The locals call it the secret side of the valley and for good reason. Despite having one of the best snow records in the Alps and access to one of the five biggest ski areas in the world, the Austrian village of Warth has managed to stay secret, at least from the majority of British skiers.
Warth has just 183 inhabitants and until a few years ago, it was a small resort mainly visited by locals and a few Germans from over the border. But that all changed in December 2013 when the high-speed, two kilometre, Auenfeldjet gondola was completed. This lift linked unpretentious Warth directly to the well-known and glitzy resort of Lech and into the vast Arlberg area that also includes St Anton and Zurs. Suddenly Warth, tucked away on the secret side of this famous valley, was skiing with the big boys.
Add to this the fact that Warth gets significantly more snow than the other Arlberg resorts averaging 11 metres per year (that’s more than double the snowfall of Val D’Isère). At just 1494 metres altitude, this huge snowfall is clearly not because of its elevation but thanks to its privileged geographical situation, not far from Lake Constance, combined with its position on the north side of the Alps.
The Arlberg region is known as the cradle of Alpine skiing and Warth claims that it was their local priest, Father Müller who invented it. Finding himself cut off by snow from his parishioners in the neighbouring village of Lech during the winter months (the road between Warth and Lech still closes in the winter), he decided to secretly order himself a pair of skis that he had read about from Sweden. He subsequently taught himself to ski (at night as he was afraid of the reaction of the villagers if they saw him.) This was in 1894; he was successful, and you can still follow the route he took to get between the two villages. The rest, as they say, is history and skiing in Austria was born.
Although now linked by ski lifts, the three main villages of the Arlberg are very different in character. While St Anton has a reputation as a party town and Lech as a glamorous retreat for the wealthy and royalty (Princess Diana used to ski here and it is a favourite haunt of the Dutch royal family), the little village of Warth has retained its traditional charm and is virtually unknown to the British market (and in fact also to most Austrians). You will not hear many English voices here, unlike the other resorts in the region.
The speedy Steffisalp chairlift whisks you from the centre of Warth to a selection of beautifully groomed, well-connected blue, red and black runs back down to the village or to the extensive network of lifts higher up the mountain and then to the gondola that links directly to Lech. The groomed runs are of the wide Austrian variety plus you will find lots of untouched powder under the lifts next to groomed runs.
If you are staying more than a few days, then it is worth taking the gondola over to Lech and exploring the slopes above the village and towards St Anton. Try the popular Run of Fame, an 85km route all the way from Warth to St Anton and back but it takes most of the day so make sure that you leave early and allow enough time.
Mountain pit stops are a big deal in Austria and Warth is no exception. The pistes are dotted with inviting wooden huts and you are spoiled for choice for places to enjoy a coffee, glühwein and lunch. Prices are reasonable too.
If it is nightlife you are after, then Warth is not the place for you but for couples, families and groups of friends, it is the perfect location with all the basics you need for your holiday. There is a small supermarket, a handful of restaurants, two sports shops including a hire shop where you can leave skis and boots overnight rather than lug them back to your accommodation. Après ski is a low-key affair in the handful of local bars in the village.
We stayed at LuxAlp Chalet and after a few days, I was ready to move in permanently. Owned and run by the delightful Brenner family, they know how to look after their guests. Constructed and finished in warm local wood and stone with a focus on sustainability, it offers 13 chalet apartments within one large chalet building located in the sunniest spot in the village with the best views. Each chalet has a sunny balcony or terrace, well-equipped kitchens, high spec bathrooms, cosy furnishings, and huge, comfortable beds. It manages to be both luxuriously comfortable and warmly relaxed. LuxAlp Chalet only opened in 2019 but the owners must have had a crystal ball during development as it could arguably be the perfect model of the post covid ski chalet; it has all the best elements of private accommodation with the facilities of a hotel should you require, including an impressive buffet breakfast. There is also a spa facility with two saunas, a steam room, and a relaxation room. A jacuzzi is available on request, champagne included.
The problem with having discovered a well-kept secret is that it is tempting to keep that secret for oneself. However, Austrian ski resorts have suffered a very heavy blow from Covid and, as a long-term devotee of skiing in Austria, I feel that a hidden gem such as Warth deserves to be discovered. Just don’t tell anyone else.
There are three different passes available in Warth.
The cheapest is the local pass granting access all Warth Schröcken lifts can be purchased for 1 to 2.5 days duration.
The second is the three-valley pass (3 Täler) linking Warth and Schroken with 33 smaller ski resorts.
The third is the pass to go for if you are staying more than a few days and is the Ski Arlberg pass valid in the whole region (Warth/Shröcken/ Lech/Zürs St Anton).
Warth is in the Vorarlberg state of western Austria near the border with Tyrol
Warth (and the neighbouring village of Schröcken) is situated in an adjacent valley to the other Arlberg resorts and, in winter it is not accessible by the main road that goes to Lech and St Anton. Instead, you take the high valley road which has the advantage of being much quieter and also a very pretty drive. You should have snow tyres or chains.
Closest airports are Zurich (a 3-hour drive) Innsbruck (2.5 hours)) or Munich (3hr).
Where to stay
Nadia is a journalist based in the French Pyrenees, who has written for numerous ski magazines, newspapers and online magazines. She took her family of six (ranging in age from 14 to 52) to discover the snowiest village in the Alps and test out the slopes of Warth and the Arlberg region