The 'baddest apres-ski bar in the world' now sports a quiet, boutique hotel too, writes Gabriella Le Breton.
Skiing past the Gampen chairlift at the base of St Anton am Arlberg, I look up and see a poster that brings a smile to my face. It reads "34 people are having a really great time right now", accompanied by three more words in smaller print: Das Mooser Hotel. I am one of the 34 guests in the new hotel, and I am, indeed, having a really great time.
For those familiar with St Anton, the word "Mooser" will summon memories of the infamous piste-side apres-ski bar, the MooserWirt. The self-proclaimed "baddest" apres-ski bar in the world, the MooserWirt is the essence of Austrian oompah action, with tabletop dancing fuelled by vast quantities of beer and Jagermeister and music provided by the 62-year-old DJ Gerhard (who has missed only 12 days here in 20 years).
Like many fans of the MooserWirt, I found the idea of a boutique hotel attached to the loudest party in St Anton distinctly incongruous. Singing along to cheesy Europop tunes and contributing to the MooserWirt's daily 2500-litre beer consumption (reaching 5000 litres in peak season) before wobbling down the piste is par for the course in St Anton. But is staying overnight at the scene of such carnage advisable?
Fortunately, I am discovering it is, thanks to the innate hospitality, enthusiasm and attention to detail of the Scalet family, who own and run the property. When Eugen Scalet's great-great-grandfather came to St Anton from Italy in the 1880s to join workers blasting roads through the mountains, he could never have known that the simple timber house he built on alpine pastures above the town would eventually house one of the most famous bars in the Alps.
Struggling to make the family tradition of alpine dairy farming pay, Scalet sold his herd in 1989 and started serving dinner to friends and skiers-by in his cowshed. Three years later, the MooserWirt hit its stride, abandoning dinners for more liquid entertainment and live music.
Come 2000, Scalet rebuilt the MooserWirt to increase capacity and installed a subterranean labyrinth of mechanised beer, gluhwein and spirit "parlours" (replacing the former milking parlours) linked to the indoor and outdoor bars by miles of cable, and providing his 65 bar staff with fully charged "pistol" drinks dispensers.
Not content with the MooserWirt's evolution, the irrepressible Scalet recently opened the ski-in/ski-out Mooser Hotel (St Anton's only one). Hewn out of the mountain, below the level of the MooserWirt, the hotel has 17 spacious rooms and suites spread across three floors. A two-storey spa houses saunas and a heated outdoor pool above a gurgling river, while a slick restaurant and bar are on the top floor, in the eaves of what was originally the cowshed. The carved wooden eaves and beams frame uninterrupted views over StAnton while plump leather chairs and an open kitchen reflect the property's distinctly contemporary design.
Arriving on skis, I enter the property through the boot room and make my way upstairs to my room. As with each guest room and suite, it boasts ergonomic furniture from the coveted Italian Moroso design house and plush fabrics that soften reclaimed timber headboards and sections of exposed stone wall. Opening the glass doors to my balcony I am astonished to hear Abba's The Winner Takes it All blasting from the MooserWirt above. Closing the door, I am plunged back into silence. Three sound-proofing experts and $15 million of Austrian build quality have achieved what I thought would be impossible. (Light sleepers note: the MooserWirt closes at 8pm, after which the only sound is that of the river flowing past your room.)
While Scalet proudly apportions the credit for the Mooser's cutting-edge interiors to his wife, it's clearly a team effort. Small touches reflect their attention to detail, such as the provision of headphones to enable a guest to watch television in bed without disturbing his or her partner.
Scalet puts it simply: "I was born here the son of a farmer and raised to nurture my herd. Now I nurture tourists instead of cows."
Whether Scalet is showing me his smart new wine cellar ("This is where we used to store potatoes when I was a child!") or prized underground garage, his vivacity is infectious and extends beyond his domain to embrace the town. He is one of many local farmers who have become innovative retailers, restaurateurs and hoteliers. In turn, the resort is shaking off its reputation for attracting sozzled ski-bums, ushering in a more grown-up (and upmarket) era.
Having skied and partied in St Anton since I was a teenager, I'm keeping a close eye on its transformation. But I'm reassured by the fact that it's locals, not outsiders, who are changing things. Besides, there's little chance of St Anton's apres-ski scene disappearing - Scalet intends to keep DJGerhard at the MooserWirt for at least another 18 years, by which time he will be turning 80.
The Mooser Hotel has bed-and-breakfast rooms from $143 a person a night. Phone +43 5446 2644; see mooserhotel.at.
- Telegraph, London