitzel (breaded veal cutlet) to have a proper Austrian experience. There’re also several delis and a Spar grocery store for cheap snacks after shredding.
The Lech/Zà...rs valley is chock-full of lodging, but it fills up surprisingly fast, and it ain’t cheap-Lech is a swanky European ski town, after all. Check out ski-arlberg.com to view a wide range of hotels, from three-star and five star to family-run, bed-and-breakfast-style inns. Also, if you find yourself in Lech without having made reservations, head straight to the tourist office on the main street. They have a huge board that shows every hotel in the valley and whether or not they have vacancies. You can book your entire stay from there.
The Arlberg Open Space Freeride Trophy, Nice And Landed
Average annual snowfall: 240 inches
Summit elevation: 8,099 feet
Vertical drop: 3,387 feet
Number of lifts: 34 (18 chairs, 11 surface)
Shreddable acres: 27,182 acres
Snowskate park: No
Local shops: Strolz Stuff Shop Snowboardshop Adult ticket price: $47