Lech has long been one of Austria's leading ski resorts thanks to the extent of its runs, reliable high-altitude snow conditions and emphasis on quality rather than quantity for visitors. But with the recent opening of the €45-million Flexenbahn gondola (flexenbahn.ski), Lech has finally been linked to St Anton (arlberg.net) to create one of the world's largest ski fields. Expect more than 300 kilometres of exhilarating runs amid splendid scenery, and a sophisticated, glamorous alpine town.
You don't have to be a skier or boarder to enjoy Lech (lechzuers.com) in winter. Take to the 40 kilometres of rolled walking paths, lovely along the river with fir trees slumped under epaulettes of snow, or hit the 30-kilometre network of cross-country ski trails, gentler in the valley, challenging and gloriously scenic at higher altitude. A toboggan run through the forest links Oberlech with Lech. You can also ice skate, try curling or take a horse-drawn sleigh ride.
Lech has quite the gourmet reputation, awarded more Gault & Millau toques than in any comparably sized destination. Settle into the new Jagerstube (postlech.com) for a Relais & Chateaux standard meal of refined Austrian dishes, such as schnitzel and venison stew, made lighter and more sophisticated. On the slopes, Rud-Alpe (rud-alpe.at) has a sunny terrace looking down over Lech, and provides fabulous feeds of sausages, sauerkraut and skier-fuelling traditional desserts, while Balmalp (balmalp.at) serves huge salads and plum-stuffed dumplings.
Most runs above Lech cater to intermediate skiers, but extensive off-piste areas will challenge experts and provide untracked powder, and this is also Austria's only resort to offer heli-skiing on two peaks. It's easy to access the entire Arlberg ski region, especially nearby Zurs, notable for its deep powder. Run 144 from the top of the Madloch chairlift is fabulous, plunging between two rocky outcrops and then progressively getting easier, allowing you to rollercoaster downwards and finally schuss back to Zurs.
For one of the world's best ski days, head out around the White Ring (derweissering.at), a loop of interconnected (but never repeating) chairlifts and groomed runs that begins above Lech at the summit of the Rufikopf cable car and will eventually, after 20 kilometres of skiing, return you to Lech village. The easy, open, runs swoop downwards through awesome alpine panoramas.
If you want to understand all the permutations of the German word gemutlich (cosy, cheerful) then check into Kristiania Lech (kristiania.at), run by efficient, friendly Gertrud Schneider, daughter of a famous Austrian Olympic skier. Sure, you get good food, contemporary art, quirky furnishings and great service (there's even a sleep butler and ski valet) but best is the homey, comfortable atmosphere. No two rooms are the same, except for their lovely valley views.
Strolz (strolz.at) has been one of the leaders in ski boots since the 1920s, and you can get custom boots made at its Lech outlet. Its posh underground ski rental shop is the epitome of Lech, with excellent service.
Brian Johnston travelled courtesy the Austrian National Tourist Office.