There's a distinct Alice in Wonderland vibe to the unmarked doorway on the fifth floor of the Mooser Hotel. You exit the lift and follow a long corridor to this big wooden door, behind which you can just make out the dull thump of a bass drum and the faint roar of a crowd of drunken revellers.
And then you open that door and there it is: the MooserWirt, the self-described "baddest apres-ski bar on the Arlberg", the most notorious on-mountain party venue probably in all of Austria, if not all of Europe. Every other apres-ski bar in the world wants to be like the MooserWirt, a magnet for the "ski hard, play hard" crowd, a place to party in the sunshine, to dance to bad music and make out with strangers and wildly embellish stories of your on-snow heroics from the day that was.
That door at the Mooser is the rabbit hole. On one side you have a luxurious hotel, plush and modern, four-star that feels distinctly like five, quiet and clean, a sanctuary from all concern. On the other side, Wonderland, only this Wonderland is filled with Austrian people in ski gear standing on tables, chugging beers and waving their arms along to YMCA.
Europe's wildest party venue is also a hotel. One of Europe's finest on-mountain hotels is also a wild party venue. How does that even happen? How are they getting away with it?
I'm actually fairly dubious when I arrive in St Anton, in the Arlberg ski region in Austria's west. I've been to the MooserWirt before: the bar has been around since the late 1980s, when Tirolian local Eugen Scalet took over his parents' slope-side farmhouse and decided to turn it into a purveyor of cold drinks and cheesy music, and a legend was born. I know what goes on here, and it's not luxurious.
Pretty much everyone who comes to St Anton – occasionally nicknamed "St Manton", given the appeal the ski resort's notoriously steep, difficult terrain tends to have with groups of adrenalin-junkie dudes and foolhardy bucks parties – calls past the MooserWirt at least once. They do so to join the legions of apres-skiers who gather there every afternoon to sing songs and dance on tables and have the time of their absolute lives.
I've done that. I've loved it. And I've also never even considered the possibility that you could whack a luxury hotel onto the back of the MooserWirt and make a success of two polar opposite ideas.
But there are more sliding doors here to consider. The first appears on the driveway into the complex, where a small button opens a car-sized elevator that our taxi just drives all the way into and we're lowered several floors down into a Bond-style mountain lair-slash-underground carpark. It's time to check in.
The quiet lobby area is panelled in blonde wood and light tones. The smiling staff wear traditional Tirolian dress. My room is a Scandi-adjacent dream, all designer furnishings and modern conveniences, with wood used throughout. There's a "Swiss Stone Pine Climate Box", a wooden contraption that purifies the air and adds a subtle scent of the forest. There's an Illy espresso machine; a comfy lounge; a bed with the signature northern European double doonas.
And there's another doorway, this time to the balcony, from which the majesty of the Austrian Alps unfurls before me, all towering snowy peaks and tree-lined valleys. Glance down from my balcony and I can see the heated outdoor infinity pool; look up and I can see multiple ski runs and gondolas. And I can hear something, too, just over the rushing of the nearby stream: the dull thump of a bass drum.
That's it. That's the only indication you have that the MooserWirt exists on the mountain slope just above. You can't see it. You (mostly) can't hear it. Even in the Mooser Hotel dining room, high up on level six, where hangover-busting breakfasts and fine-dining dinners are served with style, there's no sense whatsoever that the pumping dancefloor of Europe's wildest party venue lurks just metres away.
You get up in the morning at the Mooser and eat one of those killer breakfasts, cold meats and cheese and bread, Bircher muesli and fruit, sausages and eggs and coffee. You ski hard all day, you power down the steeps and tear through the powder. And then you stumble into the hotel in the afternoon and make a call: warm your cold, aching bones in the steamy outdoor pool; sweat it out in the sauna; chill in your room with a drink and a view; or get into the lift and press "5", walk out into the corridor and through to the wooden door and prepare to go down the rabbit hole.
The Arlberg's baddest apres-ski awaits.
Rooms at the Mooser Hotel start from $226 per person per night twin share in low season, and $405 in high season. See mooserhotel.at/en/
The writer stayed as a guest of the Austrian National Tourist Office, see austria.info/en