"Come to the Arlberg, it's so unspoiled," say all the tourists, peering out of their gaudily painted hotels for a look at the fancy-dress parades which, at the whim of the local publicity offices, are held irregularly in carnival season. Unspoiled, of course, in the technical, tourist sense. The Arlberg (SI, Feb. 25, 1957) is a modest domain of mountain villages, and few of its visitors go in for full-dress and champagne and the activities that get into gossip columns. But for all that it is not lacking in the usual appurtenances of modern civilization like ski lifts, plumbing and Bloody Marys. Just unspoiled enough, we may say, for the pure-in-heart skier who would not be caught dead in one of the posh strongholds of the apr�s-ski way of life like Kitzb�hel or St. Moritz.
Carnival time, with or without parades (there are always masked balls or impromptu revelry in the hotels), is the most crowded and the gayest time. Christmas belongs to the French, and every night the Arlberg-Orient Express takes back its quota of moaning ladies to a Paris where the plaster cast has become the most chic form of winter footwear. In bleak January prices go down about 20%, and the pound-pinchine English take over. With February, and the longer days and brighter sun, come the free-spending Germans and the bulk of the Americans. They come for the spring snow, when the mountains are covered with what looks like folds of marshmallow, when the greatest variety of runs can be found. They can put on skis at dawn and climb up to almost-virgin peaks over solid crust, come down as the crust is crumbling to corn, take a lift up another mountain after lunch and come down a north slope where the late sun brings a touch of warmth to the remaining powder. The season lingers on to late April (after the end of March prices go down again about 20%) and a little longer in Z�rs, which is the highest of the resorts. Then the cows take over. There are no glaciers for late spring and summer skiing.
As the map at the right shows, the Arlberg is small. A good skier can start from St. Anton, take the three stages of the Valluga lift (to 2,811 meters, the highest in Austria), ski down through tricky wooded territory to Z�rs, then take the Hexenboden (rise of 550 meters) T bar and zip down to Lech, thus in a few hours going from one extremity of the region to the other.
But smallness does not mean unity, and the Arlberg is in reality two rival worlds. When the great railway tunnel under the Arlberg Pass, which opened up this lonely region to the tourist, was built in 1884, the aged burgomaster of St. Anton began his inaugural discourse, they say, with these winged words: "I cannot for the life of me understand why man should try to join what God has put a mountain here to keep asunder." He was referring to his own province of the Tyrol and the cross-mountain one of the Vorarlberg, in which are found St. Anton's ski rivals Lech and Z�rs. In St. Anton they speak of the Vorarlbergers as commercialized, hard-dealing Swiss. In Z�rs they call the Tyroleans lunkheads, squareheads, farmers; they say they take their cows more seriously than their guests. Both sides will quote legal documents going back to the 15th century to help say it.
The average skier naturally need not worry about these petty peasant quarrels. With chains on his car he can always get over the pass, or take one of the many and cheap buses that make the climb. It's all close enough so that no one would think of visiting one village without trying at least a couple of the runs in the others.
Next to the business about the unspoiled Arlberg, the second slogan you will hear everywhere is: "There is nothing to do in the Arlberg but ski, so they get nothing but serious skiers." So says the long-legged American girl as she untwines herself from her bar stool, and over her shoulder she adds: "I must run off now to a Speck party. Speck is that dreamy home-cured bacon they have here; they cut it off in strips and you drink gallons of red wine and it goes on till 4 in the morning, and you meet all those dreamy counts and everything."
Most Americans who come to the Arlberg are at least medium skiers to begin with—and they had better be. If they enroll in the ski school they will be under the supervision of such men as Rudi Matt in St. Anton and Professor Kruckenhauser in St. Christoph and will get the most advanced instruction available in Europe. International differences, of course, are less pronounced than they used to be. The distinctive features of the old Austrian technique have faded into the neutral style of today. The Arlberg crouch has gone upright, the lower shoulder does not rotate on the turn. The hoppy, hippy movement taught to advanced students as Austrian Wedeln is the thing today (SI, Nov. 25 et seq.); it has caught on everywhere and to the innocent eye is indistinguishable from the Swiss Kurzschwung and the French godille.
An important note for beginners: make sure you can talk to your instructor before you go up any hills with him. Come the high season, every passing goatherd is pressed into service as a Schilehrer. The pupil who gets one of these hastily drafted instructors at times may be heard longing aloud for the dear old teachers in Switzerland, five seasons behind the latest hot-shot techniques but always repeating their instructions slowly and in three languages.
Once past the language barrier, the beginner will find an ample choice of baby lifts, with good, safe descents. As he gets better he will find in the Arlberg a total of 26 lifts of all descriptions, going up every conceivable kind of slope; and more are planned. Once up, he can take his choice about how to come down, there being up to a dozen trails leading from each summit. From the Valluga, for instance, even a mediocre skier can get down comfortably via the Ulmer H�tte to St. Christoph. A better man can try it to St. Anton via the Mattunjoch, while an expert can make things hard for himself on the Schindlerkar run.
In Z�rs there are 45 recognized runs, from the easiest beginners' up to the breakneck rush down the Madloch. A special added attraction is that you can ski directly from your hotel to the starting point of the lifts.