Ski Club Arlberg

Willkommen in Lech, laden with snow and aglow with the glittering patina of Alpine history. Perched on the northern flank of the recently joined-up Ski Arlberg, Austria’s biggest linked region, this bijou village is beloved for its babbling brook, 16th century church, and plethora of understated five-star inns favored by mountain-loving titled types whose forebears have been skiing here since The Kaiser ruled (and not the Franz Klammer one).

Amid the timeless atmosphere of the Gasthof Post, former royal letterbox to Emperor Franz Josef, glasses of glistening Sekt sparkle beneath romantic Anton Walde landscapes, pine-lined ceilings, and an embarrassment of curly horns and stuffed heads. Along with the ubiquitous loden jackets, dirndls and fur wraps favored by its regulars, you’re likely to spot any number of fine grey woolen ski sweaters, traced with distinctive red and white striping and a raised crest of two skis, one pole. Proudly worn in situ, this is members’-only livery of one of skiing’s oldest societies, the 119-year-old Ski Club Arlberg.

On a snowy January day in 1901, six friends hiked up from St Anton and skied down, down, gloriously down to St Christoph, armed with lanky wooden skis, stiff leather boots and bulky wool coats for an all-day expedition through deep snow and unsecured high-Alpine terrain. (These days, we cover the same route via the glass-and-steel shrouded Galzigbahn and a cruisy blue groomer in under an hour). The early adventurers took shelter at the Hospiz where, fueled by Glühwein and glory, they spontaneously established the Ski Club Arlberg, “a modest meeting point on the Arlberg for the friends of this noble pursuit.”

Today nearly nine thousand members hail from fifty-seven countries, gathering for races and après-ski parties held each week in St Anton, St Christoph, Stuben, Zürs and Lech. So how does one share turns and tales with a club roster that includes a century of ski nobility – from the inventor of modern ski technique Hannes Schneider, to dozens of World Cup and Olympic skiers, and the likes of Zürs habitué Princess Caroline of Monaco?

Along with demonstrating a love and commitment for skiing in the Arlberg with a minimum of three prior visits, members pay an initiation fee of €200 and annual dues of €60. Prospects must be nominated by two members. At this point, it pays to have friends in high places – and in the Arlberg it’s inn keepers who rule the roost. For regulars at the many lovely hotels that populate the area, it’s quite common for one’s hotelier to put one up for the Club; a second sponsor must be a member of the Club Board.

Five stars run in the family of my kind sponsor Florian Moosbrugger, celebrating eight decades as family hosts at the unapologetically traditional Gasthof Post. Favoured by a soigné and loyal clientele that includes the Dutch Royal family (each winter they are installed in the seven linked rooms in the hotel’s discreet Kutsche Wing), the Post’s attractions include forty-eight elegantly furnished, serenely quiet rooms and suites, some with fireplaces, a tranquil outdoor pool opening onto peaceful mountain views, and as of 2017, the panorama restaurant Postblick, with views onto Lech’s fashionable pedestrian life and expansive pistes. Central to enjoyment of the excellent kitchen is a dip into the Post’s wine cellar, whose thirteen thousand bottles include eye-wateringly rare vintages from Florian’s drinking buddy, an owner of Romanée- Conti.

Which brings us to the toast.

Every week, induction ceremonies and Stammtisch drinks are held in St Anton, St Christoph, Stuben, Zürs and Lech. On this particular evening, a gathering of eighteen inductees convene in the lounge of the Hotel Krone, joining a smart-looking crowd dressed variously in plus fours, tweeds, cashmere and blue jeans and, uniformly, the striking grey sweaters of the Ski Club Arlberg. Thin glasses of Grüner Veltliner and frothy small beers are raised to greet old friends and new from the US, Canada, Australia, Britain, France, and Austria, as well as the Club’s first ever member from India. Each of us is introduced, pinned and besweatered by Club Vice President Stefan Jochum. Sealed with a hearty Ski Heil from the room, we drink to the long continuum of ski history, trailing out merrily into the starry Arlberg night, hopeful of another bluebird day to come in this, the cradle of Alpine skiing.