Why Austria's White Ring circuit is one of the world's ultimate ski experiences

After many decades of skiing, I have become opinionated. No more hesitating when asked for my favourite ski experience. I might just shout it from the mountaintops and dare anyone to argue. When the sun is shining and fresh powder snow has fallen, the White Ring is the best all-round ski day you're likely to enjoy. Anywhere. Ever.

The ski circuit is a series of seven lifts linking 22 kilometres of runs that loop you clockwise around the upmarket ski resort of Lech. It covers just a fraction of the 88 lifts and 305 kilometres of slopes that make the Arlberg one of the world's top five ski fields, whose most famous resort is St Anton. Still, it's a very choice fraction. You're never on the same lift twice, runs are superbly groomed, and views from chairlifts and slopes are splendid.

Almost any skier but a beginner can do it. Confident learners could certainly tackle the White Ring. More advanced skiers who like long, exhilarating swooshes down well-groomed slopes will love it. Experts and adrenaline junkies can join the fabled January race and see how they go against an international posse of professional skiers.

The course record is 44 minutes and 35 seconds but, unless you're an Olympic athlete, you'll really want to make the White Ring a day out. It needs to be savoured. The circuit will smack your gob right from the starting point, where you might spend 44 minutes taking photos. The very first run plummets you downwards amid a horseshoe panorama of ice-encrusted alpine peaks, and that's just the overture to an entire grandiose opera of scenery that appears to prove God is a skier.

You start at the top of the Rufikopf cable car that hoists you aloft from the centre of Lech to 2360 metres. The White Ring is well signposted, and whizzes past several smaller ski villages (Zurs, Zug and Oberlech) where you can stop off for schnitzel or a schnapps on a sun-soaked terrace before continuing on your way. The circuit is a mix of blue and red runs, and relatively unchallenging but for a short, rather bumpy and sometimes icy section atop the Madloch, which at 2438 metres is the highest point on the White Ring.

Start early and you will likely have the first runs almost to yourself. (The Arlberg is notable for its lively apres-ski, which means many skiers are up late.) Aim for an early break too. Europeans skiers tend to have long slope-side lunches, which means an early pause for sustenance will have you back on the slopes just as many skiers are retreating to chalet terraces. Lunchtime is a good moment to be at the bottom of the Madloch chairlift about halfway around the circuit, since this is the only lift than sometimes gets bottleneck queues.

If I had to nominate the favourite parts of my favourite ski day then I'd say the powder explosion that is the Hexenboden run towards Zurs, and the run from the Madloch down into Zug for its uninterrupted four-kilometre ski. Take a brief detour, though, at the top of the Madloch chairlift onto Run 144 back down to Zurs. It might be my favourite ski run anywhere, hurtling like a rollercoaster between cliffs, with alpine peaks fanged like shark's teeth against a blue sky as a backdrop. It progressively smooths out for a magnificent lower schuss that leaves you panting with exhilaration.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/austria

austria.info/au

Advertisement

FLY

Emirates flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Dubai (14½ hours) with onward connections to Zurich (5½ hours), the closest airport to Lech. Phone 1300 303 777; see emirates.com/au

STAY

Kristiania Lech is a wonderful family-run hotel with an alpine chalet appearance but quirky, contemporary rooms. It has a very good restaurant and impeccable service. Rooms from €317 ($455) including breakfast. See kristiania.at

SKI

Use the free Ski Arlberg app to record the lifts you take, the vertical descent you've skied and the time taken not just on the White Ring but across the whole Arlberg ski region. See skiarlberg.at

Brian Johnston travelled courtesy the Austrian National Tourist Office.

Comments