I hear the music long before the infamous Mooserwirt Bar comes into view. Mountains are strung along the horizon. My skis hiss on the slopes as I navigate downhill with the rest of the end-of-day crowd. I hear the thumping beat first, rolling up the valley. Then the music. Move over Julie Andrews: this is classic Queen rock, roared out by a chorus of beer-fuelled skiers after a good time.
Then the Mooserwirt is before me, behind a forest of skis and poles, and surrounded by an ocean of jiggling, swaying, arm-waving folk stripped down to their T-shirts. Ski jackets and hats lie in abandoned heaps. Table tops have become dance stages. This isn't just any old après-ski. This is Eurovision on the slopes, with thumping ice-hockey team songs belted out in German, and more retro-pop than I've heard since I was at school in the 1980s, when it wasn't actually retro.
I hurl myself into the crowd and enter into the spirit of the moment. Village People in the snow? Walking 500 miles in ski boots? Country Road taking me home to a pop beat? Hmm, maybe you have to be there, but trust me – it's a whole lot of fun. As the crowd sways and chants, Austrian waiters haul 25-kilo trays of beer tankards topped by a layer of Schnapps glasses.
I'm a Jekyll and Hyde character in St Anton. By day I'm the macho mountain man, skiing the powder and devouring gargantuan fried lunches. At afternoon's end, when the après-ski kicks in, I'm doing the YMCA with all the enthusiasm of a Sydney drag queen. In St Anton, you can have a gay old time without worrying what your mates might think. This is no Aussie pub – hell, when is the last time you saw all the men in an pub doing the macarena? This is an Austrian bar in a ski resort known for its good times. Before long, I'm shimmying on a bench top and wondering why the macarena ever went out of fashion.
Perhaps fortunately, the Mooserwirt shuts down at 8pm. After a day on the slopes, four hours dancing in ski boots and several tankards of beer, exhausted partygoers leave without protest, strapping on their skis and sliding down into town at the bottom of aptly-named as Happy Valley. Dinner awaits. The macho in me has boiled beef, my alter ego discusses the finer merits of apple versus cherry strudel.
After that, the nightclubs in St Anton go on until the wee hours for those with the stamina. The most popular clubbing venue is Kandahar Bar, with its Indian-inspired décor and outstanding DJs. Piccadilly Bar's live bands also pack in the crowds; pale-faced Brits (who've been coming to ski in St Anton since the 1920s) swill at the bar. Nearby, Bar Cuba offers big-screen sports and a blue cocktail called Cuban Cocaine, packed with enough Red Bull to keep anyone buzzing all night. Other cocktails with names like Sex on the Slopes set the tone for St Anton's lively, youthful and often singles clubbing scene.
Personally, I have a bit of a soft spot for Underground Bar, which isn't actually underground but housed in a chalet a bit beyond the village. (It's notoriously hard to find, but near Galzig cable-car station and a snowdrift down from the excellent Restaurant Museum, which serves fine traditional nosh.) Underground Bar is a good place to totter late at night for a taste of the blues. Australian owner Joan Devey, who has been running a bar in St Anton since 1969 as her hair gets increasingly orange and face more wrinkled, chats to guests until the small hours and keeps a firm lid on rambunctious behaviour.
Actually, St Anton has left its rowdy reputation behind it, and reinvented itself as a sophisticated ski resort without losing any of its spirit of fun. It has far more than just bars and nightlife. The public-access Arlberg Well complex is as good as any in a top hotel: after skiing, you can sink into its pools and steam baths and sweat out cramped muscles in the Finnish sauna as snow drifts down in a dark sky beyond the windows.
Along the main street, smart fashion boutiques and delis providing a tempting stroll. St Anton also has a stylish restaurant and cocktail-lounge scene and some chic contemporary hotels. To me the Mooser Hotel sums up the new St Anton vibe. Incredibly, it sits in the same building as the Mooserwirt but couldn't be a greater contrast, with rather minimalist interiors and a hideaway hush aimed at infinity-pool floating, sushi-nibbling guests looking for the hip and high-tech.
When it comes down to it, for me, all the hangovers and the hipness are, if not quite an irrelevance, at least just a optional extra, because the real reason to go to St Anton is some of the world's best skiing, except perhaps for beginners, who are confined to limited lower slopes that tend to get slushy towards mid-afternoon. Everyone else should be happy as a yodeller on Schnapps. Free riders and off-piste skiers won't find much better in Europe.
Intermediate and advanced skiers have 340 kilometres of pistes and nearly 100 lifts in a region that gets more snow than just about anywhere else in the Alps. It all tops out at 2,812 metres at the summit of the Valluga cable car. St Anton is also interconnected with nearby villages. Towards season's end, you can drift across to St Christoph, at 1,800 metres the highest resort in the region, and also find remaining good snow on the north-facing slopes above Stuben, where a kilometre of vertical, treeless descents is exhilarating.
Okay, who am I kidding? I admit it, the best part of skiing in St Anton is the sound of Boney M sending the fir trees trembling as the loudspeakers of the Mooserwirt kick in once more. It's the four o'clock migration down the slopes to the world's best après-ski spot. Those macho Italians I saw earlier, skiing with such stylish cool in their designer sunglasses, now look as if they're auditioning for a Mardi Gras float. Ski jackets are unzipped, inhibition abandoned, Belinda Carlisle has made a comeback. For a while I'm a teenager again, bopping and hopping, and heaven is a place on Earth.
Emirates flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Dubai (14.5hr) with onward connections to Zurich (5hr 30 min), the closest airport to St Anton. Phone 1300 303 777; see www.emirates.com/au
Hotel Alkira is a great three-star property run with lots of alpine charm, run by a welcoming Aussie-Austrian couple. Phone +43 5446 405 99 see www.alkira.at
Skihotel Galzig combines tradition with a modern twist and is right by the ski slopes. Phone +43 5446 42770, see www.skihotelgalzig.at
Plangger Delikatessen is a good place for an après-ski red wine and cheese plate, see plangger.net. Dine at lovely Restaurant Museum on wonderfully peculiar hay soup and spicy, boiled-beef Tafelspitz, see www.museum-restaurant.at.
The writer was a guest of Emirates and the Austrian National Tourist Office.