For a very long time, St Anton has been one of Snowgenius’ favourite resorts. We first skied there in December 2006, before the snow had properly arrived for the season, and despite only a handful of runs being open, we had a great time. That’s because St Anton’s après ski scene is as bigger part of its appeal as its superlative skiing – even if the snow lets you down, it’s great just to be there. Time and time again, we’ve headed back to St Anton.
However, for the first time last season, we were unfaithful and tried St Anton’s main competition in the area, Ischgl. Just 40 minutes away by road, Ischgl offers what appears to be a very similar blend of a large ski area, great skiing and epic après ski. But can this (for us) new contender steal St Anton’s crown? We’ve considered a number of key factors for ski holiday enjoyment below, and rated St Anton against Ischgl:
Choice of Accommodation
St Anton romps to an easy win here. The town is full of a huge range of accommodation options, from small and basic guesthouses (which can be great value) to apartments, catered chalets and up to seriously impressive hotels. In the latter category, these are not limited to the slightly fusty old school hotels that are often found in ski down, but include cutting edge joints such as the new Mooser hotel.
By contrast, Ischgl’s hotel scene is much more focused on traditional hotels – there are a few self catered apartments around, but almost nothing in the way of affordable guesthouses or B&Bs. This can mean that it ends up costing significantly more to stay in Ischgl.
We’ll call it a draw here – the two resorts are geographically near enough that if one gets hit with snow the other shouldn’t be too far behind. Both had epic 2011-2012, with Ischgl even being cut off entirely from the outside world for a few days in January 2012. It’s also worth noting that the village of Lech (part of the St Anton ski area) is routinely listed as the snowiest in the Alps.
Skiing – on piste
This is close call, but we think Ischgl nudges it. The resort has an abundance of predominantly red runs snaking all over the predominantly north faces above the Paznaun Valley, and if you’re here to ski groomers, you can have an epic time just dashing around the mountain. That’s not to say St Anton is at all shabby on piste though, especially when you consider the sheer scale of the ski area (though it’s worth noting that of the other ski villages in the area, only Stuben and Rendl are linked the main area by lifts). It’s also fair to say that both St Anton and Ischgl suffer from a similar problem – the main runs back to the town centre can become horribly busy and cut up late in the afternoon.
Skiing – off piste
St Anton easily takes the win here. This resort is considered to be among the world’s greatest off piste destinations, with challenging skiing ranking alongside the likes of Jackson Hole, Snowbird and Verbier. A testimony to this are the number of guiding services available in the village, such as Piste to Powder. It’s also noticeable that the general standard of skiing in St Anton is well above that in Ischgl (and indeed much of the rest of the Alps) – this is a place that many serious skiers choose to base themselves. That said, Ischgl also has some excellent off piste available when the conditions are right. And – given the combination of the lower aspirations of the skiers and the après ski hangovers (see below) – on a powder morning you might have it all to yourself.
Both Ischgl and St Anton are rightly renowned for their après ski set ups, but the two approach it in slightly different ways. In St Anton, the focus is really on the ski-boots-on après ski scene, and in particular on two bars that are perched on the Galzig run back into St Anton – the Krazy Kangaruh and the Mooserwirt. While both these venues are open earlier in the day for lunch, it’s from 3:30pm that things really start getting going. At the Mooserwirt, this is signalled by the lowering of the shutters and resident DJ Gerhart firing up “The Final Countdown” – a routine that unfolds every single day. There follows 4 hours or so of everyone stomping on the tables, guzzling down beers and singing along to cheesy Germanic pop anthems, before woozily locating their skis and shussing off into the dark towards the village below.
In Ischgl, the party is more focused in the town rather than up on the slopes. People ski down and head straight on to the Kuhstall, the Trofana Alms or the Schatzi bar (complete with dancing girls in traditional Austrian dress…), but while the party is fun, it doesn’t quite have the same atmosphere as that at the Mooserwirt – probably because you can just walk rather than ski home! On balance then, St Anton wins the first round of the après ski battle.
This is where Ischgl real forte lies. For those who have the energy to go out after the afternoon/early evening fun in the Mooserwirt or Krazy Kangaruh, the St Anton late night après ski can feel a little bit tame, and perhaps a bit of a disappointment. There are no full-on clubs to speak of; instead, Kandahar, Piccadilly/Post Kellar, Scotty’s and a few others provide what are in effect bars with some cheesy music and dancing.
Ischgl, on the other hand, really gets going after dinner. There is a branch of Pasha, the Ibizan superclub, replete with podium dancers and VIP lounge. There is are also a number of other locations (Posthorndl, Fire and Ice) that are substantially more sophisticated that anything in St Anton, plus two strip clubs for those who like that sort of thing. All in all, Ischgl feels like a much more grown up venue for a (late) night out.
So, which is better? Obviously, it’s down to personal preference, and depends on what your priorities are for a ski trip. On balance, Snowgenius still prefers St Anton for the sheer quality of the skiing (especially off piste) and the fact that this makes it a mecca for all those who also love skiing. Ischgl’s greatest strength – its epic late night party – is also in some ways a weakness, in that it means that quite a lot of people are there for that rather than for the mountain. You should definitely try out both and see which you like, but for us, it’s all about skiing all day, hitting the Mooserwirt hard till it closes (at 8pm…) and then waking up for the first lift with no hangover to do it all again!