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Skihuette Der Wolf © Dietmar Denger / Vorarlberg Tourismus

Soft beats at the summit

Three huts with three facets in Lech Zürs am Arlberg

Ski huts Lech Zürs am Arlberg
Vorarlberg Magazine

Lech Zürs am Arlberg

Three huts, three concepts

Of course, there are mountain huts in Vorarlberg that are both traditional and cosy. But contemporary architecture and international flair have long since found their way to the summits – to the mountain peaks around Lech, for example.

TEXT: STEFAN NINK

Clear line: Der WOLF

They’re just standing there, the two of them, next to each other with their latte glasses in their hands…they’re overwhelmed pure and simple: this snow, this view, this feeling of – well, what do you actually call it? “Perfect,” Russ says in English. “There’s nothing like this at home in Sydney.” He has to laugh. There are thousands of beaches back home, he says, but such panoramic views? Such air?? Snow??? Come on! He drops into one of the red beanbags, the ones where – after three hours on the slopes – you know you’ll only be able to get up again with somebody helping you. And Isabella flops into the one next to him.

She’s from Montevideo and met Russ yesterday. At the lift. They then had a drink together here in the WOLF ski hut on the Arlberg. And found that they quite liked each other. Now it’s looking as if something could develop between the woman from Uruguay and the man from Australia. Kalkbrenner’s Cloud Rider is coming out of the loudspeakers. Perfect, as Russ would put it. A ski hut is a ski hut is a ski hut: that was what they used to be in the past; but that’s all changed now.

Christian Wolf Skihuette Der Wolf © Dietmar Denger / Vorarlberg Tourismus
Skihuette Der Wolf © Dietmar Denger / Vorarlberg Tourismus

Contemporary building in the mountains: Christian Wolf’s ski hut (picture) was designed by the multi-awardwinning architect Bernardo Bader.

Guests sit outside in the sun tapping their toes to the soft beats

You have to come up with something special if you want to score points with skiers and snowboarders these days. Christian Wolf had his hut designed by one of Vorarlberg’s most renowned architects: DER WOLF is a fine example of Bernardo Bader’s ability to place unusual buildings in nature in such a way that they look as if they had always been there – in spite of all their sophisticated design.

Clear lines, lots of light, lots of blond wood and furnishings whose minimalist casualness seems absolutely unobtrusive: everyone feels comfortable in such an ambience, regardless of whether they’re from Australia, Germany or the Netherlands. The hut’s manageable size means that it’s become the first port of call for many people coming up from Oberlech on the Petersboden cable car.

DER WOLF is a place for feeling good, chatting and finding yourself.

DER WOLF is a place for feeling good, chatting and finding yourself, and it also incidentally meets a need that has been neglected in many ski huts in the Alps over time, that is: you can have a rest here. Recharge your batteries. Restore your strength. You can even do so inside. Because it’s not really loud even when it’s jam-packed. Outside, snowboarders and skiers sit on the beanbags chilling in the sun, tapping their feet to the soft beats coming out of the speakers while watching the wind shepherd the clouds over the horizon. Very slowly, from right to left.

Skihuette Der Wolf © Dietmar Denger / Vorarlberg Tourismus
Skihuette Der Wolf © Dietmar Denger / Vorarlberg Tourismus
Skihuette Der Wolf © Dietmar Denger / Vorarlberg Tourismus

DER WOLF possesses a manageable size and the wood makes it very cosy. The menu includes both local and international dishes.

A class of its own: the Schlegelkopf

But, of course, it could be different. Totally different. For instance, 400 metres further on, a piece of urbanity has been dragged up the mountain to connect two worlds that would otherwise be worlds apart. The Schlegelkopf may call itself a mountain restaurant and may be situated high up in the Vorarlberg alpine world – but its interior and ambience wouldn’t look amiss in a high-rise in mid-town Manhattan. Or in a Hong Kong skyscraper. But that would mean that the view it presents would be that of a sea of houses. And not this magnificent world of mountain peaks.

