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resort where big is beautiful; paul ogden took to the slopes in st anton - which is now super accessible thanks to a new lift link.

WE all know that size isn't everything (most of the time) but in skiing terms bigger is definitely better.

In cable car capacity, in stein glass shape and in ski resort geography, the larger they are the happier we snowsport lovers will be.

So if you like your ski resort to come with some hefty stats, Ski Arlberg is the place for you from this year.

Thanks to the beautifully sculpted gondolas of the new Flexenbahn, which finally completes the circuit between Zurs and Suben, Ski Arlberg is now Austria's largest connected ski area, and therefore one of the five biggest in the world.

There are now 305km of connected runs across an area so massive that not even the most ardent marathon skier could do it justice in a week and hope to remain standing by the end of it.

But the sheer size now means that variety and flexibility are built in, which is great for people like me - a late season skier who needs to watch the weather and run conditions closely to get the best out of an Easter break on the slopes.

High altitude ensures very high snowfall in the Arlberg mountain range, with an average dump of nine metres each winter, so you can usually enjoy decent conditions well into April - and so it proved.

Out of the five main Arlberg villages of St Anton, St Christoph, Stuben, Zurs, and Lech, it is 'Stanton' which is by far the best known, especially to us Brits. Not only because of its history, but for its (in)famous apres ski, chic village centre and some great ski runs converging on it.

And that history is very long. Not for nothing does the Arlberg crow that it is 'the cradle of alpine skiing.'.

It is a history of firsts. The world's first ski club in St Christophe in 1901; the first ski race in the Alps at St Anton in 1904; the first ski school in Austria in St Anton in 1920; the first ski cable car in the world opened in St Anton in 1937. On and on it goes until you get to the really groundbreaking feat - the world's first heated chairlifts in 2004.

There was an uplift in the resort in 2001 when St Anton held the Alpine World Ski Championships and with the new Flexenbahn it is clear the resort does not sit back on its heated chairlift and relax.

With the Brit romcom flick Chalet Girl filmed in the resort, it is no surprise that many head to St Anton for the, either rowdy or upmarket apres ski centred on the legendary Moosewirt.

But it is not all braying Hoorays in day-glo snowsuits - though you can find them. The pedestrianised bottom of the run at the village centre has one of the most pleasant apres ski atmospheres I've experienced.

Those young guns aiming to drink as 'hard' as they have skied since noon are diluted with loved-up, couples, families enjoying the snow together and elderly, wiser snowsport lovers who come off the piste early to snaffle the best tables. All enjoy the sun trap conditions in the bars of Das Basecamp, Seitenblick and Galzig Bistrobar.

You can always cut the price of your drink by a quarter, though, by heading round the corner to the main high street, Dorfstrasse, and dropping into Jules. You can also find some out of the way craft beer bars like me, you would rather poke yourself in the eye with a ski pole rather than down a Jagerbomb.

St Anton has a host of posh shops (there's even a C&A to bring back memories) and restaurants - Arlberg claims to have the highest concentration of award-winning restaurants in Europe - but you can find also find good value for money in the fast food joints and supermarkets.

However, before the apres comes the ski and St Anton really is a tremendous resort for those with a few years on the piste under their belts.

Not overly generous to the beginner, the tricky blue runs and trickier reds give intermediates a good run for their money.

The Flexenbahn helps with ski links to the likes of Oberlech, Schrocken and Warth without having clamber on board a bus - though some who want to get to those resorts fresh-legged may still consider doing so.

But the Flexenbahn has allowed for the creation of the newly-crafted Run Of Fame, which is a more manageable 65km of downhill runs with an altitude difference of 18,000m, from St Anton to Warth and back.

But this is no easy trek - not like the gentlemanly Sella Ronda circular route in the Dolomites.

It starts with the mogully black of the Riffelscharte - so you know exactly what to expect on your tour.

The blurb says that The Run Of Fame should take the 'average skier' a day to complete. But what 'average' is open to interpretation so make sure you are not stuck a long way from home when the lifts grind to a halt.

Most of St Anton's runs are on the northern side of the valley but Rendl ski area to the south is quieter and perfect in the morning when the sun takes the edge of its frosty red rollers. And Rendl restaurant is great for a mid-morning snack or lunch of Tiroler Grostl while you watch the antics of snowpark riders below.

If you don't fancy the snowpark and need a break from the slopes, you can take some limb-soaking time out at Arlberg-well.com, a rather snazzy title for the local baths. But it is a beautiful baths. It is what you would expect in a five star resort, with inside and outside pool, sunbeds, sauna and steam room complex and fitness centre. There is an ice rink and playground too.

That was only a few minutes' walk from our Crystal accommodation, Tirolerhaus, a traditional but four star chalet that slept about 30 so there was always someone in the relaxing lounge to talk to about our exploits in the mountains.

The chalet was on the luxurious side of comfortable, with its own sauna, and was only three minutes walk from the nearest chairlift but still far enough away from the noisy apres ski so you got a much-needed good night's sleep.

Tirolerhaus consistently tops the Tripadvisor poll for St Anton accommodation and its best aspect was the friendly, knowledgeable and hard-working Crystal team who run it under the leadership of Kirsten White, with their cuisine being spot on.

One must before you leave is to take the cable car to the top of Valluga where there is a fantastic 9km run down to the Galzigbahn base station.

Unless you are an intrepid offpister with a guide you have to leave your skis behind before squeezing into another cable car to take you to the topmost viewing station.

And here on a cloudless day you can experience a view even bigger than the Ski Arlberg area - a heartstopping vista of four countries.

Need to know CRYSTAL Ski Holidays (www.crystalski.co.uk; 020 8610 3123) offers a week's catered* accommodation at the four-star Chalet Tirolerhaus in St Anton from PS609 per person (based on two sharing) including flights from Manchester to Innsbruck and transfers (90 minutes). Price given is for departure on 16 December 2017. *catering includes: breakfast with cooked option, afternoon tea with home-made cakes, threecourse evening meals with selection of wines or soft drinks, early children's suppers available.
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Geographic Code:4EUAU
Date:Oct 9, 2017
Words:1250
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