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Lech: Champagne slopes

My head feels dizzy and it’s nothing to do with the altitude. I’m here to ski a resort where the Champagne flows faster than the river that runs through it. St Anton may be the Austrian destination where the most beer is drunk, but in Lech, it’s the bubbles that rule.

Lech: Champagne slopes

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Designer shops and bijou boutiques selling diamonds and Hublot watches line the main road, where horse-drawn carriages pass by legendary five-star hotels such as the Gasthof Post serving up gourmet food and cocktails. This is the Gstaad of Austria and, since I’ve reason to celebrate, I follow tradition and order a glass of Champagne.

I’ve just completed the legendary ‘White Ring’, a circular 13-mile route that takes skiers through the resorts of Zurs and Oberlech. Every year, 1,000 lean-limbed skiers gather to race the circuit — the fastest clocking in at around 44 minutes. I’ve taken a leisurely few hours but, with an absence of black runs, it wasn’t as hard as I expected, possibly because of alcohol-fuelled bravado.

The coolest Champagne stop is the Balmalp bar above Zug, with panoramic views, a DJ blasting out cool tunes to the beat of a bongo and, on this particular sunny day, a man dancing on the roof with his top off. Outside it’s a laborious skate along flat ground to the next downhill run, but if you’re too posh to puff, there’s an electronic pulley system to transport you there effortlessly. This is, after all, skiing turf for the European aristocracy, where cold bottoms and queues have been banished by heated chair lifts and limiting the number of ski passes available.

For an ice cool glass of bubbly head to the Frozen Ice Bar at Schlegelkopf where you snuggle under blankets in a deckchair or sip a glass of Veuve Clicquot on furniture carved out of frozen water. From here it’s a short run into Lech via the snowpark to join the apres-ski crowd under heated lamps at the Krone Bar.

Wearing a mixture of traditional Tyrolean tailored jackets, elegant fur coats and glitzy high-tech ski gear, expect an eclectic crowd of over-forties with dogs groomed as immaculately as the pistes. The atmosphere may seem sedate but there are a few places to let your hair down — although the odds are you’ll be in bed by midnight.

The majority of well-heeled revellers retire around seven or eight to don jackets and jewels and feast on seven-course dinners, their dishes topped with caviar and foie gras. Lech has an impressive number of four- and five-star hotels, but the amount of gourmet restaurants is astounding, with more Gault Millau guide awards per capita than anywhere else in Austria.

For many visitors the ski experience here revolves around their tastebuds, but the sport is taken seriously too. Locals are proud of Lech’s four home-bred Olympic ski champions and the snow-packed slopes on their doorstep. The resort has one of the best snow records in the Alps — some claim the phrase ‘Champagne powder’ was coined here. True or not, they clearly have reason celebrate.

My advice? Enter into the spirit and raise a glass or two with them. As Mark Twain said: “Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.”

Image: By Florian Lindner (Own work) (GFDL or CC-BY-2.5), via Wikimedia Commons