Mario Zacares Schlegelkopf Restaurant Bar © Dietmar Denger / Vorarlberg Tourismus
Schlegelkopf Restaurant Bar © Dietmar Denger / Vorarlberg Tourismus

The restaurant at the mountain station is as international as the people in Lech are: Mario Zacares, for example, makes sushi – as an homage to the twinned town of Hakuba-Happo in Japan.

That’s what you call a panorama! A drink at the semi-circular bar in the Schlegelkopf is something that’s almost surreal. You can watch clouds and fog change in the valleys, see how new formations are constantly materialising and then vanishing again. Many guests cannot tear themselves away from this sight for minutes on end and there are moments when it becomes almost completely quiet. That’s when it seems that up here you’re floating above everything to the extent that you feel almost as if you’re in another world.

The cuisine pays tribute to the twinned towns of Kampen, Hakuba-Happo and Beaver Creek

However, most people actually come to the Schlegelkopf for the food. The chef Matthias Seidel celebrates regional recipes but also pays homage with his pots and pans to the twinned towns of Lech: Hakuba-Happo (Japan), Beaver Creek (Colorado, USA) and Kampen (Sylt). Doesn’t that get really complicated, for example, with oysters from the North Sea? “Well,” he says, “it’s only getting the fresh produce that’s complicated. But that’s just the way it is at a mountain restaurant that you can only get to by cable car. The vegetables that I order only arrive the following evening. So that requires foresight where placing orders is concerned.”

But it’s really not a problem, you get used to it and you stay absolutely passionate about quality. “Our sushi chef Mario Zacares makes sure that everything is fresher than fresh. He’s relentlessly strict.” The concept seems to be working. The Japanese ambassador recently visited – and he was very impressed. And on the other side of the mountain? When you travel up from the Zug part of the village? You arrive at the Balmalp.

Schlegelkopf Restaurant Bar © Dietmar Denger / Vorarlberg Tourismus
Schlegelkopf Restaurant Bar © Dietmar Denger / Vorarlberg Tourismus
Sushi Schlegelkopf Restaurant Bar © Dietmar Denger / Vorarlberg Tourismus

An unobstructed view of the mountains may be enjoyed from the terrace.

360 degrees breathable

Rudi Walch has been running this hut for 16 years: a two-legged whirl wind who emerges from the white of the mountains on his skidoo and leaps into the dance beats like he was on fire. It takes him five minutes to climb the two floors because he looks into all the rooms and chats to all his employees and says hello to at least every third guest. And incidentally notices that one of his bartenders can hardly keep up with serving the beer. The next moment, he’s helping out behind the bar. The team, he says, is exactly like him: “Cool, good-looking and a little mad.”

Rudi Walch Balmalpe Lech © Dietmar Denger / Vorarlberg Tourismus
Balmalpe Lech © Dietmar Denger / Vorarlberg Tourismus

A location that’s simply unbeatable in fine weather. That’s when many day trippers besides the skiers also travel to the hut – in comfort with the Zugerberg cable car.

The view is as breathtaking as the wind that blows from the peaks

‘360 degrees breathable’ is what it says on the Balmalp’s menus, and anyone drinking their shandy on the balcony will quickly realise what that means: the view is as breathtaking as the icy wind that blows up from the peaks. The hut is situated in an exposed setting on a ridge; the lifts stop in storms. But the location is unbeatable when the weather is good – and so is the sunset

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Videoimpressions of the three huts

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Oh yes. Hotspots like the Balmalp, DER WOLF and the Schlegelkopf have one thing in common for all their differences: an increasing number of guests are not here for the skiing – they’re here on the mountain top for the food. For the drinks high above all earthly matters. And sometimes for the parties. And most certainly for the views and the clouds.

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The region

Lech Zürs am Arlberg

Guests from around the world value the unrivalled quality found only here in the birthplace of skiing. Lech Zürs am Arlberg is dramatically situated in the heart of Austria’s largest contiguous ski area. Flourishing meadows and exciting trails surround this enthralling, picturesque village in summer.

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